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I love my job! Why? Because, as manager of Games for Learning and Digital Humanities at Microsoft Research Connections, I get to explore four of my favorite things: games, art, technology, and education.
This week is especially exciting for me, because yesterday, we launched the Microsoft ChronoZoom Visualizing Challenge, which unites all four of these passions. Even better, it offers you the opportunity to participate—and maybe win a great prize (see disclaimer). Microsoft is sponsoring a challenge to create visualizations that (1) use ChronoZoom datasets and (2) provide new functions that have been requested by educators and students in our pilot programs. Read the Official Rules and register to enter the challenge.
So, how does this competition bring my four favorite things together? Allow me to explain:
A challenge is defined as a game of skill. There is no chance involved. We will provide all contestants with the same dataset and the same basic information. You can use a wide variety of tools to create either a static or a dynamic visualization of the challenge data.
The challenge is all about creating beautiful visualizations. In this regard, I would suggest that beautiful should be defined as “elegant, refined, and functional.” The visualizations should be simple enough for middle school students to use and understand, but powerful enough to enable these students to draw deep insights.
ChronoZoom’s robust, innovative technology is the result of three years of collaboration between Microsoft Research, the University of California at Berkeley, Moscow State University, the University of Washington, and researchers and historians around the world. ChronoZoom is a free, open source, community-owned project designed to run on any modern browser.
ChronoZoom was originally intended as an tool for teaching Big History, which is to say the history of life, humanity, the Earth, the cosmos—everything that’s happened during the last 13.8 billion years. Recently, we’ve shifted the focus to general history education, adapting ChronoZoom to empower teachers at middle schools and high schools, giving them a powerful tool for explaining complex concepts of causality and ambiguity in historical thinking. We are following a standards-aligned curriculum we’ve developed in partnership with the National Council for Social Studies, the American Historical Association, the University of North Carolina, and a group of talented curriculum developers and subject matter experts.
You can enter by yourself or in a team of up to five people. If you work at a design firm and want to enter, please be sure you (or your company) meet our eligibility guidelines with respect to the public sector (see disclaimer).
An independent third-party organization, visualizing.org, will assemble a panel of expert judges to evaluate the entries according to the following criteria:
In addition, there will be two special prizes: a Student Prize and an Infographic Prize. The Student Prize will be awarded to the best entry made by a student or an all-student team. The Infographic Prize will go to the best non-interactive entry. This can just be a beautiful image that illuminates the data by using the creative tools of your choice.
Entries will be eligible to win the following prizes:
First Place: US$5,000 and a trip to Moscow (the one in Russia, not Idaho!) to meet with a ChronoZoom designer/coder/programmer
Second Place: US$2,750
Third Place: US$1,500
Student Prize: US$300. If a student team wins, each student will receive $300, up to $1,500 maximum (for a team of five).
Infographic Prize: US$1,000
You can probably tell that I am thrilled to have the opportunity to invite you to take part in this challenge. It will be lots of fun and, best of all, the visualizations that are developed will be available for educators and student around the world to better understand history and concepts of historical thinking. If you are a developer, enter the challenge! If not, stick around and we will share all the entries with you once the challenge is over! The challenge runs from 11:01 A.M. Eastern Time (ET) on November 5, 2013, and ends at 11:59 P.M. ET on January 8, 2014. Register now!
—Donald Brinkman, Manager, Games for Learning and Digital Humanities, Microsoft Research Connections
Disclaimer: Open only to individuals 18 years of age or older who are currently enrolled as students at an accredited educational institution that grants college/university degrees (a “University”), or individuals 18 and older who are employed at an accredited educational institution that grants college/university degrees and who do not make procurement decisions in their employment, or individuals 18 and older who are employed at a private sector company and who do not engage in procurement or regulatory activities in their employment. Individuals may enter individually or in teams of up to five (5). Private sector companies that do not engage in procurement or regulatory activities with any public sector agency may also enter as well. Challenge ends at 11:59 P.M. ET on January 8, 2014. Read the Official Rules. (Back to blog)
Microsoft Research is pleased to announce the successful applicants in our first round of Windows Azure for Research awards. You didn’t make it easy for us—we received many good quality proposals. Our selection committee evaluated each submission in terms of its potential to accelerate research and its suitability for deployment on the Windows Azure cloud platform. There were far more outstanding proposals than we could accommodate during this first round of awards.
Difficult though it was, we selected 35 proposals for the initial set of awards. The award recipients come from 15 countries/regions and represent a variety of research domains, including scholarly communication and collaboration, big data and machine learning, urban informatics, genomics and related health science, geo and environmental science, and computer science. Each selected project will receive a substantial allocation of Windows Azure compute and storage resources to support the research over the next 12 months.
The deadline for the next round of proposals is December 15, 2013. Applicants are also encouraged to attend one of our cloud computing for research training events, which are being held at locations around the world.
The first-round selected projects are:
We are thrilled to be off and running with the Windows Azure for Research awards, and we look forward to being amazed by the next batch of proposals.
—Dennis Gannon, Director of Cloud Research Strategy, Microsoft Research
Building an historical view of climate change in the cloud with ChronoZoom
Starting in the tenth century, during the Medieval Warm Period, Greenland was a fraction of a degree warmer than today. Norse settlers raised livestock and cultivated small farms. Later, in the fifteenth century, a colder climate and conflicts with the Inuit caused them to abandon their settlements. Critics of anthropogenic global warming cite this earlier episode of warming as evidence that periods of rising temperatures are part of the natural cycle of climate change. By so doing, they attempt to dismiss the impact of human activities on today’s warming world, but without examining the causes of climate changes at various times in Earth’s history.
One of my challenges as a teacher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is to help my students put such historical evidence in perspective. Every year, I teach a course about Earth system science to 80 to 100 incoming graduate students. It’s very important that these students understand how Earth functions as a planet, including how and why its climate changes. We know that Earth goes through periods in which the climate varies. And at different timescales, we understand why the climate changes.
Covering millions of years’ worth of warming trends in a single term is a challenge; managing the massive volumes of data, charts, videos, illustrations, and other support materials is even more daunting. I’ve struggled to pull together all these materials in an accessible—and manageable—manner.
Thanks to ChronoZoom, an award-winning, open-source community project that is dedicated to visualizing the history of everything, I now have an effective way of collecting, presenting, and managing all of these resources. A joint effort of the University of California, Berkeley; Moscow State University; the Outercurve Foundation; and Microsoft Research Connections, ChronoZoom lets my students navigate through time, from the Big Bang to recent historical events, stopping to study detailed information at any point in history. With the ability to compare events that occurred in the distant past with what’s going on in the present, my students can better understand how we know that today’s warming climate is driven by human activities. For example, by using data derived from ice cores and thermometers, they can examine how changes in temperature relate to events in human and pre-human history.
By using ChronoZoom, I’m developing a history of Earth that illustrates changes in climate from the beginning of the planet through modern day. I’m including images, diagrams, graphs, and time-lapse movies that illustrate changes in the environment, pulling these resources together to create tours: explanatory narratives that my students can explore at any speed and level of detail they want. They can skip over some details and dive deep into others. They can zoom rapidly from one time period to another, moving through history as quickly or slowly as they want.
By using ChronoZoom, Dozier is developing a history of Earth that illustrates changes in climate from the beginning of the planet through modern day.
Because ChronoZoom operates in the cloud and can be accessed from anywhere through any modern web browser, teachers and schools don’t have to invest in new equipment or software. That’s definitely a plus, especially in these days of tight budgets. But for my money, the best value lies in the volume and depth of material that can be packed into a single ChronoZoom timeline. Moreover, thanks to Windows Azure, the tool has the flexibility to scale up and down, so that even projects that focus on but a sliver of the history of everything—such as the history of humanity or maybe just the twentieth century or the last couple of weeks—still benefit from presentation in ChronoZoom.
What’s more, I’ll be able to share my tours with other teachers—and take advantage of theirs—because we can all upload our information to the cloud, making our data, images, and text available in any Internet-connected classroom. Our students can do this, too, creating and sharing their own tours.
I’m sure that ChronoZoom is going to change the way I teach and, more importantly, the way students learn, and I encourage anyone with an interest in understanding the interconnections of history to put their own content into ChronoZoom.
—Jeff Dozier, Professor of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara