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It began with a simple question: “Why can’t students earn digital rewards for being awesome?” A research group comprised of university faculty, staff, and students at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) decided to find out. The team delved into the everyday travails of college life—from academia to social activities—and developed a real-world game, Just Press Play, which helps students earn a digital reward for the ultimate achievement: collegiate success.
Each game participant receives trading cards equipped with secret codes and a radio-frequency identification (RFID) keychain that they can swipe to “check-in” at permanent and temporary locations. The cards and the keychain are just the first two tools that the students must learn to use in order to progress through the various aspects of the game. The game is based around challenges that occur both online and in the real world. The challenges are designed to encourage students to venture out of their comfort zones and get involved in all aspects of school—including interactions with school faculty and staff. Completing the challenges also gives the player access to web pages and videos that tell the story of an alternate history of RIT.
Blending Technology and the Humanities
The alternate history of RIT describes a battle fought between two rival factions: The Athenaeum and the Mechanics Institute. The Athenaeum represents the creative and exploratory aspects of a student’s academic journey and the Mechanics Institute represents technical mastery. In order to succeed, the student must understand both aspects, although they may ultimately join one side or the other.
As the program manager who chose to fund this project, it should come as no surprise that I have a background in both science and art—and that I manage programs in games for learning as well as digital humanities. Our project team likes how RIT blends the technology and humanities disciplines. RIT focuses not only on STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—but also on what we like to call STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.
Financial support for the development of Just Press Play was provided by Microsoft Research. This project is also the culmination of three years of collaboration with RIT’s School of Interactive Games and Media as part of our Games for Learning Institute. The mission of the institute is to study and create games that are fun, educational, and effective. Just Press Play fits that bill perfectly.
Just Press Play officially launched on October 13 at the RIT School of Interactive Games and Media. The kick-off event was streamed live to project partners at the University of Wisconsin, Teachers College at Columbia, and the New York Law School. These partners are assessing the effectiveness of the program and also exploring legal issues related to gameful education.
The Just Press Play team intends to expand the game throughout RIT next year if the initial pilot is successful, but other educational institutions will have to wait a bit before trying out the technology for themselves. Just Press Play will initially be available exclusively to students enrolled at RIT. The Just Press Play team will refine the structure of the game based on early results and then roll it out to partner schools at a later date. The developers are hopeful that the lessons learned from these early “games” could eventually be expanded to include more college-level institutions and, potentially, all education starting with pre-school and extending through lifelong learning and professional training.
The ultimate goal of the Microsoft Research Gameful Education project is to support the development of a unified game layer for education, one that can unify gameful experiences across schools and technologies. This platform will drive better educational outcomes and enable entirely new types of educational research.
—Donald Brinkman, Research Program Manager, Games for Learning, Digital Heritage, Digital Humanities, Microsoft Research Connections
When Microsoft Research unveiled the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) beta in mid-June, we expected it would be popular with academic and enthusiast developer communities. But even with our high expectations for the SDK, we didn’t anticipate the level of creativity that was demonstrated by the Chinese university students who participated in the Kinect Pioneer Program. Given the opportunity to develop Windows applications that take advantage of the Kinect sensor, these students have created some truly remarkable projects.
Students collaborating and sharing demos at the China Kinect Student Summer Camp
Kinect Pioneer Program Encourages Students to Innovate
The Kinect Pioneer Program was introduced by Microsoft Research Asia in May 2011, in anticipation of the release of the non-commercial Kinect for Windows SDK beta. The program, which involved eight Chinese universities, established 25 student teams that intensely competed to create the most elegant and practical applications. By using Kinect sensor technology, the students generated applications that use depth sensing, voice and object recognition, and human motion tracking, and that are applicable to diverse topics: from education to commerce to culture and history. Six pioneer teams were selected to attend the 2011 China Kinect Student Summer Camp and shared their applications with more than 180 students from the top 30 universities in China.
Team Applications Highlight Kinect Capabilities and Student Talent
The following three applications exemplify the potential of Kinect for Windows as well as the students’ creativity and technical skills.
Finalists from the Kinect Pioneer Program
Microsoft Research Asia has been delighted with the success of the program. “Through the Kinect Pioneer Program, Chinese students have been given a chance to come into contact with the most cutting-edge technology from Microsoft. It also enables the creativity of Chinese university students to come to life,” says Lolan Song, senior director at Microsoft Research Asia. By developing applications that go beyond traditional games, Chinese students have shown where Kinect can grow and have established the groundwork for the use of Kinect technology in new areas of teaching, culture, and history.
We’re excited to see how people are inspired to create and innovate by using Kinect technologies in ways we never imagined. Learn more about what we call the Kinect Effect.
—Guobin Wu, Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia
From November 9 to 12, 2011, Portland, Oregon, the City of Roses, becomes the City of Hoppers, as technology-minded women from the across the United States flock to the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing, an annual conference that brings the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront. Named for the legendary computer scientist, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, past GHCs have drawn 1,500 or more participants and dozens of corporate sponsors. This year, a record number of attendees (more than 2,000) are expected.
As in the past, leading researchers will present their current work, and special sessions will focus on the role of women in computer science, information technology, research, and engineering—as well as trends in these fields. And as always, a large contingent of corporate recruiters will be on hand—including many from Microsoft—looking to snag the top talent that GHC attracts and to help researchers and technical professionals expand their computer science knowledge and networks.
It’s exciting to see the lineup of amazing speakers from academic institutions, governments, nonprofits, and industry—including more than a dozen from Microsoft. All in all, more than 100 Microsoft researchers and technical employees will be attending, and the company is involved in more than 16 plenaries and sessions (see the line-up of Microsoft speakers). We also will be actively involved in the career night, the poster session, and the Sponsor Night Party. Fact is, Microsoft is a Platinum Sponsor of the Grace Hopper Celebration, for the fifth year in a row. We are proud to support the GHC and the contributions of the Anita Borg Institute and the Association for Computing Machinery, which are critical in attracting and retaining the women who will create the new technologies and drive new innovations for our global future. Be sure to come visit our booth (Exhibit Hall B 417), learn about natural user interfaces, and try out Kinect for Xbox at our Kinect Lounge in Hall C next to CyberCenter.
Now, let me plug my hometown for just a minute. As the United States’ top green city, Portland derives half its power from renewable sources; a quarter of the workforce commutes by bike, carpool, or public transportation; and it has more than 35 buildings certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Microsoft shares Portland’s focus on harnessing green technology and was recently named one of the Top Green IT organizations by ComputerWorld. In line with our efforts to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent per unit of revenue by 2012, Microsoft will be going collateral free at this year’s GHC, so we encourage all attendees to visit our Grace Hopper event site to find the information that would typically have been available as booth handouts.
That said, we still want every Hopper to stop by the Microsoft booth to pick out a photosynthetic “research partner” from our Project Epiphyte nursery. You and your air plant will collaboratively recycle carbon dioxide and oxygen as you symbiotically photosynthesize and respire, and you will join the Project Epiphyte community of dedicated plant-human partners. What’s more, you might even beautify your workspace. The epiphyte is more than just a highly-evolved organism that has transcended the limitations of its soil-bound ancestors. It symbolizes our desire to nurture a lasting relationship with GHC attendees and is a metaphor for the collaborative process of research, where knowledge is built on previous efforts and leads to entirely new fields of study. The first 1,500 attendees who visit our booth will receive an epiphyte and our renowned Microsoft Grace Hopper chocolate.
Stop by the Microsoft booth to participate in Project Epiphyte and learn what these items are all about.
Also, visit our recruiting booth (Exhibit Hall A566). In addition to full-time positions, we offer a number of internships, scholarships, and fellowships. We think Microsoft is a great place for technological women (and men) to realize their ambitions, and we aren’t alone. Just last month, Great Place to Work, a global research, consulting, and training firm, named Microsoft the world’s best global company at which to work. As I have been telling all my friends for the last 10 years that I work at the best company in the world, now they don’t have to only take my word for it! So while you stop to smell the roses in the City of Roses, set aside some time to sniff out the possibilities of becoming a “Softie.”
“What If” is this year’s theme of the GHC, and it aligns nicely with our theme across Microsoft this year: “Be What’s Next.” Everyone at the conference can “Be What’s Next” by answering and investigating all the possible “What Ifs.” And if that didn’t make sense, I’ll be glad to rephrase it in person at the GHC. See you in Portland.
—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director of Women in Research, Science, and Engineering, Microsoft Research Connections