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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

    ChronoZoom and zombies head to SXSWedu


    I can’t believe how much has happened in just one year. This time last year, we had just released the beta version of ChronoZoom, and the content and development community had created two mini-releases on their own. Key members of the ChronoZoom team were heading off to SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, to accept the SXSW Interactive Award for Best Educational Resource.

    Not content to rest on their laurels, the cross-functional, collaborative ChronoZoom team—made up of people from Microsoft Research; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Washington; and Moscow State University—immediately began working on ChronoZoom’s next release. The team was eager to add an authoring tool so that anyone—teacher, student, or researcher—can create timelines and tours inside ChronoZoom.

    ChronoZoom is being used to help teach historical thinking
    ChronoZoom is being used to help teach historical thinking

    And while we were hard at work on this, outside developers were building creative applications with ChronoZoom. For instance, a team at the University of Alberta created Dino101, a specialized version of ChronoZoom that focuses on important events in Earth’s geological history. Then in the fall of 2013, a group of advanced placement high-school students in St. Louis, Missouri, used ChronoZoom to create a collaborative timeline on world religions. The pedagogical value of ChronoZoom shines through in their comments, such as this from student Dimitri Rucker:

    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…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.

    We were elated to see ChronoZoom being used to help bridge the gap between science and humanities. It confirmed our belief that this visualization tool can serve as a great open education resource.

    In March 2013, we launched ChronoZoom 2.0, which has gained even more traction in the education community. Working with our curriculum partners at the University of North Carolina’s School of Education, we’ve developed showcase curricula that really demonstrate the education potential of ChronoZoom.

    Now we are excited to be represented at this year’s SXSWedu event, where curriculum designer David Hunter will present his Zombie-Based Learning Curriculum as well as the ChronoZoomers Guild project that utilizes ChronoZoom and teaches historical thinking in a time-traveling scenario. I am happy to hand this blog over to David, who will describe his session and his work with ChronoZoom.

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

    One year after the launch of ChronoZoom, we’ve made significant strides in utilizing the ChronoZoom open education resource tool to help teach historical thinking in today’s K-12 classrooms in the United States. Implementing any new tech tool in the classroom can be a challenge, so we worked hard to provide support for teachers as well as an engaging experience for students.

    Click to read a memo to the time-traveling members of the ChronoZoomers Guild (courtesy of David Hunter)Working directly with the ChronoZoom team at Microsoft Research, we’ve recently launched a free curriculum that I developed to teach historical thinking by immersing students in researching the effects of manipulating history. To engage students, we’ve created an original story that complements the curriculum. In the story, an organization from the future, known as the ChronoZoomers Guild, is working to prevent historical atrocities for the betterment of future timelines. Within the story framework, students create their own timelines by using ChronoZoom to present and support their historical arguments.

    Based on my experience as a middle-school humanities teacher, I designed the story, projects, and lessons to teach students not only historical content, but also how to think like historians. These historical thinking skills, such as understanding causality or historical research, meet the latest standards (CCSS, C3, and National History) in teaching history and social studies. Using the ChronoZoom tool with this curriculum greatly helps teachers meet those standards authentically. The curriculum also supports project-based learning and has proven to engage and excite students in developing critical, historical thinking skills.

    With the options to use the free tool, curriculum, or story, K-12 teachers have several choices of how to integrate ChronoZoom in their classroom, allowing them to discover strategies to enhance student learning experiences by engaging in deeper thinking about both historical concepts and technology. We'll be discussing strategies to support teachers and engage students at our SXSWedu workshop this year. Be sure to check it out!

    David Hunter, Chief Survival Officer, Zombie-Based Learning

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    DataUp rises to new curatorial heights


    DataUp, an award-winning program for data curation, is now better than ever, thanks to a significant upgrade released today. This new, more robust version of DataUp includes substantial usability improvements for scientific users needing data management support and, in addition, has entirely new functionality to enable repository administrators to add and manage their repositories from within the DataUp application.

    DataUp: simplify data sharing

    In the new version of DataUp, repository administrators can set up associative metadata via the UI or by uploading an XML file. This gives them the flexibility to define what metadata is required—even on a discipline-by-discipline basis—and to constrain the file-level metadata that will be captured from the user upon data deposit. In addition, administrators can activate the Data Quality Check, a new data validation feature that enables the DataUp tool to verify whether a user’s uploaded file meets certain requirements for the repository.

    The DataUp upgrade will be officially unveiled at the 2014 International Data Curation Conference (IDCC2014) in San Francisco, which runs from February 24 to 27. The code is available as open source (Apache 2.0) on Bitbucket as of today, February 24. We encourage you to download the code and share it with other data curators—and to let us know what you think. And if you’ll be attending IDCC2014, we would be delighted if you would participate in the Microsoft Research workshop on Data Management in the Cloud, which will cover various topics such as how to use DataUp to manage your data in the cloud; also, be sure to stop by the poster session at the IDCC event.

    This release marks the culmination of a project that started in conjunction with the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and which has included substantial information gathering and user support work done by the California Digital Library (CDL). CDL has also written a blog post on the new release.

    Presently, DataUp supports two different types of repositories, though more can be added via repository adapters: (1) a personal or organizational Microsoft OneDrive repository or (2) a repository that adheres to the ONEShare standard developed by the California Digital Library. 

    One thing I can truly say is that a project like this takes a village. This release has been a long time coming and I am very thankful to my partners at the Moore Foundation and CDL; and my colleagues in the Education and Scholarly Communication and Earth, Energy and Environment teams that put in the time and effort to bring this release to fruition.

    Kristin Tolle, Director for Environmental Development Infrastructure, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Learn to tell stories with data at the Excel for Research webinar


    We hear a lot these days about “data science,” but what is it, exactly? Data collection, data management, data wrangling, big data, broad data—these are all pieces of the data-science puzzle.

    One view is that data science is all about telling stories—with data. However, the stories are definably non-fiction: it’s about separating fact from fiction, gut instinct from incontrovertible evidence.

    Free Excel for Research webinar

    Finding compelling storytellers is not easy. That’s why pinning down what a data scientist does is so difficult; it includes such a wide variety of tasks and required skills. It’s an interesting mix of finding the right question, then putting together the answer and presenting a narrative with numbers, analysis, charts, and animated visualizations to make the point. While Microsoft Word and PowerPoint are seen as the tools of choice for more traditional storytellers, in the new era of data-intensive research, Microsoft Excel is becoming the new star. And now it has a few nice surprises, such as Power BI for Office 365, the new multipurpose-tool for the data scientist—allowing you to clean, slice, dice, plot, map, and animate your data easily.

    If you’re one of the many researchers who already use Excel extensively, these new features mean you can continue to use a familiar tool but with much wider and deeper capabilities. It’s a convenient entry point for data on the web and in the cloud, allowing you to make use of data in Windows Azure from computations, experiments, and field studies.

    To find out more about how Excel and Power BI can help your research, tune into our webinar on February 26, 2014, at 16:00 UTC/GMT (08:00 PST), and we’ll walk you through how to find, query, analyze, and visualize your data in new ways. Register to join us for this free, interactive webinar.

    We’d also like to hear your Windows Azure project stories. Tell us how you’re using Windows Azure in your research—what problems you’re trying to solve and how using the cloud is working out for you. Just post your story on the Windows Azure for Research LinkedIn Group and you could be chosen to tell your story at one of our worldwide events, inspiring other researchers to follow your example.

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

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