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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

    Getting social down under, NUI style

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    I feel especially fortunate to be here in Melbourne, Australia, to participate in the launch of the Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces. This is a joint research center between the University of Melbourne and Microsoft Research, in partnership with the state government of Victoria and Microsoft Australia. The center will explore applications of natural user interfaces—better known as NUI—in social situations. It will be the world’s first joint research center dedicated to studying and perfecting the social applications of NUI.

    The world's first joint research center devoted to social NUI

    As regular readers of this blog know, NUI enables us to interact with technology by using natural human capabilities for communication and manipulation of the physical world. The best-known examples come from the gaming world, where, for instance, Kinect for Xbox 360 uses natural gestures, voice commands, and body movements to slay villains or sink a putt. And ever since the release of the Kinect for Windows software development kit in 2011, developers have been finding novel applications of NUI beyond the universe of Halo 3: for example, to view medical images during surgery.

    The Social NUI Centre will promote interdisciplinary research that spurs the development of applications to facilitate communication, collaboration, and social interaction in the home and workplace; in public spaces such as museums and events; in formal and informal educational setting, including classrooms and online courses; and in the delivery of healthcare. I am looking forward to the Social NUI Centre opening the floodgates to new innovative social uses of NUI. The potential is limited only by our imagination.

    As the world’s first joint research center devoted to social NUI in Australia, this initiative stands as a testament to the University of Melbourne’s academic prowess and the government of Victoria’s commitment to high quality IT research. We expect the Social NUI Centre to create new social NUI applications and to serve as a testing ground for NUI technologies developed by Microsoft Research, as well as to provide internships for University of Melbourne doctoral students and extend Microsoft Research’s collaboration with University of Melbourne faculty and students.

    Tony Hey, Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Scale out your research with virtual machines: Windows Azure webinar

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    Watch the webinar: Virtual Machines for Research on Windows AzureResearchers often ask us, “What’s the easiest way to get started with cloud computing?” Cloud computing can seem daunting, but Windows Azure makes it easier than ever to analyze and manage large datasets in the cloud. Want to know more? Then please join us tomorrow (December 4 or December 5, depending on your time zone) for the next installment in our webinar series that explains what, why, and how of the cloud can free you from limited computing resources and the expense of hardware procurement.

    One of the best ways to get going is to use one of the pre-configured “science-in-a-box” Linux virtual machines. These great little packages bring together all of the tools you need, so that you can deploy them in the cloud with just a few mouse clicks. You can grab these from our VM Depot, where there are dozens to choose from, including BioLinux and a Data Science VM with IPython, as well as big data tools such as Kafka and STORM. In tomorrow’s webinar, we’ll walk you through how to create Linux and Windows VMs for scientific applications, both from VM Depot and from scratch, so you can build your own VM tuned for your research. Once you’ve built your VM, you can literally spin up hundreds of them to run those big calculations needed to meet your publication deadline—that’s the power of the cloud in action.

    Windows Azure virtual machines deployed from VM Depot: Science-in-a-Box
    Windows Azure virtual machines deployed from VM Depot: Science-in-a-Box

    We’re delighted to present the webinar twice, at 8:00 A.M. Pacific Time (that’s 4:00 P.M. GMT December 4, morning for Western Hemisphere researchers and late afternoon for those in Europe and Africa), and at 6:00 P.M. Pacific Time (2:00 A.M. GMT December 5, and after breakfast in Asia). Wherever you are on the globe, we hope you join us online for this informative session.

    To complement the webinars, we’ve created some getting started guides at the Windows Azure for Research site to provide a deeper dive. So please join us for the webinar series and dig deeper with our technical papers to liberate your research by reaching for the cloud.

    Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    ChronoZoom offers new tools for history teachers

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    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.”

    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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