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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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    Hacking to build diverse teams of technological innovators


    Technology can play a key role in finding solutions to big problems. First, we have to build diverse teams of innovators to lead the way. Hackathons provide a great opportunity for anyone to experience coding and see how technology can be used to address serious issues. As I contemplate my New Year's resolutions, I hope to do all that I can to encourage everyone who has an interest in computing to participate in a hackathon—as either a hacker or a sponsor.

    Microsoft Research was pleased to be a sponsor and supporter of Americas Datafest, a hackathon that took place in November 2013. The hackathon was organized by Teresa Bouza, Deputy Bureau Chief of EFE and Knight Fellow at Stanford University. Teresa believes that the rapid spread of mobile broadband has the potential to help us address the challenges facing society in a data-driven manner. To explore this potential, she brought together programmers, engineers, journalists, NGOs, data scientists, and others for a weekend of intense, multi-city collaboration to address important issues related to migration in the Americas.


    The hackathon demonstrated that technology experts, working in partnership with subject matter experts, could generate creative and promising ideas that can make a difference. We know that events like these not only help grow the next generation of diverse computer scientists and innovators, but also communicate the message that technology can help solve the world’s greatest problems.

    I'd like to hand this over to Teresa to discuss the event in more detail.

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


    Before I begin, I would like to say a few words about the issue we wanted to address with Americas Datafest. While immigration to the United States may be the most visible aspect of migration in the Americas, human flows throughout the region are complex and evolving. For example, Mexico is becoming a destination country, thanks to its growing economy and there are significant patterns of population movement within Latin America.

    The idea behind the hackathon was to inspire contestants to build apps that make public and crowd-sourced data accessible and useful for migrants. We also wanted to create tools that facilitate outreach and data collection by NGOs and researchers. Ultimately, such efforts can provide evidence to inform immigration policies across the region. I invited subject matter experts from the United Nations, the World Bank, and NGOs in the United States and Latin America to submit challenge topics, which our participants then used as a basis for brainstorming project ideas.

    The event was held simultaneously in 20 cities across 11 countries and each location nominated two top teams for our global awards. Their projects covered a diverse range of ideas. Harvard students focused on facilitating immigrants’ integration. Other students from the United States, Venezuela, Mexico, and Brazil built tools that can help migrants in general, whether they move domestically or abroad.

    Health was another prominent subject. The team at Fusion, the new joint venture between ABC News and Univision, created a project that will allow the TV network’s audience to gather their personal data to improve their understanding of their own health; the aggregate data can be used to examine the major health issues within the demographic. Like this project, many of the projects can be adapted for other parts of the world.

    The winning projects were:

    ¿Dónde estás?: A measurement and mapping tool to search for Central American migrants in Mexico

    Health24: An application that helps migrants receive basic diagnoses and correctly identify and use over-the-counter drugs

    Invio: A secure and easy-to-use mobile application that gives immigrants control over how and to whom their remittances are distributed

    Migratio: A safety-focused database of migrants that includes tracking and geomapping features

    Salvaviajes: An SMS/web communication platform for crowdsourcing alerts on migration-related issues within Central America and southern North America.

    Teresa Bouza, Deputy Bureau Chief at EFE, and Knight Fellow, Stanford University


    Readers may be interested to note that the Microsoft Research International Women's Hackathon 2014 is scheduled to take place April 25 to 27, 2014, on university campuses around the world and live at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. At this year's event, participating women students have the opportunity to design a software application to address one of the following challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving. For more information or get involved, visit International Women's Hackathon 2014.

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    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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