GRAND 2013 a convergence of Canada’s top digital media researchers and innovators
Fourth annual conference hosts networking, discussion and exchange for industry and academic delegates from around the globe.
Posted by GRAND NCE, May 27, 2013

GRAND 2013 was attended by the largest delegation to date with over 350 researchers, students and post-docs.
GRAND 2013 was attended by the largest delegation to date with over 350 researchers, students and post-docs. PHOTO: Francis Lebouthillier

For attendees of the GRAND 2013 conference (May 14-16, 2013), the takeaway was clear: digital media research and innovation is alive and thriving in Canada, tackling some of the country’s most significant social, economic and health challenges.

GRAND 2013 featured prominent speakers, panelists, and industry guests, while showcasing a panorama of multi-university and multi-disciplinary research across nearly every aspect of digital media. It is GRAND’s largest gathering of researchers developing solutions and innovations in areas such as human-computer interaction (HCI), health and patient care, video games, and visual analytics, among others. With 350 researchers, students and post-docs participating from 26 universities across Canada, the conference drew its largest delegation to date.

GRAND 2013 was co-located with Canada 3.0 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Now in its fifth year, Canada 3.0, hosted by CDMN (Canadian Digital Media Network), was created as a forum to discuss the state of digital media in Canada. CDMN is a federal Centre of Excellence in Commercialization and Research (CECR) created to foster connections and collaboration between entrepreneurs, companies, research institutes, government and intermediary organizations across the country.

With strong industry representation at Canada 3.0, GRAND 2013 participants were given an unprecedented opportunity to share expertise with representatives from a number of major Canadian digital media companies. At a joint opening reception over 100 individual posters and demonstrations were featured from GRAND research labs at several Canadian universities. Invited guests representing industry, government and other organizations in attendance provided presenters with a much wider non-academic audience compared with previous annual conferences.

Plenary and keynote talks a conference high point

GRAND hosted a series of high profile speakers presenting thought-provoking discussions on aspects of the business, culture and future of digital media.

GRAND’s plenary speakers included CBC broadcasters Terry O'Reilly and Jian Ghomeshi, as well as GRAND researcher Dr. Roel Vertegaal, who runs Queen's University’s futuristic Human Media Lab. Among Canada 3.0’s keynote speakers included former Wired editor and best-selling author Chris Anderson, and game designer, futurist and best-selling author Jane McGonigal.

Award-winning advertising guru Terry O'Reilly presented on the value and influence of storytelling for companies and brands. He co-founded the international Pirate Radio & Television company in 1990, and is known for his popular radio programs “Under the Influence” and “Age of Persuasion.”  O'Reilly offered fascinating examples of Canadian and international marketing campaigns that used storytelling in surprising and effective ways to “make people feel your message, not just understand it.”

Ghomeshi, the affable host of the hit daily arts, culture and entertainment program Q, discussed how multiple digital platforms helped the modest CBC radio show gain the largest audience of any cultural affairs program in Canada. Given Q’s extended interview format, Ghomeshi also connected the program’s popularity to a huge untapped appetite for long-form content.

Roel Vertegaal offered an exciting glimpse into current HCI innovation, showcasing the possibilities of 3D printing, flexible displays, and haptic (touch-sensitive) technologies embedded in ordinary objects. Vertegaal recently garnered international attention for his PaperTabs paper-thin flexible device unveiled at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show.

Marcelo Zuffo, a professor from the Polytechnic University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil, also lead a talk on the value of GRAND’s extensive collaboration with Brazilian researchers and universities. At the conference Zuffo confirmed a new MOU between USP and GRAND, the second agreement since one was finalized last year with the Federal University of São Carlos (UFScar). The agreements help support exchanges for Brazilian faculty and students at Canadian universities.

At Canada 3.0, Wired magazine’s Chris Anderson spoke about what he believes is the next Industrial Revolution: desktop 3D printing and the Maker Movement – where technology meets DIY culture. In the same way desktop publishing democratized the creation and distribution of content two decades ago, 3D printing promises to transform manufacturing into a home industry, giving “the opportunity to do with atoms what we did with bits.”

Jane McGonigal focused on the benefits that games can bring to people’s lives. Pointing to some startling statistics that reveal this, she made the case for games as powerful instruments for improving relationships, stimulating creativity and helping people become more resilient. To illustrate her case, McGonigal engaged the audience in an epic and memorable game of massively multiplayer thumb wrestling.

Digital Media Pioneer Awards honour research excellence

Since 2010, GRAND’s annual conference has recognized outstanding Canadians who have made significant contributions to the advancement of digital media with the GRAND Digital Media Pioneer Awards. Recipients this year were Dr. Sara Diamond, OCAD University President and Vice-Chancellor, and Dr. Ron Baecker, Director of the University of Toronto’s TAGlab.

Artist, video curator, cultural critic, television-video producer, and instructor, Diamond led the Banff New Media Institute (BNMI) from 1992 to 2005 to become an internationally renowned arts production and research institute. There she initiated groundbreaking research summits and workshops that explored the near future of digital media.

Dr. Ron Baecker was honoured for his early work in computer graphics, which has helped keep Canada at the forefront of key research areas as they emerge: computer animation, HCI, and most recently in patient-centred healthcare applications of digital media. At the ceremony Baecker gave an inspiring talk about his fifty years in computing innovation.

Research ethics and women in games focus of panel talks

Conference panel discussions offered platforms to debate some of the current issues and challenges in digital media.

Gender inequality in digital games was the focus of the Women in Games panel, hosted by Jennifer Jenson (York University). Though women form the fastest growing market in the games industry, many feel excluded or marginalized in game culture. Panelists Cecily Carver, co-director of the non-profit Dames Making Games, Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch, CEO of Silicon Sisters Interactive, Anita Sarkeesian, media critic and creator of Feminist Frequency, and Grace gtz, cofounder of Fat, Ugly or Slutty, weighed in on how women can become more involved and better represented in the games industry both as developers and as consumers.

Research ethics was another panel topic, which supported this year’s effort to raise awareness of the issue among students and researchers. In addition to an interactive workshop put on by GRAND and The Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics, the speaker panel organized by Jacquelyn Burkell (Western University) discussed and debated Canada's research ethics policy, including the application of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, 2nd edition (TCPS 2).

Also at the conference: Research Notes (RNotes) seminars at the conference offered a more informal setting for students and researchers to share the best research underway within the network – much of which is still in its early stages. The perennially popular “2-Minute Madness” session also gave delegates the chance to share condensed “Coles Notes” versions of GRAND’s research projects. True to the name, the 120-second presentations were frenzied, fast-paced, sometimes musical, and always entertaining attempts to creatively sum up complex research.

Next year’s annual conference is planned to be held in Ottawa. The focus: looking ahead to GRAND’s second five-year funding term following its anticipated renewal in January 2015.