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What’€™s the purpose of research, if not development? R&D applies as equally to the campus as it does to corporations

By Sam Morris, Worldwide Education Executive at Lenovo.

Research – as a verb and a noun – involves the ‘systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions’*. Or so states the dictionary. But reaching conclusions is only half the story: to have any inherent value, research must lead to actionable insight and material progress.

In the corporate context, research is conducted with an obvious, accompanying goal – development. In a real-time world, R&D is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity. Competitive advantage is in the details others fail to sweat: data analysis, product testing, end-user intelligence, specialist expertise.

When I moved from hands-on roles in education to a full-time function in enterprise, I was amazed at the cost of such innovation – and no less delighted by my current company’s commitment to invest in it.

Throughout the 2013/2014 financial year, Lenovo spent over $732m on R&D. That’s just part of what it takes to become the world’s leading PC manufacturer. Staying ahead means our efforts can’t slow; the pace of change is too fast. Often that involves diversification, or expansion. Take Lenovo’s acquisition of IBM’s x86 server business – it’s a direct response to increased customer needs in data centres. R&D highlighted the demand, and realised the opportunity.

Of course, research and academia are indivisible. Cue images of fusty establishments and isolated intellectuals; horn-rimmed glasses and shades of corduroy; lofty ideals and abstract theories. 20 years ago, these myths might have had more cultural currency.

In 2015, academic research is as relevant as it is collaborative. Like everything else, the very process has ‘gone social’, spanning wider networks and regions to leverage the input of different communities and backgrounds through ICT. As a result, the collaborative shift also embraces hardware, requiring the efficient and effective integration and interoperability of systems and kit.

Supporting high-bandwidth computing for each area of the HE institution’s research is a big challenge. One of the most efficient solutions is high-performance computing (HPC), which offers a single platform to manage resource workloads and processor scheduling – with full backend reporting across all projects.

In the connected learning environment, there are so many similar details to consider. But as always, I’d argue there’s more to see in the bigger picture. And it’s here that the basic principles of R&D apply: define problems; identify needs for change; extrapolate results, find solutions; drive innovation.

I’m reminded of a talk by Ken Robinson, author, speaker and international advisor on education in the arts: “Education is about learning. If there’s no education going on, there’s no learning going on. And people can spend an awful lot of time discussing education – without ever discussing learning.”**

That’s where our own R&D should be focused. Right now, the most fertile ground to assess the impact of technology on education is at the primary and secondary levels. What can we learn from the ways three to 18-year-olds are benefitting from the use of IT in schools? And how can HE lend resources, structure and expertise to explore the potential – across all ages and stages?

Again, let’s look to collaborative practices – between faculty, students, commercial professionals, industry experts, educational institutions and even governments. There could be no more meaningful or exciting project for R&D in HE than the ‘systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions’ about what IT can do not just for education – but learning.

*Source: oxforddictionaries.com **Source: ted.com