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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.
I am especially excited to work in partnership with Code.org, 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.
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 ConnectionsLearn more
A diagnosis of cancer can be particularly foreboding for any patient. However, new treatments become possible as we learn more about the disease, and the application of research techniques more commonly found in the social sciences are now providing new insights.Although medical investigators have been studying cancer for decades, only recently have they focused attention on micro RNAs (miRNAs), small RNA molecules that affect gene regulation and probably many other biological processes. Studies are now underway to learn if alterations in miRNA expression profiles can be used to identify drivers in both colorectal and pancreatic cancers.To study miRNA expression profiles and their relation to these cancers, researcher Tommaso Mazza in the Bioinformatics research unit at Italy’s Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza Research Hospital and his colleagues paired normal and tumor tissue samples from patients with colorectal or pancreatic cancer and determined the relative levels of miRNA expression in each sample. They then subjected the data to complex statistical analysis to determine which miRNAs appear to be affected in each cancer.Once the set of miRNAs affected in each cancer type was identified, the researchers applied analyses more commonly seen in the social sciences to construct and analyze the network of interactions between them. To do this, Dr. Mazza and his colleagues built a standalone application in C# utilizing the NodeXL network graph-analysis platform. Analyses of these graphs revealed that each of these cancers is associated with a unique pattern of changes specific to the tissue in which it occurs, and that certain key miRNAs could be tied to biochemical pathways in the cell, some previously known to be associated with cancer—but some that are new discoveries, to be validated in future research. This work also demonstrates the new insights that analytical techniques common in one area of science can bring when applied in a different field.
NodeXL includes an Excel template for easy manipulation of graph data.
NodeXL is a free, open-source template for Microsoft Excel that displays and analyzes graphs by utilizing a custom Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) control. It can be invaluable whenever you want to explore network graphs. NodeXL can import and export graphs in GraphML, Pajek, UCINET, and matrix formats and can be configured to import and analyze networks from social networking sites, email interactions from Microsoft Exchange, or graphs of web hyperlinks. If you would like to learn more, the NodeXL webpage has a programmer discussion forum and a method to download the latest class libraries.The research of Dr. Mazza and his colleagues on miRNA expression profiles was published in PLOS ONE (an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication). You can access the paper on the PLOS website. —Simon Mercer, Director of Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft Research ConnectionsLearn more
Cloud computing offers tremendous advantages in terms of scale and compute power—not to mention costs—to those grappling with today’s data-intensive research. The Windows Azure for Research program is designed to help scientists reap these cloud-computing benefits in their research work. As part of the program, our series of worldwide training seminars are now in full swing; we’ve hosted two-day, in-person training events in Cape Town, Paris, Zurich, Seoul, Guangzhou, Beijing, Campinas, and Seattle. If you couldn’t attend one of these events don’t despair: many more are planned across the globe.
In addition, we’ve released the training material online, along with a set of technical papers designed specifically to help researchers quickly get started with Windows Azure. These papers cover a range of topics, including application migration; best practices in scaling, compute, storage, web applications, and services; processing of big data; and utilization of high performance computing (HPC), Microsoft Excel, Microsoft business intelligence aids, and other open-source and Microsoft tools—all from a technical computing user’s perspective. We will also feature case studies of successful projects, to illustrate the architecture and technologies used to solve cloud-scale problems in various research fields. The information in these papers is applicable to Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems. If you have attended the Windows Azure for Research training, have received an award through the RFP program, or are just curious about Windows Azure, we believe you will find this content useful. We suggest that you read the technical papers in order, starting with the overview. If you have applications you’d like to migrate to the cloud with minimum effort, we suggest you review Getting Started with Windows Azure Virtual Machines. If you want to contribute virtual machines (VMs) for your community, Using and Contributing Virtual Machines to VM Depot provides detailed instructions. Windows Azure provides the Windows Azure software development kit (SDK), and Python is now a first-class citizen in Visual Studio 2013. This powerful combination gives Python developers much needed features, including remote debugging even on Linux virtual machines. An Introduction to Using Python with Windows Azure explains how to place Python applications in the cloud. Windows Azure for Linux and Mac Users provides information to help non-Windows users get started with Windows Azure quickly. We’ve also included a guide for high performance computing on Windows Azure. The new Power Query and Power Map tools in Excel 2013 can now be used to analyze data from Windows Azure Storage; Visualization with Excel Tools and Windows Azure offers a detailed walk-through of a sample.In addition to these technical papers and the in-person training events, we also offer a three-part series of webinars on using Windows Azure cloud computing for research. The first two webinars have already aired, but you can watch them on demand: Accelerating Your Research with Windows Azure and Virtual Machines for Research on Windows Azure. The third webinar, Environmental Science on the Cloud with Windows Azure, will be streamed on December 17, 2013; tune in to learn how environmental scientists are using Windows Azure to easily collect, analyze, and share their data.Lastly, the Windows Azure for Research Award program, which provides grants of Windows Azure to qualified labs, is in high gear. The recipients of first round of grants were announced in early November, and we are fast approaching the December 15, 2013 deadline for submitting proposals for the second round of awards. But no need to panic: the program is ongoing, with submission deadlines on the fifteenth of every other month. Just remember, applicants must be affiliated with an academic institution or a nonprofit research laboratory to qualify. Learn more and apply for a research award on the proposal submission site.If you have questions or would like to suggest topics that we should cover, please let us know. —Wenming Ye, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research ConnectionsLearn more