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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
Today (November 4) is the first anniversary of the launch of Kinect for Xbox 360 in the United States, with subsequent availability around the world. It has been a smashing success since its debut, thanks in part to contributions from Microsoft Research to its audio, skeletal-tracking, and facial-recognition capabilities. And further refinements could mean the best is yet to come.
Kinect for Xbox 360 has been a smashing success since its debut a year ago.
For more on this, we have collated a resource page of stories, videos, publications, and other information, all easily accessible in one place at Microsoft Research Contributions to Kinect for Xbox 360.
Microsoft Research Connections continues its focus on helping getting the word out about the Kinect for Windows SDK beta. Some of the results of this are starting to be shown through showcases such as the Kinect projects gallery at Channel 9. There are more than 100 entries shown there at the time of writing.
Microsoft built Kinect to revolutionize the way you play games and how you experience entertainment. But along the way, people started using Kinect in ways we never imagined. From helping children with autism, to helping doctors in the operating room, people are taking Kinect beyond games. And that’s what we call the Kinect Effect.
What will you do with Kinect next? See the future of possibilities of Kinect that go beyond the expected, into truly amazing things that people around the world are beginning to imagine.
Released today: download the Kinect for Windows SDK Beta 2 now!
—Stewart Tansley, Director of Natural User Interface, Microsoft Research Connections