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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.

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Debugger Canvas released on Devlabs


    In June 2011, Microsoft released Debugger Canvas on DevLabs, the result of a year-long collaboration between Microsoft Research, the Microsoft Visual Studio product team, and Brown University. Debugger Canvas transforms how software developers use and experience their programming environments.

    In a traditional programming environment, a developer views code like most people view the web: by hopping from document to document, following link after link, with many documents opened in tabs across the top of the screen. Just like hyperactive web surfers, developers often get “lost in the tabs,” struggling to find (and re-find!) information that is relevant to their tasks. Debugger Canvas replaces these tabbed documents with a pan-and-zoom presentation of the specific source code that is relevant to the task. This keeps all of the necessary pieces together in one place, eliminating a lot of disorienting navigation steps.

    Debugger Canvas is the result of a bit of serendipity. At last summer’s International Conference on Software Engineering, two separate teams—one from Microsoft Research and one from Brown University—each presented a paper about redesigning programming environments. The two teams quickly discovered each other, found many points of overlap between their designs, and decided to join forces and combine the best of both designs. With support from Microsoft Research Connections, we pulled together a team from Microsoft Research, Brown University, and the Visual Studio product team. The goal was to create a “power tool” (that is, an experimental extension) for Visual Studio that enables professional developers across the world to try out these new ideas. The result: Debugger Canvas.

    The initial public reaction to Debugger Canvas has been overwhelmingly positive both on Twitter and in the comments area of blog posts that are discussing the tool. (One of my favorite tweets: “Thank you Debugger Canvas I found the error in secs after I installed you.”)

    Up next: the collaborative team is currently adding enhancements based on user feedback, as well as scheduling interviews with active users to learn how they are using the tool. That feedback, plus other input and personal observations, will inform our next release of the tool.

    Arjmand Samuel, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections, and Rob Deline, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research

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    The Promise of Games in Lifelong Learning


    We are pleased to announce the launch of a program that is designed to support collaborations between Microsoft Research Connections and major research institutions to build the foundations for a unified game layer for education. Our first official project is Just Press Play, an experiment to craft gameful experiences for the students of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) undergraduate game design program. (Gameful experiences incorporate the use of game play mechanics that focus on the user's intrinsic motivation, engaging the user in a way that can produce long-lasting and powerful results.) You can learn more about the project by visiting the Just Press Play developer blog.

    Just Press Play: Students bringing gameful experiences to education.

    Just Press Play: Students bringing gameful experiences to education.

    Microsoft Research has a long-standing commitment to games for learning, which began more than a decade ago with our support of Henry Jenkins and the MIT Education Arcade through programs like Games to Teach and iCampus. This work complemented games research that was being performed by Michel Pahud, Andy Wilson, and other Microsoft researchers. More recently, we founded the Games for Learning Institute, a consortium of 8 universities, 14 principal investigators, and a small army of graduate students whose mission is to find out what makes games fun, what makes them educational, and to develop patterns that assist developers in the creation of effective educational games.

    One of those principal investigators is Andrew Phelps, director of the RIT School of Interactive Games and Media. Andy began his experiments with games for learning in 2003, when he created the Multi-User Programming Pedagogy for Enhancing Traditional Study (MUPPETS) to teach computational thinking through 3-D graphics and animation. More recently, he and Jessica Bayliss began pushing the boundaries of games in the classroom by conducting an experiment to award experience points to students in lieu of grades. In collaboration with Elizabeth Lawley, director of the RIT Lab for Social Computing and creator of the citizen heritage experiment, Picture the Impossible, he began to develop a much more ambitious idea: create a “frame game” that wraps around the most common activities that are inherent to student life at RIT. In other words, he is developing a platform that deeply integrates with the school’s core student information systems in order to create gameful experiences for students that pervade their online experience, versus their person-to-person interactions. By using this platform and the resulting experiences, he can gather data on student activities, improve student motivation, and reduce attrition in the IGM freshman class.

    The Just Press Play experiment is an important first step in bringing gameful experiences to education, but it is only the beginning. Throughout the year, we intend to announce additional partnerships with other researchers and organizations to build out the foundations of a unified game layer for education. This layer is similar to the social layer developed in the first decade of the twenty-first century to support a unified representation of identity and social networks across websites and applications. The social layer is arguably complete with the creation of the Open Graph protocol and applications such as Bing Social Search. Now we need to begin work on another layer, one that will instrument our everyday experiences, transform these experiences into gameful experiences and, by doing so, provide the inputs to entirely new capabilities such as e-portfolios, adaptive learning, and project-based learning.

    Intrinsic motivation is a primary goal of the game layer, but there are other benefits as well. Because a great deal of data is needed to power these gameful experiences, we are encouraging participants to instrument their the online experience versus person-to-person interactions in a way similar to how Foursquare encourages players to keep track of the places they visit. This instrumentation provides entirely new insights into the worlds of students and educators. It enables large-scale longitudinal studies that span the many institutions of learning that we travel through over the course of our lives. It is the promise of true lifelong learning environments to teach twenty-first-century skills and guide our students along a rewarding journey of lifelong learning. We look forward to inviting you to the game!

    Donald Brinkman, Research Program Manager, Games for Learning, Digital Heritage, Digital Humanities, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Computer Vision Takes Center Stage at Moscow Summer School


    When is the best time to be in Moscow? For 82 young computer-science researchers, the answer is July 28 to August 3, 2011. Not only is that usually one of summer’s warmest weeks in the Russian capital, it is also the week that the Microsoft Computer Vision School will take place at the Lomonosov Moscow State University.

    The school offers advanced undergraduates, doctoral students, young scientists, and developers a unique opportunity to learn from top scientists in the field of computer vision and image analysis. Courses will cover the fundamentals of the field and explore the latest research. The school also provides a great venue for networking, enabling the students to establish connections with each other and the school lecturers.
    Offering lectures, practical sessions, poster presentations, and a programming project, the Microsoft Computer Vision School aims to:

    • Foster the development of a stronger computer-vision community in the region by introducing young scientists from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine to some of the world’s foremost computer scientists
    • Encourage young scientists to continue their research in the field by using the state-of-the art methods and tools—including those from Microsoft Research—which will be discussed during the lectures
    • Highlight the depth and breadth of the field by offering a wide variety of lectures—from beginner to advanced levels and from theoretical to practical—including a discussion devoted to computer vision start-ups

     The Microsoft Research Computer Vision School 2011 will be held at Lomonosov Moscow State University

    The Microsoft Research Computer Vision School 2011 will be held at Lomonosov Moscow State University

    The Microsoft Computer Vision School is sponsored by Microsoft Research and organized in cooperation with Lomonosov Moscow State University. It follows the highly successful MIDAS 2010 and HPC 2009 schools and represents another of the many collaborative efforts between Microsoft Research Connections and the world’s top academic institutions.

    Competition for admission to the school was particularly intense. The number of registrations at the school website exceeded 500, and the overall acceptance rate was fewer than 20 percent. Many of the applications were exceptionally strong, which made the decision process extremely difficult. The 82 admitted students come from 32 cities in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus and represent 48 academic institutions and companies. They, and we, are looking forward to a stimulating, information-packed experience—and maybe a few warm evenings in Red Square.
    Fabrizio Gagliardi, Director, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA (Europe, the Middle-East, and Africa)

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