Technology

Microsoft MVPs in Chicago: Improving the City’s Public Services through Technology

As the Community Program Manager for Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professionals (MVP) Program based in Chicago, I have the immense privilege of working with the area’s most impactful and influential technology and community leaders.

What is the MVP Award?

The Microsoft MVP Award is Microsoft’s way of saying “Thanks!” to outstanding community leaders throughout the world. The contributions MVPs make to the community, ranging from speaking engagements, to writing books, to helping others in online communities and forums, have incredible wide-sweeping impact. The MVP Award program began over 20 years, and today we have over 4,000 technical experts and community leaders across 90 countries. To show our appreciation, MVPs receive early access to Microsoft products, direct communication channels with our product teams, and are invited to the Global MVP Summit, an exclusive annual event hosted in our global HQ in Redmond. They also have a very close relationship with the local Microsoft teams in their area, who are there to support and empower MVPs to address needs and opportunities in the local ecosystem. MVPs are awarded for their contributions in several different areas including development, IT pro, and Office technologies.

Who are the MVPs?

Microsoft’s MVPs are technology experts who passionately share their knowledge with the community. They are always on the “bleeding edge” and have an unstoppable urge to get their hands on new, exciting technologies. They have very deep knowledge of Microsoft products and services, while also being able to bring together diverse platforms, products and solutions, to solve real world problems. MVPs are driven by their passion, community spirit and their quest for knowledge. Above all and in addition to their amazing technical abilities, MVPs are always willing to help others – that’s what sets them apart.

MVPs in Chicago

There are currently eight Microsoft MVPs who reside in the City of Chicago and 41 based in the state of Illinois. Our MVPs empower others with technology on a daily basis – in both their “day jobs” as well as in their free time through community contributions. One Chicago based MVP, Juan Soto, leveraged his technology and community leadership skills to help the Chicago Police Department (CPD).

How a Chicago Based MVP Used Technology to Help CPD

Juan Soto

Juan Soto, Chicago resident and Access MVP, has been a Microsoft MVP for the past 6 years. Juan is the president of IT Impact, Inc., a Microsoft partner and minority owned Software Company specializing in custom software solutions. A Chicago based law firm, responsible for modernizing CPD’s forfeiture tracking systems, enlisted Juan’s help in modernizing the database used by the Chicago Police Department to keep track of confiscated items. CPD’s IT department did not have the internal resources to update the existing Access application, so they called on Juan for assistance.

Juan and his team upgraded the existing Access database to SQL Server 2016 Express edition, added code to update the software automatically when a new version is available, trained 12 of Chicago’s finest police officers on how to maximize the use of Microsoft Access, and redesigned some of the interface to make it easier to find records.

The new updates were a big hit. The Access training Juan provided helped increase productivity – allowing improved response times on the phone with the owners of the asset.

Juan’s team is now planning a second phase of improvements including overhauling the user interface, and adding an additional Paradox database to the new Access + SQL Server system. This impactful project echoes Juan’s customer focused motto: “Discover the power of your data!” with Microsoft Access and SQL Server.

Lisa Anderson

I am extremely proud and humbled by the everyday actions of our Microsoft MVPs who help empower others through technology. As a Chicago resident myself, it is incredible to see how Juan’s work impacts our community. Thank you to Juan and all the MVPs who are creating positive change.

If you are interested in learning more about the Microsoft MVP program and how to be nominated, you can visit our website at https://mvp.microsoft.com/en-us/.

Lisa Anderson is the Community Program Manager responsible for leading Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professionals (MVP) Program in the Central United States. She is based in Chicago, and has been working at Microsoft Chicago for four out of her nearly five years with the company. You can find Lisa on Twitter, LinkedIn, and on her website.

Celebrating World Water Day 2017

Water makes the world go ’round — but what happens to it on a day-to-day basis?

At this point, we are all aware that water conservation is an urgent need. Only 1 percent of the planet’s water supply is fresh water, and much of that is used for production purposes. Between 2000 and 2050, manufacturing is expected to increase its use of fresh water by 400 percent.

So how can we incorporate water conservation into our growing need to use more water?

Tech companies are using data to find the answers — Microsoft has partnered with Ecolab and Trucost to prioritize resourcefulness and sustainability through data analysis and smart financial modeling. Together, we’ve launched the Water Risk Monetizer in New York City, a water risk analysis and financial modeling tool that translates water scarcity risks into financial terms, and enables businesses to factor current and future water risks into decision making.

Through the dedication of growing technologies like IoT, machine learning, and other cloud-based technologies, we’re hoping to inspire others to use tech to minimize environmental impact and help us in our commitment to sustainability and environmental awareness.

Recently, our own Adam Hecktman joined West Monroe Partners to explore water quality and scarcity, as well as the impact industrialization has had on water conservation. As our supply of clean drinking water continues to dramatically diminish, our industry has a responsibility to seek solutions to water problems. Organizations like City Digital and Opti use smart sensors to address these issues, and we’re looking forward to learning about other projects at today’s World Water Day Summit.

Read Adam’s blog with West Monroe Partners here.

Read more about the Water Risk Monetizer on the Microsoft Green Blog.

Microsoft Technology Center to Open in Detroit

Microsoft is coming to Detroit!

Our Michigan Microsoft team, currently hosted in Southfield, is moving to a 40,000 square foot space at One Campus Martius, where Detroit will host its own Microsoft Technology Center (MTC). At our Microsoft Technology Centers (like our Chicago location), we offer interactive and immersive experiences surrounding Microsoft technologies and initiatives. Our MTCs drive customers, partners, and everyday people looking to use cloud technology to drive impact in their communities.

“We are excited to relocate and be part in the revitalization and the growing tech hub of Detroit,” said Tracy Galloway, General Manager of the Great Lakes region for Microsoft. “Our new location will be home to Detroit’s Microsoft Technology Center; where we provide world class technology solutions and innovation for our customers as well as a home for community outreach around STEM.”

As part of our growing involvement in Detroit, we’re looking forward to building new innovations and opportunities to engage with the people of Detroit. The Motor City has embraced innovation as part of its core values, and we’re thrilled to join the city to boost these initiatives.

The Microsoft Technology Center Detroit is expected to open in early 2018.

Learn more about the Microsoft Technology Center Detroit at our MTC hub.

Read the latest on our partnership via the Detroit Free Press.

Taking Library Data Off The Shelf

Since its founding in 1871, the Chicago Public Library (CPL) has continually transformed itself to meet the needs of Chicagoans. In 2014, in the face of rapidly-changing norms around library usage nationwide, CPL responded by collaborating with Civic Consulting Alliance to create its strategic plan, which provided a roadmap for how CPL should grow, invest, and innovate to serve its nearly 10 million annual patrons.

CPL frequently uses its strategy as a guidepost to make decisions about programs and services at all levels of the organization. However, CPL lacked a method to measure its progress towards fulfilling each of its strategic goals. To remedy this situation, the Library decided to invest in a performance management system to monitor and report progress towards its goals.

Civic Consulting Alliance supported the Library in identifying metrics tied to the goals of its strategy, and Allstate Corporation, on a pro bono basis, created a dashboard to track and understand those metrics. The Civic Consulting/Allstate team then developed the process and norms to make performance decisions based on findings from the dashboard.

In November, the Library held its first monthly performance management meeting, where senior staff used data to inform management and programming decisions. By adopting performance management practices, the Library will be equipped to make its strategic vision a reality — and improve services for millions of patrons.

“Performance management presented the logical next step from our strategic planning efforts and has allowed us to focus on areas of our work that most need our attention,” said CPL Commissioner Brian Bannon. “As a result of our collaboration with Civic Consulting, our senior leadership is better prepared to make decisions that improve services for Chicagoans.”

It’s raining. It’s pouring. We’re flooding.

Flooding. There is something about water coming into your house that is so…invasive.  And when it comes in as bacteria carrying storm water from a sewer system, it is that much more upsetting and expensive.  Now multiply that equation by 181,000 (the number claims of property damage from flooding in the Chicagoland area over the last 5 years), and you have yourself a $773 million situation.  This is the situation that the City Digital Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring project was designed to address.  Let me explain how we got here.

Sewer systems in major cities across the US and around the world often times are a century or more old.  Chicago built ours in 1856, as a combined system (carrying wastewater and stormwater together, away from people and homes and toward treatment plants).  And while the city spends approximately $50 million per year to clean and modernize the sewer lines and related structures, it is still a system built on notions of water events prior to our knowledge and understanding of climate change.  

Climate change has altered the behavior of water events.  As an example, storms are now more intense, shorter in duration, and more localized than they were 100 years ago.  This taxes the sewer systems in various locations around the city during times of intense rainfall.

In addition, there is far less green space in the city than there was 100 years ago.  Green spaces soak up stormwater.  The soil, and native plants living in it, utilizes that water and naturally cleanses some of the runoff.  When we build streets, roadways, parking lots, and buildings, we replace that green space with something impermeable.  Streets and rooftops, are like man-made rivers – they take stormwater and send it into the sewer system.  More hard surfaces + less green space = more water going into the sewers.

For years, we have known that adding “green elements” to the built environment diverts water from the sewers and puts it back into the natural system.  Rain gardens, rain barrels, cisterns, and permeable pavers are all natural elements that act to ultimately get more water back into the ground, less into the sewer system.  What we haven’t known is:

  • How much water is diverted from the sewer system?
  • Which green elements work best in which locations and under which conditions?
  • What is the quality of the water once it goes through the natural system?

Enter the world of sensors and data.  The Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring project was one of the first projects to use the City of Chicago as a test bed for experimentation at scale.  In this case, we used the city to test a water monitoring solution that could scale to multiple cities around the globe.  City Digital selected multiple locations around Chicago to place sensors in different “green elements” to understand how they reduce the impact of flooding.  As an example of one such green element, in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, we incorporated permeable pavers (instead of impermeable asphalt) into a street scape system, which itself was part of a broader City project to create a shared plaza.  We added sensors beneath the pavers to determine how much water was absorbed into the ground (utilizing expertise from engineering company AECOM, and University of Illinois based-startup, Senformatics), and thereby diverted from the sewer system.  

optiOn Goose Island (where UI LABS is located), we built a bioswale with native plants. Working like rain gardens, bioswales are areas at the bottom of a sloped landscape filled with native vegetation to drain runoff water and remove pollution.   Again, sensors were added to determine the amount of water absorbed into the ground, water that otherwise would have been diverted to a sewer.  And other locations in the city will have other types of elements, and sensors to gather data on their performance.

Once the sensors pick up this data, it is collected in the Azure cloud.  There, it is city-digital_dashcombined with other data sources (such as weather forecasts) and is prepared for visualization on a dashboard through our Azure partner Opti, who focuses on new technology approaches to managing stormwater.  Over time, the data collection and analysis will also include metrics on the quality of the water as it passes through a natural system, allowing us to understand how runoff is handled.  Bringing all of this distributed data together will enable insights that a city can use as it plans for capital improvements.  

Imagine if every time a city made plans for street surfaces, parks, streetscapes, or the water system itself, it had the data to understand how to best leverage the opportunity to add green infrastructure.  Further, it would have insights as to which types of green infrastructure would work best in various locations.  Of course, we plan on extending type of experimentation to other water issues, but that is a blog for another time.   For more information on Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring and other City Digital projects, go to http://www.citydigital.org/focusareas-1/.

Uncovering Advanced Science, Technology, and Startups at the University of Illinois Research Park

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Photo: By Jlfergu2 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

If you want to get to Champaign-Urbana from Chicago, here is my suggested route:

  • Depart the city heading south.
  • Drive through high corn fields and lush soy fields.
  • When you feel your mind being blown, you have arrived.

Specifically, you have arrived at the University of Illinois Research Park where both enterprise companies and startups bask in the glow of advanced science and research. I made the trek with Laura Freichs, the Director of Research Park, as my guide for the experience.

First, let me describe the physical space — 15 buildings over a sprawling 200 acres of space adjacent to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) campus. There are, at any given time, 100 corporate companies with corporate innovation centers housed there. There are an additional 50 startups sprouting out of the beautiful and collaborative EnterpriseWorks tech incubator housed at Research Park.

Let’s cover the corporate innovation centers first. Some of the largest companies in the US are doing research and development at Research Park, much of it focused on data, advanced computation, and advanced modeling. The companies doing research vary in industry, from Abbott and Abvie in life sciences, to Capital One and CME Group in financial services, to ABInBev and Dow in process manufacturing.

What kind of work do these corporate titans do at Research Park?

Caterpillar not only houses a simulation center and an advanced data innovation lab at Research Park, they have also employed over 500 student interns, more than 100 of whom have landed jobs as engineers at Cat. Yahoo has 165 employees doing advanced software development and research, and created a home base for their Hadoop Center of Excellence and Data team. These companies all see access to a top talent pipeline as a key benefit, not to mention the early look at trends in the innovation and data spaces they get by being located in close proximity to UIUC.

For me, the corporate partners were the icing on the cake. I was there to learn about the startups. Specifically, I was looking to meet with startups that had either a civic tech or smart cities focus. I wasn’t disappointed. Laura and her team brought me to EnterpriseWorks , a 43,000 sq ft incubator. EnterpriseWorks houses startups that are heavily invested in science-based commercialization opportunities…heavy, heavy science.   Given that UIUC is home to some of the world’s top engineering talent and computing resources (their Blue Waters supercomputer is the fastest in the academic world), this makes sense.

Some of the companies and researchers I met included:

  • Dr. Kaustubh Bhalerao, a researcher in biological nanotechnology, who has been working on ways to dramatically reduce the cost of testing nitrogen content in the soil. Nitrogen fertilization is essential for profitable crop production, and optimizing for nitrogen improves the food supply.
  • Dr. Yanfeng Ouyang and Rebekah Yang of TEST (Transportation Engineering Solutions & Technology), a spinoff from a U of I project for the Illinois Tollway. They look at the sustainability of roadways across the lifecycle, from building them to using them. They use advanced science and engineering research to build tools that will improve environmental and economic impacts of transportation infrastructure (both roads and rail).
  • AE Machines and their Chief Technology Officer, Amy LaViers, could have had me for the entire day if they would let me play with their product all day. Amy had Ardiuno littleBits sprawled across a table. Her company built a drag and drop design interface so that the young and non-technical can have fun learning about the internet of things. It will truly broaden the opportunity for IoT.
  • Tim Sinclair, the CEO of Ringr with a seasoned radio voice (he was actually a sports announcer in an earlier life). Ringr solves the problem of remote interviews on your podcast sounding, well, remote. With his technology, a remote conversation sounds like you are in the same room.
  • Quicket Solutions, whose CEO, Christiaan Burner, showed me how his Software as a Service solution for law enforcement can bring a notoriously antiquated field into the age of the cloud. Any law enforcement agency, with low risk and no up-front investment, can turn paper-based reporting evidence management, and compliance into a process served up from the cloud to any of a number of endpoints.
  • Granular, a Bay area creator of farm management software ERP software, has a regional HQ in Research Park. They were one of a number of businesses in the AgriTech space. Given that the region is heavily invested in agriculture, it makes sense to do your research where you have access to and input from your future customer base.

These are the people Laura with whom Laura gets to spend each day. Every group I met with pushed my adrenaline levels just a little bit higher. What truly capped it for me was my visit to the Cline Center for Democracy, a group that brings data, democracy, and the human condition together with research like I had never seen before. Story for another blog.

And if I sound like a fan…well…I was Class of 1988.

Microsoft Empowers the 2016 Republican & Democratic National Conventions

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Regardless of your political stripes, Microsoft’s mission is to empower everyone to achieve more. This year, Microsoft is playing a significant role in the election process. We believe technology, and our teams, can create a more secure, accurate, and efficient elections process. After starting in Iowa, we continued onto Super Tuesday, and this past July, we were vital to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

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After all the balloons dropped, and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had been officially nominated at their respective parties’ conventions, the entire Microsoft community can proudly say they helped make these significant events in our democratic process a success. Teams across the company, from Washington state to Washington, DC, coordinated over the past year to engage with the political parties, the planning committees,
microsoft-surface-rnc-2016the host cities, and local organizations and businesses to provide access to Microsoft technology and services. From the earliest planning stages, we worked with the RNC Committee on Arrangements and the Democratic National Convention Committee to empower those people and organizations running the conventions to address challenges and provide solutions.

From Azure to Skype to O365 to Surface, Microsoft became integral to two weeks of conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia, viewed by millions of people around the world.

Just as important, we aimed to leave a lasting legacy in each host city. In Cleveland, we partnered with Cuyahoga County on an Azure-based, mobile app to help solve some of the areas on-going challenges. In Philadelphia, we partnered with local organizations to launch the Microsoft Reactor, where entrepreneurs and developers can have a home to innovate into the future.

We will continue supporting the next steps in the 2016 election (bookmark WatchTheDebates.org and check out bing.com/elections throughout the election cycle), and are committed to being a vital part of the democratic process for years to come.

The Elections newsroom on Microsoft News Center provides an ongoing reflection of the company’s work as the election cycle continues.

Think like a Designer — Re-imagining the Museum of Science and Industry

The World’s Columbian Exposition, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s landing in America, was  held in 1893 in Chicago. The exposition occupied 630 acres in Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance. The main site was bounded by Stony Island Avenue on the west, 67th Street on the south, Lake Michigan on the east, and 56th Street on the north. Planners selected a classical architectural theme for the fair. The buildings housed 65 exhibits that followed the theme of the building. Some of the more popular exhibits were curiosities rather than serious displays of technology and progress. They included an eleven-ton cheese and a 1,500 pound chocolate Venus de Milo in the Hall of Agriculture and a seventy-foot-high tower of light bulbs in the Electricity Building. The world’s first Ferris Wheel, invented by George W. Ferris, was also on the Midway. The 250-foot high steel structure had 36 cars carrying 60 persons each.

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More than 200 buildings occupied the exposition’s grounds; today, only one remains. Like most of the other buildings, the Palace of Fine Arts had exterior walls of staff, a temporary building material made from plaster of paris and hemp fiber. It housed the Field Columbian Museum after the fair’s closing until 1920. During the late 1920s, the building was reduced to its steel skeleton and brick interior walls and rebuilt in stone. The structure was opened again to the public as the Museum of Science and Industry in 1931.

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Fast forward to 2016. You are part of a team who have been asked to re-imagine how to use this spectacular space at the Museum, now known as MSI. The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago — one of the largest science museums in the world — is home to more than 400,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits designed to spark scientific inquiry and creativity. This local and national treasure could bring countless STEM resources to Chicagoland with a 21st century facelift — in design, in content, in outreach to the tens of thousands that visit each year and to the neighborhoods and children of the city of Chicago. In an age of Pokémon GO and virtual reality, what would you do to help MSI? Microsoft Chicago is honored to be included in an ongoing redesign of MSI Chicago as part of a group of civic leaders. The following is a glimpse into the process and the challenge — and opportunity — for this iconic resource.

Think like a designer.

First, find a group of really interesting  people, who are passionate about MSI in all aspects: board supporters, scientists, designers, corporate supporters, world-class foundations and so forth. Second, bring in top talent from IDEO-a global design company. Their mission: “We create impact through design.” Third, engage these smart people in fun, creative and thought-provoking dialog. Take the time to really think it through.

Envision all aspects of MSI, now and in the future:

  • Have Empathy for people who will visit
  • Imagine the Stories you want MSI visitors to learn and to tell
  • Observe and reflect on what the values of MSI are…and should be
  • Consider what are the new,  future constraints for MSI as a building, as a center of innovation? (If any….)
  • Create an enduring vision for next decade…and the next. To inspire and motivate our children…and our children’s children.
  • Re-imagine almost everything. How the space can be used? How can we  extend the MSI experience outside of our walls, deeper into the community?
  • What are our values and how do we activate them? How do we make MSI a living demonstration of our mission?

Think about the outcomes for our Families, Teachers and Children who experience MSI. Let’s target  50% learning and 50% fun! Think about how MSI can help influence and inspire careers in STEM by exposing our visitors to the future and share different experiences that can’t find elsewhere.

  • A promising future
  • A Tech-enabled  future
  • A world of virtual and augmented reality, intertwining “real” life and potential enhancements
  • Enhance family togetherness — unplug, touch experiences, interact, inter-relate
  • Shared social experiences
  • Have fun! “Science is a blast”.
  • Learning experiences with Science Teachers, where:
    • Failure is ok
    • Students experience messy, hands on, open ended investigation
    • Students see themselves in science /STEM

In order to truly experience this redesign beyond team brainstorming and sticky notes, each of us last week was assigned to a group of individuals with different backgrounds and we had a “site visit” of several exhibits to think through the different “Personas” that MSI brings out in each of us. Are you a Tinkerer, Pathfinder, Provocateur, or  Futurist? Or do you change your role (as many of us do) depending on what you see and how you react? For example, the Fab Lab is tightly linked to Tinkerers. But what about the classic Coal Mine? Perhaps a Pathfinder in the 1940s and 1950s, but what does it mean today? Can the Coal Mine be re-imagined as the baseline of Energy and fueling mankind and can it be re-imagined as part of a natural resources ecosystem that now includes wind and solar.

FAB Lab photo from Bing

FAB Lab photo from Bing

Coal Mine Photo from Bing

Coal Mine Photo from Bing

All too soon, the site visit experience concluded. We brought our ideas back to the larger team and shared our ideas and the potential to be unlocked. No final conclusions just yet! Innovation, invention and re-imagining take time. Can’t wait to attend the next IDEO session to see what’s next.

Democratization of Data and the Rise of Data Literacy

The democratization of data is one of the most powerful forces shaping society today. Not so long ago, the gathering of data, its storage, and its analysis was, for the most part, the work of a fairly small circle of highly trained people.  Researchers used social science methods and data largely drawn from national surveys to produce accurate information that policy makers could use to make key decisions. But things are very different today.

The walls of training and barriers to access that used to make data the province of an educated elite—the people who could interact with a raw dataset, had access to the right software, could extract meaning from the data, and understood the limitations of the sources—have fallen.  Today anyone with a mobile device can access, create, analyze, and disseminate vast quantities of information.  This is the democratization of data.

And this transformation is producing a lot of valuable work that advances the public good. Here in Chicago, I am struck by the work of Smart Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago who cohosted an event that explored the relationship between information technology, urban space, and the public good in the age of big data.   Another example is the Chicago Tribune’s remarkable data journalism series revealing that the city’s red light cameras were looking more like cash registers than traffic monitors.    

While there are lots of positive aspects of data democratization, there are plenty of challenges to address, many of them having to do with making sure the vast new sources of data are used wisely and well. What’s important now is expanding data literacy: helping make the public informed consumers of what they are seeing, reading, and using.  When the data no longer flows through the hands of the experts, it must come with added education so that people can use it wisely and to their advantage.

This is where some of the lessons learned during the days when we were figuring out how to use data in the service of democracy can still be very important and useful.  It is important to remember that analysis of data is a science and whether we are compiling a dataset from traditional survey data or scraping it from social media, there are key questions we must keep in mind.  First, is it representative of the population or phenomenon we are trying to understand?  Second, is it big enough for us to draw meaningful conclusions?  Third, is it asking the right questions, in the right ways, to address what we need to know?  Fourth, is it open and transparent about its limitations and possible biases.  Without this information, it is hard to trust the results. The election season certainly provides plenty of examples of data being put to use to advance a preconceived point of view.

The democratization of data can be a powerful force for good and it will certainly transform the ways society makes informed decisions.  As that transformation takes place it is important to keep both the data sound and the science intact.

Dan Gaylin at the NORC in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday, November 5, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Nelles)Dan Gaylin is President and CEO of NORC at the University of Chicago, one of the nation’s premier social science research institutes.  Gaylin’s career has spanned think tanks, commercial consulting, and government.  A nationally recognized expert on health policy and program evaluation, his work has focused on using complex data of many different types and sophisticated analysis to inform some of the most important issues facing society.  At NORC he leads a staff of 2000 people who conduct research across the spectrum of the human experience including economics, markets and the workforce; education training and learning; global development; health and well-being; and society and public affairs.

Microsoft announces teacher-inspired updates for Windows, Office, ‘Minecraft’

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At Microsoft, we’re all in on education!

Our company mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. In education, it’s to empower every student. Today, we’re proud to share the latest on what’s coming to Chicago for Back-to-School 2016/2017.

Introducing Microsoft Classroom and Microsoft Forms, OneNote Class Notebook now with Learning Management System (LMS) integration, new experiences for Windows 10 and the dawn of “Minecraft: Education Edition” – Get ready!

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First, we are announcing all new education features coming in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, features specifically inspired by teachers and focused on students.   

Faster, easier set-up:

Shared devices in the classroom are the norm – in the U.S., nearly 90 percent of schools report using shared devices. We also know that nearly 50 percent of teachers serve as their own tech support in their classroom. Until now, setting these devices up has been complex and getting students productive often takes too long.    

With the Windows 10 Anniversary Update we are introducing a ”Set Up School PCs” app that allows teachers to set up a device themselves in a simple three-step process in minutes. We’ve also made significant performance improvements for affordable devices. We expect the average first login to take 26 seconds, with subsequent logins of 6 seconds when the student uses that machine again.     

Secure assessments:

Testing is going digital — teachers consistently tell us they want a simple way to set up quizzes or standardized tests digitally. The Windows 10 Anniversary Update brings a new ‘Take a Test’ app – simple and more secure standardized testing for the whole classroom or the whole school, where teachers or IT can lock down the testing environment, or enable simple quizzing.

Education-ready Windows Store:

Nearly 60 percent of teachers purchase and load apps themselves. With the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the Windows Store will enable teachers to access thousands of apps, and schools can purchase and deploy them in bulk.  

Free upgrade and affordable devices:

More and more, educators are asking us about affordable devices. We have a great portfolio of affordable, durable and innovative Windows 10 devices starting at $199, designed for the demands of education.  

So you can see, the Windows 10 Anniversary Update brings a huge range of education-specific features that teachers and students are going to love. Learn even more about these new updates, and more, over on the Windows blog!

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Second, we are announcing some big improvements to Office 365 Education. 

Today we are announcing Microsoft Classroom a new experience in Office 365 Education. Microsoft Classroom is designed to be the one place students and teachers come to manage their day from Class Notebooks, assignments and grades to conversations, calendars and to announcements!

We’re piloting this with Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska. Let me just share with you what they had to say . . .

“It simplifies our digital classroom management and frees up our teachers so they can spend more time with students and less time managing administrative access to class materials.” Rob Dickson, Executive Director, Information Management Services of Omaha Public Schools.

A key piece of Microsoft Classroom is OneNote, a tool currently used in classrooms around the world to provide students with an immersive and inclusive learning experience. Visit here to learn how OneNote is transforming a special education classroom at Holly Springs Elementary School in Georgia.

Today we are also announcing Microsoft School Data Sync (SDS) – a powerful complement for Microsoft Classroom. SDS connects Microsoft Classroom to a School Information System (SIS), so teacher, student and classes information is automatically populated in Microsoft Classroom and OneNote Class Notebooks. School Data Sync will be included in Office 365 Education.  Think of it as a super simple process that quickly provisions a set of classes and rosters from many School Information Systems already used.

Also being announced: Microsoft Forms – a simple way to quickly assess student progress and get feedback with easy-to-create surveys and quizzes. It’s in public preview starting today for Office 365 Education here.

OneNote Class Notebooks are the heart of our education experience and they just keep getting better and better. We have seen incredible momentum – with millions of student notebooks created just this school year – and currently running over 10,000 a day!

To hear one educator describe it: “It’s your whole classroom (lesson plans, materials, assignments and student work) in a digital binder with tools for communication and collaboration!” 

We’re also announcing Class Notebook assignment and grading integration is now available with more than 25 Learning Management System partners – including leaders like Canvas, Edmodo, Schoology, Brightspace and Moodle. Learn more here.

We’re really excited about all of these improvements for Office 365 Education coming for the new school year! Learn more about all of the updates to Office happening for education – check out the Office blog here.

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Finally, we’ve got some great news about “Minecraft: Education Edition! June begins an early access program of “Minecraft: Education Edition.” It will be available for any educator to download and try for free on Windows 10 and OS X El Capitan.    

This program is a great way for educators and administrators who are interested in “Minecraft: Education Edition” to give it a test run in the summer months and give us more feedback and suggestions.  

If you are new to “Minecraft” in the classroom, check out education.minecraft.net for resources to help prepare, including lesson plans and a new “Minecraft” mentors program to connect with amazing teachers already using “Minecraft.”

What’s the next step? Upgrade your devices to Windows 10 or OS X El Capitan, and sign up for an Office 365 Education account.

To learn more about “Minecraft: Education Edition” and the upcoming early access program, check out our blog.

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The culture at Microsoft is customer-obsessed and we’ve been hard at work listening to teachers and students. We hope you love what’s coming this summer and we look forward to your continued feedback and hearing about the amazing things happening in your classroom. Let me know what you think on Twitter – @microsoft_edu @tony_prophet #MSFTEDU.