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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

    What if coding were a game?

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    Well, now it is. Today, we are pleased to announce the launch of Code Hunt, a browser-based game for anyone who is interested in coding. We built Code Hunt to take advantage of the fact that any task can be more effective and sustainable when it’s fun. And Code Hunt is fun! It uses puzzles, which players explore by means of clues presented as test cases. Players iteratively modify their code to match the functional behavior of secret solutions. Once their code matches, lights flash and sounds play, letting players know that they have “captured” the code. Players then get a score, which depends on how elegant their solution is, and are encouraged to move on to the next puzzle or level.

    Code Hunt is a browser-based game for anyone who is interested in coding.

    When we demoed Code Hunt a few months ago, we were amazed at the interest it elicited across groups at Microsoft, from those involved with K-12 education to those focused on college recruiting. However, today we want to talk about how Microsoft Research Asia used Code Hunt during their annual Beauty of Programming (BOP) event, a competition that attracts thousands of students in the Greater China Region (GCR).

    In the past, the BOP competition gave students specifications for problems and then checked their solutions automatically using a test suite. This is the traditional approach: students pit their wits against each other—and against the clock—to create a solution to a defined problem. While this kind of coding is similar to what they will encounter in courses or later in their careers, it isn’t necessarily fun.

    Code Hunt is different. Instead of giving students a problem and comparing their solutions to a set of fixed test cases, Code Hunt does the opposite: it presents an empty slate to the user and a set of constantly changing test cases. It thus teaches coding as a by-product of solving a problem that is presented as pattern matching inputs and outputs. The fun is in finding the pattern. Fun is seen as a vital ingredient in accelerating learning and retaining interest during what might be a long and sometimes boring journey towards obtaining a necessary skill—or in this case, winning a competition. The GCR team recognized that Code Hunt would not only make the BOP competition more fun, but it would also enable them to check the solutions more quickly and accurately.

    Once their code matches, lights flash and sounds play, letting players know that they have “captured” the code. With considerable optimism, we opened Code Hunt to BOP competitors in April. In three rounds, 2,353 students scored in the game, and the contestants solved an average of 55.7% of the puzzles. Since Code Hunt runs on Microsoft Azure, we have all the statistics. We could see that, on average, it took players 41 tries to capture the code for puzzles. However, we were really interested in the 350 top students who solved all of the puzzles—even the most difficult ones. These students needed only 7.6 tries on average to solve a puzzle, showing that Code Hunt can reliably surface the better coders. From these students, 13 were selected to proceed to the finals, and we wish them luck.

    Code Hunt was developed by a team in Microsoft Research led by Principal Development Lead Nikolai Tillmann and Principal Research Software Engineer Peli de Halleux. It is based on Pex, Microsoft Research’s state-of-the-art implementation of dynamic symbolic execution (analyzing a program to determine what inputs cause each part of a program to execute), which is available as a Power Tool in Microsoft Visual Studio.

    We look forward to Code Hunt’s further application and would be happy to receive inquiries regarding competitions or courses. But remember, anyone can play Code Hunt—for fun or to hone their coding skills. Just go to www.codehunt.com and start coding!

    Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research, and Guobin Wu, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Networked and distributed at SBRC

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    This year, the Brazilian Symposium on Computer Networks and Distributed Systems (SBRC 2014) is discussing, among other topics, cloud computing, which is a fantastic technology that provides new services and applications for users and helps accelerate research in different domains. Cloud computing is expected to become even more prominent in the coming years...

    —Antonio Alfredo Loureiro, full professor, Computer Science Department, Federal University of Minas Gerais

    Feng Zhao, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research AsiaI am happy to give a quick report following last week’s 2014 Brazilian Symposium on Computer Networks and Distributed Systems (better known by its Portuguese acronym: SBRC), one of the most prestigious events for the Brazilian computer science community. It was held May 5–9, in the seaside town of Florianópolis and included a range of topical workshops, panel discussions, and demos being delivered by internationally renowned researchers. The conference had 21 technical sessions covering just about every current issue related to computer networks and distributed systems.

    Daron Green, a senior director at Microsoft Research Connections in RedmondI’m pleased to note that Microsoft Research was among the sponsors of this conference and delivered two keynote presentations. Daron Green, a senior director at Microsoft Research Connections in Redmond, spoke on Living outside the Comfort Zone: Innovating through Research, an intriguing look into the future of collaborative computing technology and the role that Microsoft Research is playing in creating unique research opportunities, from highly configurable small-scale experimental devices to world-class cloud computing infrastructure. Feng Zhao, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research Asia, discussed Planet-Scale Sensing: from Lab to the Real World, which explored the major advances in sensor networks and their applications in such areas as energy consumption and urban planning.

    We also had a booth at SBRC, where, among other relevant Microsoft Research projects, we were sharing information about our Microsoft Azure for Research program, which offers free training on using Microsoft Azure for scientific research, as well as substantial grants of cloud-computing resources for winning research proposals. The program includes a special request for proposals for the Brazilian scientific community, with a submission deadline of June 15. You can learn more about the program, including information on the RFP for the Brazilian scientific community at Microsoft Azure for Research.

    The Microsoft booth at SBRC shared information about the Microsoft Azure for Research program, among other Microsoft Research projects
    The Microsoft booth at SBRC shared information about the Microsoft Azure for Research program, among other Microsoft Research projects.

    The SBRC comes on the heels of Microsoft’s deployment of a datacenter in São Paolo, Brazil. This new facility gives Brazilian researchers a faster connection to Microsoft Azure’s highly scalable compute platform. Such local availability has resonated well with SBRC delegates—particularly those attending the Azure training we’ve offered as part of the conference—as they have seen virtual machines and storage provisioned for the first time in-country. At times, the Microsoft booth was swamped by attendees wishing to talk to us about how best to use Microsoft’s cloud and, of course, to pick up a cool Azure for Research T-shirt.

    —Juliana Salles, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Computer science takes center stage in Chile

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    Where would you look to find new approaches to solving today’s economic, scientific, and social problems? If you answered Viña del Mar, Chile, from today through May  9, you’re right—as that’s where and when more than 250 thought leaders are gathered for the Microsoft Research Latin American Faculty Summit 2014. The attendees come from academia, government, and Microsoft Research, and represent an array of disciplines, including computer science, engineering, mathematics, and economics.

    Latin American Faculty Summit 2014: furthering innovations for economic and social development

    The theme of this year’s summit is “advancing science and technology through computing research.” To fulfill this ambitious objective, the participants are exploring the role of computing in modern research—especially in handling the data deluge that typifies much of today’s research, as well as the importance of computer science education, the emergence of what’s been called the “internet of things,” and the promise of machine learning. They are also examining trends in social computing and the use of computing in studying urban problems.

    Managing Director of Microsoft Research India, P. Anandan; Vice President of Microsoft Research, Tony Hey; Faculty Fellow Award Recipient, Carolina Fuentes; Chile’s Ministro de Economía, Luis Felipe Céspedes; GM of Microsoft Chile, Oliver Flogel; and Microsoft Research Faculty Summit Co-Chair, Jaime Puente
    Pictured from left to right: Managing Director of Microsoft Research India, P. Anandan; Vice President of Microsoft Research, Tony Hey; PhD Fellow Award Recipient, Carolina Fuentes; Chile’s Ministro de Economía, Luis Felipe Céspedes; GM of Microsoft Chile, Oliver Flogel; and Microsoft Research Faculty Summit Co-Chair, Jaime Puente

    The event is held in partnership with Chile’s Ministry of Economics, and, as befits one of Latin America’s premier computer-science conferences, the summit will pay particular attention to regional challenges. Microsoft Research has long been involved in this part of Latin America, given that Chile serves as the management hub for Latin American and Caribbean Collaborative ICT Research (LACCIR), a joint research center of Microsoft Research and top-tier Latin American universities. In fact, it was introduced in 2007, during the very first Latin America Faculty Summit, which was also held at Viña del Mar.

    Tony Hey delivers his keynote on Data-Driven Computing
    Tony Hey delivers his keynote on Data-Driven Computing

    The three-day program features speeches, talks, workshops, panel discussions, and a DemoFest. The keynote addresses cover a variety of topics, including:

    • Computing and astronomy, with a focus on ALMA (the world’s largest radio telescope) and astronomical visualizations via Microsoft Research’s WorldWide Telescope
    • Big data, machine learning, and social computing
    • Twenty-first–century education and the need to inspire the next generation of computer scientists
    • Mobile and cloud computing
    • The importance of technology in preparing for natural disasters
    • The role of research in driving innovation

    We’re looking forward to three stimulating days, filled with exchanges between people who are intent on using science and technology to make the world a better place.

    Jaime Puente, Director, Microsoft Research Latin America

    Evelyne Viegas, Director of Semantic Computing, Microsoft Research Redmond

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