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December, 2013

Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

December, 2013

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Our top 10 blogs of 2013


    Top 10 Microsoft Research Connections blogs of 2013

    I love my job, as I have the privilege of highlighting Microsoft Research Connections’ collaborations with some of the brightest minds at universities and research institutions around the world. And with so many inspiring projects, it’s difficult to pick my favorites—which is why I’m glad that your clicks can let us know which blogs most sparked your interest. So, here are the best of the best as selected by you: the 10 most widely read Microsoft Research Connections blogs of 2013.

    Number 10: New cloud computing training for researchers worldwide

    Today’s data-intensive scientific research requires vast computing power—just what cloud computing provides. So no wonder a blog that announces free training on using Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, got a lot of attention. Did you miss this one? Well, it not too late to take advantage of the two-day training programs we offer at sites around the world. Read more...

    Number 9: Preserving Latin America’s Wildlife

    The future is a little brighter for species that are increasingly threatened by habitat destruction and climate change in Latin America. This blog highlights LiveANDES (Advanced Network for the Distribution of Endangered Species), a new tool that enables wildlife biologists, government officials, and citizen scientists to collect, house, and analyze data about Latin America’s wildlife. Read more...
    Number 8: Computerworld Honors Microsoft Research for Breakthroughs in Pneumonia and HIV

    Although it is gratifying to receive honors for using technology to promote positive social change, it’s not nearly as rewarding as knowing our research contributes to the fight against two scourges that affect millions around the world. This blog recounts our collaborative efforts towards improving the efficacy of pneumonia vaccinations and perfecting an effective vaccine against HIV infection. Read more...

    Number 7: Encouraging the next generation of women in computing

    It’s a sad fact that women students are woefully underrepresented among computer science majors, today comprising only 13 percent of those earning bachelor’s degrees in the field. While we recognize that no single person—or even single organization—can solve this problem, readers of this blog learned that programs like she++, a grassroots community that encourages women’s involvement in computing, just might. Read more...
    Number 6: Microsoft Research gives promising computer science faculty a boost

    This might strike a personal chord with many readers: how challenging it is for university faculty to get funding for innovative research—particularly in the early stages of their career. This blog describes how Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowships provide support that helps early-career academics in the field of computer science pursue their vision and make an impact. Read more...

    Number 5: Windows Azure for Research

    Remember the cloud computing training covered in our tenth most popular blog? Well, that training is just one part of an extensive initiative to empower researchers to use “cloud power” to tackle Big Data. This blog lays out the entire program, which includes grants, technical resources, and community engagements, as well as the aforementioned training events. Read more...

    Number 4: Confronting Global Grand Challenges

    Who can resist a blog whose title promises so much? Granted, it doesn’t promise to solve these challenges (now that would be a blog!), but this post frames the issues and highlights the efforts of a group of talented students to crack six of these grand trials. Plus, it offers wisdom from one of The Black Eyed Peas! Read more...

    Number 3: Join us in exploring the future of computing—virtually!

    Another intriguing title, underpinned by an irresistible invitation: to view and even engage in live online interviews with some the world’s foremost academic researchers during the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit. Add the appeal of hearing Bill Gates field questions from the audience about the role of computing in solving global problems, and you’ve got a must-view event promoted in a must-read blog. Read more...

    Number 2: Kinect Fusion Boosts Kinect for Windows SDK Update

    Ever since its release, the Kinect for Windows software development kit (SDK) has stimulated researchers’ imaginations and given rise to some outstanding advances in natural user interface (NUI) applications. So it’s no surprise that this blog, which provides information on the latest updates to the SDK, ranked number two on our top-10 list. Read more...

    Number 1: Try F#—Data Console to Big and Broad Data

    And here it is: the most widely read Microsoft Research Connections blog of 2013, a crowd pleaser that alerted readers to the latest release of resources that teach users to write F# code in their browser. The popularity of this blog implies that perhaps you should give Try F# a whirl if you haven’t already—and why not? It’s free. Read more...

    There you are—our top-10 list for 2013. I hope you’ve enjoyed our blogs over the past year, and I invite you to stay in touch in 2014 by following us on Twitter, Facebook, or Microsoft Research Connections, or by subscribing to our RSS feed.

    Happy New Year from your friends at Microsoft Research Connections!

    —Lisa Clawson, Senior Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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    ChronoZoom offers new tools for history teachers


    Make your mark in history with ChronoZoom

    Last week, from November 22 to 24, I was in St. Louis, Missouri, at the annual conference of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), helping to promote the terrific work of our international partners in creating open-source technologies and free curricula to support history education. I spent two days in the NCSS exhibit hall demoing ChronoZoom, an interactive, multimedia timeline of the history of everything, which won the SXSW Interactive Award for Best Educational Resource last year.

    I wasn’t the only ChronoZoom fan in St. Louis. Three of our collaborators presented at the conference, which draws 3,000 to 4,000 social studies educators each year. One of our pilot projects is actually in St. Louis, and its presentation was given by 13 high schoolers, all advanced-placement history students, who shared their collaborative timeline of world religions—and the power of ChronoZoom.

    The pedagogical value of ChronoZoom was apparent in their comments, such as this from Dimitri Rucker, one of the all advanced-placement high schoolers:

    “ChronoZoom changed the way I thought about history because of the format it’s displayed in. With the zooming capabilities, you can quickly and visually learn about history all the way from cosmos to humanity now and I think that’s very interesting about this educational tool. With ChronoZoom, we incorporated the timeline of religion and philosophy and how they have affected history throughout time. And by using ChronoZoom, it is easier to show the large timeline of events to help explain how religion has affected the world.”

    My goal at the conference was to increase awareness of ChronoZoom and to encourage teachers to try it and provide feedback. In particular, we are interested in sharing the new authoring tools that provide a simple, intuitive means of creating timelines and then creating presentations around those timelines in a fashion similar to PowerPoint or Prezi. Our engineering teams will be prioritizing their work according to teacher requests, so this is an excellent opportunity for teachers to shape a piece of technology designed specifically for educational use.

    Free resources for teaching history with ChronoZoom

    I gave a lot of demos to share our technical work around ChronoZoom, but our big news was the non-digital, standards-aligned curriculum we released in partnership with the NCSS, the American Historical Association, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a team of amazing curriculum developers and subject matters experts. As I said repeatedly at the conference, the easiest thing about creating educational technology is creating the educational technology. Once that is done, the hard work begins: creating the pedagogical support necessary to make the technology comprehensible and easy for educators and students to use.

    The curriculum consists of three core units that cover different approaches to teaching historical thinking: (1) The Causes of World War I, which teaches about causality and multiple perspectives; (2) Atlantic Encounters, which presents a more abstract introduction to historical thinking by studying the moments when two cultures meet and how the meeting changes both cultures; and (3) The ChronoZoomers Guild, which provides lesson templates and associated materials to create an immersive experience involving time travel and the alteration of pivotal events in world history. Read more about these three units.

    Middle-school history teacher Samantha Shires helped develop the World War I curriculum and piloted it with her class of seventh and eighth graders in Greensboro, NC. What stood out for her was ChronoZoom’s usefulness as a presentation and assessment tool. “There’s a certain amount of messiness to history that can make it a challenge to fully understand,” she said. “ChronoZoom provides a visual representation that helps my students make sense of the messiness and act as an operator of history, rather than merely a bystander.”

    ChronoZoom Curriculum and Technology

    Each of the lesson plans is designed to be open-ended with enough room for individual educators to flex their creative muscles. In each lesson, teachers guide the students to answer basic research questions by using authoritative primary sources that are curated by subject matter experts. Then, students are invited to use ChronoZoom to build timelines and presentations based on their research. This allows students to demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter as well as their mastery of historical thinking principles outlined in the C3 social studies standards and the upcoming Common Core standards.

    We encourage history teachers to download the curriculum, experiment with ChronoZoom, and join our community. If you like the ChronoZoom curriculum, let us know through the website forums. If you don’t like it, definitely let us know. Your feedback is essential to help ensure that we provide a curriculum that suits your needs.

    So again, please try ChronoZoom and let us know what you think. I look forward to possibly working with you as we continue to evolve ChronoZoom, striving to make it a great example of what the future of education might be.

    Donald Brinkman, Program Manager for Digital Humanities, Microsoft Research Connections

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    The curriculum for teaching historical thinking with ChronoZoom

    Lesson 1:  Causes of World War I
    This unit focuses on the events of 1874 to 1914 that led up to the onset of World War I.  The focus of this unit is causality and multiple perspectives.  The material is taught by using non-digital techniques in the classroom.  Students can subsequently use ChronoZoom to create timelines based on what they have learned, and present these learnings to their classmates and teacher.

    Lesson 2: Atlantic Encounters
    This unit explores the difference between encounters and contacts. It poses such questions as “Do cultures have a moment when they collide, when the world is changed forever and seemingly inevitably? Or do cultures interact and mingle over longer periods of time?” It challenges students to show causation, contingency, and consequences, and introduces them to historical thinking by studying encounters among cultures from across the Atlantic and the outcomes of these interactions. By exploring the question "How did Atlantic encounters shape North America?", students will understand that these encounters among indigenous Americans, Africans, and Europeans were major turning points in the history of the world. Drawing upon primary and secondary sources, students create and analyze exhibits collaboratively on ChronoZoom timelines.

    Lesson 3: ChronoZoomers Guild
    The third unit is a foundation to support historical thinking and is truly content-agnostic.  The material from the World War I unit is used to demonstrate the principles, but the unit is intended to be “plug and play” for any history content, allowing students to populate the templates with whatever historical information the class is studying.  This unit provides lesson templates and associated materials to immerse students in an epic narrative that revolves around the class being contacted by a secretive organization from the future that uses time travel to alter pivotal events in world history.  Students must master fundamental historical thinking concepts and meet Common Core historical literacy standards. They are then invited to create a timeline in ChronoZoom and present it as a proposal to change past events in order to create a better future.

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    Computer Science Education Week: "touching" on the Hour of Code


    It’s time to revise the traditional “three Rs” of education in the United States. In addition to “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic,” we need to add computer science. Yeah, I know it doesn’t even contain an “r,” but computer science is just as important as those fundamental “r” skills. And that brings me to the topic of this blog: Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), an annual US event that stresses the need to teach computer science basics to every student. This year, CSEdWeek runs from December 9 to 15.

    "Touching" on the Hour of Code

    I am especially excited to work in partnership with, a new non-profit organization that initiated one of CSEdWeek’s prime events: the “Hour of Code.” The event aims to introduce 10 million students of all ages to computer science ideas and tools—and to let them try coding for one hour—while also demonstrating to parents, teachers, and policymakers how accessible coding can be. And at a deeper level, we hope it will drive demand for expanded computer science courses and activities in secondary schools.

    As part of CSEdWeek, I am in central Oregon at the Culver Middle School and Culver High School, introducing students to programming through an hour of coding by using TouchDevelop, a free Microsoft Research mobile application development tool. I’ll also host an all-school assembly on “How Computer Science Can Solve the World’s Greatest Challenges.”
    In addition, I get to spend a day devoted to my greatest passion: sparking young girls’ interest in computer science. I will meet with 93 Culver Middle School girls, introducing them to computer science research and the importance of user experience design. Too many young people only hear about the difficulty of programming; I strive to show them the art, creativity, and satisfaction involved in making an application that meets the end user’s needs. They’ll learn about the storyboarding process and how to design an application, and then they’ll help create the user interface for Games Learning Society, a research project I’m working on with Constance Steinkuehler at the University of Wisconsin. I will also give them a preview of a program we will announce this week—so stay tuned to learn about great partnerships and an event that will entice even more young women to pursue computer science careers.

    Kent Middle School students learn coding with help from Rane Johnson-Stempson during Computer Science Education Week.
    Middle school students learn coding with help from Rane Johnson-Stempson during Computer Science Education Week.

    Despite the excitement of CSEdWeek, my commitment to and passion for what it represents doesn’t begin and end during this week. Early last week, I met with 75 high school students from the Auburn (WA) Mountainview High School IT Academy Program and shared Kodu, .NET Gadgeteer, WorldWide Telescope, and other Microsoft Research technologies with them. They also learned about the exciting future of computing from bright young Microsoft employees who are in an accelerated career development program.

    Later in the month, I will head to Redmond (OR) Middle School to conduct a TouchDevelop programming event with all of the students and to introduce middle school girls to user experience design. And I’m not alone in this outreach effort; several of my Microsoft Research colleagues are also volunteering at elementary, middle, and high schools to excite students about computer science. Judith Bishop is in South Africa to expose students to TouchDevelop, and Arul Menezes, Krysta Svore, and Peli de Halleux are visiting Seattle-area middle and high schools to help students experience an hour of coding.

    Why is coding so important? The digital age has transformed how we work and live, making computer science and the technologies it enables central to our daily lives. By 2020, an estimated 4.6 million computer-related jobs will be available for those with skills in computer science—jobs that will address such issues as climate change, healthcare provision, and economic development. Unfortunately, many educational institutions in the United States have not been able to keep pace with technological advances, leaving students without fundamental computer science skills: of the more than 42,000 high schools in the United States, fewer than 3,250 were certified to teach advanced-placement computer science courses in 2013. Only 14 states count computer science courses toward a student’s graduation requirements in math and science, and no states require a computer science course as a condition of graduation. This must change if we want students from the United States to have future career opportunities in global computer science fields.

    By the way, you don’t have to work at Microsoft Research to be part of this effort: to learn about more free tools you can share with students to interest them in computing, visit Research tools.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

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