Athabasca’s IDEA LAB Redefines Scalable Research through Cloud Technology led by a Student & Graduate Workforce

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Athabasca’s IDEA LAB Redefines Scalable Research through Cloud Technology led by a Student & Graduate Workforce

As one of Digital Alberta’s strategic pillars, which is to BUILD THE TALENT PIPELINE, our aim is to engage with educational institutions and support the growth of the sector by increasing visibility into career paths within the interactive digital technology sector. Athabasca University is paving the way with the launch of their IDEA Lab which crafts digital first research solutions to real world problems using cloud-based tools engaging students and graduates to develop solutions.

Have you ever tried to answer a question or solve a big world problem utilizing surveys and datasets manually? The painstaking task of collecting data and ensuring it’s statistically valid is no small undertaking – particularly with limited funds and resources. Things can quickly escalate from incomplete data collection to big margins of human error.

What about if it’s research that is reviewed and updated annually but your research team, workflows, and computers change? Keeping your analytic environments identical year over year now becomes a requirement to your research success.

Athabasca University’s IDEA Lab is a cloud based virtual research domain that has changed the future of research by accelerating innovation, discovery, and creation by providing streamlined access to digital tools and collaborative consultation through the research process (ideation, development, and mobilization of research). Through the use of cloud technologies, challenges in the traditional environment are virtually eliminated. New possibilities are also unlocked  for researchers to collaborate across disciplines—sometimes in ways they never would have anticipated.  

AU’s Associate VP (Research), Dr. Andrew Perrin, explains “IDEA Lab emerged from the recognition—even reality—that all areas of research can leverage technology for discovery and development. By supporting researchers in designing cloud-enabled research, we not only net strong research results for researchers, regardless of discipline, but develop researchers who lead within those disciplines by their innovative-by-design approach to research.”

What is IDEA Lab?

As highlighted through AU’s “Research with Reach” video series, AU researchers and graduate students get to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems. IDEA Lab isn’t a traditional university research lab because it isn’t in a  physical space. It represents a new way of doing research virtually, using cloud computing and a first-in-Canada partnership between Athabasca University, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and RONIN. With IDEA Lab, AU researchers  investigate big problems, in part because of AWS and RONIN’s ability to crunch massive datasets, propel discovery and deliver results which would be challenging otherwise—although AU is situated to run nearly any research project through AU’s secure research cloud. IDEA Lab researchers also have access to REDCAP,  a secure web application for building and managing online surveys and databases.

AU researchers are leveraging the web applications in a number of ways with innovative use cases including:

  • Translating data from one language to another in bulk
  • Generating interview transcripts quickly
  • Using machine learning to extract text from handwritten notes, historical documents and images
  • Utilizing insight tools to convey research findings in new and engaging ways
  • Using comprehension tools to analyze text, identify objects, & determine speaker sentiments for medical data

IDEA Lab connects researchers with funding and support to take full advantage of cloud-based tools for research, design, and innovation. Those supports include AU students who are recruited and trained as research assistants via IDEA Academy. Through IDEA Academy, AU students benefit from a bespoke training program and gain unique experience in digital-first research, which both ensures work-integrated-learning in their studies and increases their technological skills for future pursuits.

AU launched IDEA Lab in fall 2021. 

What kinds of problems are AU researchers tackling?

From advances in education and technology to climate change to health care to sustainable business, AU researchers are pushing the boundaries of knowledge and discovery—and transforming lives and communities. How? Delivering research on exciting projects such as:

  • Understanding Bias in Healthcare: Using IDEA Lab’s computing power to crush through massive volumes of data, we now have a better understanding of the impact of bias and racism on patient care.  Examining language entered into electronic health records has provided insight and  improved understanding of how unconscious bias about things like race, age, gender, or weight can affect judgment in providing care.

Watch video to learn more

  • Education Accessibility through Technology: Expert researchers are exploring how to use technology to enhance and encourage learning and how humans interact with technology, and the limits and ethical considerations that come into play. Whether it’s democratizing education so it’s accessible to all or looking at technologies like video games or using AI and phone apps as tools to help people learn, the  goal is to uncover how to use it to make learning accessible to more people.

Watch video to learn more

  • Protecting Food, Water, and Ecosystems through Research & Technology: Sustainability is about finding ways to meet our current needs while planning for the future. For Indigenous communities in northern Alberta, it’s about protecting water and food sources that are under threat from industry so that future generations can practice traditional ways of living. It’s about understanding how environments and systems work, interact, and respond to emerging threats such as climate change. It’s about developing new technologies that can solve environmental problems at the local, regional, and global scale.

Watch video to learn more

Get Involved by reaching out to Paul Daniels at (Manager, Digital Research Initiatives, at Athabasca University) to learn more or explore potential avenues for collaboration.

Don’t miss out. Athabasca University has a new video series showcasing the work of Athabasca University researchers and graduate students: Follow to learn more.

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