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When people in the United States ask Microsoft’s search engine Bing how big Syria is, they learn the country is 71,498 square miles and about equal to the size of Florida. When they ask Bing how many calories are in a serving of ice cream, they learn that a scoop contains 137 calories, which is equal to about 11 minutes of running.
These two-part answers supplied by Bing are early, real-world examples of a technology being developed inside Microsoft’s research labs to help us make sense of the jumble of numbers we increasingly encounter in the digital world.
“We want to reduce the number of times that people read a number and can’t make sense of it. And we want to do that by providing some context, or an analogy, or perspective, that puts it in more familiar terms usually related to their everyday experience,” said Jake Hofman, a senior researcher in Microsoft’s New York research lab.
The need for a new way to understand numbers stems from the overwhelming abundance of data now available to help us make decisions about everything from federal budgets to personal health and environmental conservation, noted Dan Goldstein, a principal researcher in Microsoft’s New York research lab.
“The solution is a relatively low-tech one. Using perspective sentences is very simple and they help a lot,” he said. “What we’re finding is creating them is a difficult challenge because it requires not only understanding the proper numbers to compare the numbers to, but also understanding what people are familiar with, what kinds of comparisons people like, what kinds of things people can easily imagine.”
On the road to AI
The examples on Bing today are only available for a few specific subjects and required human input to develop. Ultimately, the Microsoft researchers aim to build a service that automatically generates perspectives for any number and communicates them with the ease of a skilled storyteller or teacher. This service would be able to pass a test for general artificial intelligence posed in 1950 by the British computer theorist Alan Turing.
“You would be very sure you were talking to a machine if it says 248,572 square miles as opposed to roughly the size of Texas when you asked it how big France was,” said Goldstein. “To pass the Turing test, you have to talk like a human; someone who can explain something in a way that is personalized to the audience.”
The road to this generalized, automated technology that takes raw numbers from sources such as email, social media feeds and search results and puts them in a personalized context is filled with hurdles. To clear them requires a deep understanding of the nuance and complexity of what makes humans human.
Microsoft’s New York research lab, where Hofman and Goldstein are based, is well suited to clear this hurdle, noted David Pennock, a principal researcher and the lab’s assistant managing director. The lab brings together social scientists and computer scientists to study not just computers, but people and how people behave with computers.
“There’s an extra piece that is important for AI, which is taking the result of the complex algorithm that does all its magic and then actually putting it in a presentable form for people,” said Pennock. “If you want to run a data-driven company, yes you want all the great data; yes, you want to run all the right experiments; and yes, you want to make decisions based on your data. But ultimately, you need it in a form that is presentable to a person who in the end makes the decision.”
Numbers in the news
Hofman and Goldstein started down this road on October 30, 2012. The researchers remember the day because it fell the day after Superstorm Sandy slammed the East Coast. They fought snarled traffic to reach an off-site meeting where they had a brainstorming session on new research directions.
“We proposed the idea of trying to make numbers in the news make sense to the average person,” said Hofman. “Everyone nodded and said, ‘Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.’ We had no idea how good of an idea it was, or wasn’t, or how hard of a problem it was to solve.”
To begin, the researchers recruited people to participate in an online experiment designed to quantify the value of perspectives for the comprehension of unfamiliar numbers. Some participants generated perspective sentences for numbers taken from news articles and others took a series of randomized tests to determine if the perspectives improved recall, estimation and error detection.
For example, a news article noted that “Americans own almost 300 million firearms.” That fact alone might be difficult to estimate or believe if never seen before, and recall even if seen in the past. The researchers found comprehension of U.S. gun ownership improved with the perspective that “300 million firearms is about one firearm for every person in the United States.”
The finding that perspective sentences help people understand numbers in the news prompted the researchers to begin teasing apart why perspectives work. Does merely the repetition of numbers increase memory? Do perspectives add fodder for our brains to noodle over and associate with, leading to more stuff to pull on when it comes time for recall? Do perspectives stake mental flags?
What’s more, are some perspectives better than others? Take the area of Pakistan, for example, which is 307,373 square miles. What comparative rank or measure best helps people understand how big – how much land – 307,373 square miles is? Perhaps, how long it would take to drive across? Or how big it is compared to U.S. states? If comparing to states, which state? Is twice the size of California more helpful than five times larger than Georgia?
“How do you figure out which of those is better? How do you do that in a principled way?” said Chris Riederer, who interned with Hofman and Goldstein while pursuing his Ph.D. at Columbia University and co-authored a paper that describes this phase of the research. “Essentially, what we did is we ran a big survey.”
Study participants compared country sizes and populations to the sizes and populations of various U.S. states. The results show that familiar states combined with simple multipliers, even if less precise, are best. For example, people in the U.S. grasp the area of Pakistan more easily when expressed as roughly twice the size of California than the technically more accurate five times larger than Georgia.
These findings were used to generate the country-area perspectives live on Bing today. Ask the search engine, “How big is Pakistan?” and you’ll learn the square-mile fact along with the pre-computed comparison to California.
Bing and beyond
Bing’s question and answer team is working on additional perspectives to increase comprehension of everything from gas mileage to planet sizes. Bing’s food and drink team deployed perspectives that express calories in terms of minutes of running, protein and sodium in percent of the daily recommendation, grams of sugar in teaspoons of sugar and milligrams of caffeine in cups of coffee.
The decision on how to express each perspective – calories in minutes running versus walking, for example – involves brainstorming over email between the Bing and research teams as well as analysis of data from search logs and surveys, explained Christina Ntouniaoglou, a program manager for Bing’s food and drink team.
“I was thinking it is walking. Why would it be running? There are people who cannot really run. But the survey proved that people actually like the running part, so we went with that,” she said.
The next challenge, said Hofman, is to build a system that automatically creates perspectives so that people can more easily use all the data we have access to today to make informed decisions.
“Computers have lots of facts in lots of databases, but they don’t really know how to rank those facts as more or less useful, or comprehensible, to humans,” he said. “That is the last remaining hurdle – big hurdle – that we need to clear in this project.”
Hofman and Goldstein are applying the latest advances in machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, and data analysis to clear this hurdle. Their eyes are fixed on the goal of a generalized service that operates as a plug-in to browsers, email programs and text editors that automatically generates relevant, personalized perspectives for any numbers the users encounter or write.
“If we were infinitely wise and infinitely good at calculating, it wouldn’t really matter how numbers are expressed, it would all be the same to us. But the fact is, some things really cause people to go ‘Aha, now I get it,’” said Goldstein. “This is new territory; looking at how to communicate numbers in a way that gives people insight and memory and comprehension.”
The half decade Hofman has spent on the research project, he said, has already planted perspectives in his brain.
“I am always in the background thinking, ‘Am I presenting this in the most comprehensible way?’”
John Roach writes about Microsoft research and innovation. Follow him on Twitter.
To make Bing Ads an effective endeavor for search engine marketing (SEM) pros, we spend a lot of time talking to the people who use it. When we meet someone who is truly mastering the art and science of SEM, we do our best to convince them to share their knowledge with you.
Give yourself a shortcut to staying informed and up to speed with our SEM Insider Insights podcast series, featuring interviews with some of the sharpest SEM leaders in the industry.
In addition to discussions with independent experts and consultants, we’re getting down into the SEM trenches and meeting with the professionals who are staying ahead of the competition by innovating strategies every day. They’re sharing with us – and you – their opinionated, first-person spin on the challenges SEM pros face trying to surf the cutting edge.
We invite you to listen in on the conversation and take advantage of the great opportunity to learn something new or maybe help you to confirm a path forward.
Here’s what we’re talking about:
Podcast: Ad testing tips and tricks
SEM pro: Brad Geddes, Adalysis
Podcast host Frances Donegan-Ryan thanked her lucky stars when Brad Geddes, author and co-founder of Adalysis, dropped by to share his ad testing tips and tricks. At the top of his list was this gem, “If you’re not testing, you’re not understanding.” Geddes explained that testing is the only way to understand how you’re influencing customers and discovering what they care about.
Projects start with Bing Ads research, gleaning new ideas discovered by the Bings Ads team. With the help of Bing Ads’ heat maps, Geddes discovers the most commonly used words in different ad types. He can also determine which words people would use for the targeted product or service.
Podcast: For rising SEM pros, on-the-job practice makes perfect
SEM pro: Maddie Cary, Point It Digital Marketing
If you’re a new SEM professional – or want to help motivate the younger set on your team – listen to or share this interview with Maddie Cary.
When Cary joined Point It Digital Marketing as an intern, her college education hadn’t prepared her well for the job ahead. But just six years in her role, Cary has captured the attention of not only her employer but industry watchers as well, winning multiple awards, including Young Search Professional of the Year by US Search Awards. How’d she do it? In this podcast, Cary said the key to starting a successful career in SEM and PPC is to take it upon yourself to continually polish the skills this dynamic profession requires.
Podcast: Paid-search success in a mobile-first world
SEM pro: Aaron Levy, Elite SEM
Developing SEM strategies for mobile devices is no longer an option for marketers, it has become a necessity. Considering that, on average, more than half of all searches are done on mobile devices annually (that figure jumps to 75 percent on Thanksgiving and Black Friday) having an effective mobile strategy is the key to survival. When Frances Donegan-Ryan talked to Aaron Levy from the digital agency, Elite SEM, he emphasized that going mobile isn’t a simple matter of scaling an image to fit a handheld device screen.
Why’s that? Consumers’ mindsets can change depending on when and where they’re using devices. As a result, marketers shouldn’t take a “device-first approach,” said Levy. Instead, marketers need to create mobile experiences that allow consumers “to do what they want to.”
Click here to check out the SEM Insider Insights podcast series. Reach out to us on Twitter @BingAds and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear your speaker and topic recommendations!
In psychology, the term gestalt describes the search for meaningful perceptions in a chaotic world — finding the one reality that explains the whole. The same principle applies for data managers trawling to find meaning in overflowing lakes of undefined, unstructured data.
Businesses pour millions of dollars each year into purchasing and developing all variations of hardware and software to collect and analyze data from multiple sources. Depending on whom you ask and what survey you read, value gets mixed reviews from the industry’s foot soldiers. Data scientists, business executives, analytics users, industry consultants and research analysts believe those x-bytes of collected data biding time and doing the backstroke in data lakes have plenty of value or very little value.
Most companies capture only a fraction of the potential value from data and analytics, a 2016 McKinsey Global Institute report concluded. The biggest barriers companies confront in extracting value are organizational, and many struggle to incorporate data-driven insights into their business processes, according to the report.
In determining the value of big data, business executives in a 2017 NewVantage Partners survey cited cultural impediments such as insufficient organizational alignment, lack of middle management adoption and understanding, business and technology resistance, lack of a coherent data strategy, the inability to create a shared vision, and lack of data governance policies and practices. While more than 85% of respondents said their firms have started programs to create data-driven cultures, only 37% acknowledged success thus far. Yet more than 80% of respondents reported that their big data investments have been “successful,” and nearly 50% believe their companies can actually measure the benefits of their projects. Contradictions abound even in the same survey.
There’s value in chaos
All of which provides little comfort for big data managers accountable to penny-wise, ROI-conscious CEOs and charged with the difficult task of measuring the value of their own data. So, what exactly is value, and how is it measured?
“That’s the riddle everyone is trying to answer these days, especially with so much investment going into analytics,” analyst and consultant Joe McKendrick said. “The value needs to be seen at two levels. At the organizational level, data analytics needs to be of material value to the business. At the next level, there needs to be value that helps enhance the productivity of teams and employees.”
Some collected data may appear to have more value than other data, and the temptation may be to exile or even discard data that’s deemed useless. That’s where it’s important to start with the premise that all data, regardless of where conceived, is created equal and therefore must be treated equally.
“[T]here’s a lot of data that could flow into a data lake that no one would have any conceivable use for,” McKendrick reasoned. “Then, five years from now, lo and behold, an innovation comes to the fore that scoops up that data for some unforeseen purpose.”
Chew on this
October being World Series month, I think back to my younger days and collecting five-packs of statistics-laden Dubble Bubble Gum baseball cards. Who would have known then that a Mickey Mantle rookie card worth a penny in 1952 and lying dormant in someone’s attic for decades is today valued at more than a million dollars? There was no way of knowing the true value back then, of course, but that hasn’t stopped this old lamenter from kicking himself for discarding those shoeboxes full of baseball cards. It seems here that value is in the eye of the beholder and what the market demands.
On a different and much larger scale, there’s a basic lesson to be learned in determining the value of big data. As data becomes increasingly commoditized, the McKinsey report noted, value will be determined by the quality, not the quantity, of data. And the greatest value may be found in scarce data, uniquely aggregated data and data that yields superior analytics.
But it’s not an either-or situation. Quality data can only be found by combing a lake that’s rich in quantity.
As global competition increases, data-driven businesses have to apply more reliable methods to measure real or potential value through data management tools, techniques and practices. There’s too much at stake to leave that determination to guesswork, gut feeling, wishful thinking or old measuring sticks. It’s ironic that companies immersed in collecting, prepping and analyzing big data to disrupt the marketplace and gain a competitive edge, in the end, struggle to accurately measure the true value of that data. Determining the value can indeed reap immense business rewards.
In baseball terms, today’s card of an obscure rookie center fielder may someday be worth a million. Data managers need to keep that in mind as they stand at the edge of the lake and do their daily “gestalting.”
Today, at the Microsoft Ignite Conference in Orlando, we announced Bing for business – a new intelligent search experience for Office 365 and Microsoft 365, which uses AI and the Microsoft Graph to deliver more relevant search results based on your organizational context. This new experience from Bing for your enterprise, school, or organization helps users save time by intelligently and securely retrieving information from enterprise resources such as company data, people, documents, sites and locations as well as public web results, displaying them in a single experience. Bing for business can be used with a browser on any device, transforming the way employees search for information at work, ultimately making them more productive.
Bing for business is available for private preview starting today and will be available as part of existing subscriptions to Office 365 Enterprise E1, E3, E5, F1, Business Essentials, Business Premium, and Education E5 subscriptions. If you are interested in receiving an invitation to participate in the private preview, visit http://aka.ms/b4bprivatepreview.
Intelligent search to help increase productivity and save time
In our work and personal lives, we spend lot of time in the browser searching for information. Analyzing web search traffic at Microsoft, we realized that as our employees searched the web, a significant amount of search traffic was for internal business-related content. We knew that this wasn’t just the case for Microsoft, but for many organizations, and it prompted the question – If Bing can tell me how high Mt. Rainier is, why can’t it quickly find what a colleague is working on or what are the employee benefits? Bing for business started with these pain points in mind. As we talked with more customers about their challenges in this space, we realized there was an opportunity to create something truly compelling. Our goal was twofold. For end users, we wanted to create an offering that can increase productivity by getting them the relevant and contextual information as quickly as possible. For administrators, we wanted to provide something that is easy to deploy and manage, offers enhanced protection for business search traffic while reducing costs associated with help desk calls. Bing for business provides these benefits to users and administrators with quick and seamless access to internal company information directly within Bing’s web results while keeping the results protected.
For example, let’s say you have an upcoming meeting about a project with a new colleague. Through Bing for business, you can quickly look up their contact information, find out who they report to, see the Office 365 groups they are a part of and much more. Additionally, you will also have web search which may highlight a publicly available blog/portfolio, or other relevant content. This would normally take six or more different searches across multiple locations. Bing for business pulls this data from across the Microsoft Graph and the web to create an experience where you get all this information in one place, so you save time searching.
Bing for business also help you quickly find internal company resources. When you’re trying to find the time card site, trying to figure out vacation policy, or simply trying to find out how much vacation you have left, Bing for business can bring you links to these resources from just searching for “time off.” These bookmarks can be manually curated by the IT Admin or created based on frequency of search terms. Using bookmarks saves you time by helping you get to the right company resources simply by searching for the relevant term all from within Bing.
Bing for businesses key features include:
- Enterprise Bookmarks – Bookmarks provide the fastest way for you to find sites, tools, and other information within the enterprise. Bookmarks can range from timely topics with a short life span like a company event to more permanent bookmarks, such as linking to the internal time and reporting tool.
- People Search – With Bing for business, people search is a quick way to help you search and find a person and understand their role within the company, who they work for, see what they are working on, find out where they are located and get directions through integrated building and office floor maps.
- Organizational Chart – Quick access to the organizational chart to understand a person’s place within the company and further browse their peers, management, and direct reports.
- Building and Floor Plans – Buildings and floor plans help you quickly find your way or locate where a colleague is sitting or to learn your way around a new building.
- Document Search – Allows you to search and find contextual and relevant documents saved on SharePoint and other sources within the Microsoft Graph.
- Office 365 Groups – You will be able to explore the Groups a person belongs to as part of people search and browse their contents. Additionally, they will be able to search for groups by their name.
- Bing for business Industry News – Bing works with your company to understand your job and tasks. Over time, Bing learns which business news matters to you – such as news about your company, competitors, and industry. This feature is a personalized newsfeed on Bing.com, helping you make timely, informed decisions.
- Management and Analytics – IT admins can quickly configure, create bookmarks, and define the search triggers, words or phrases. IT admins will also have a better understanding on how people within the organization are searching the web.
Intelligent search leveraging AI to save you time
Bing for business is built on the Microsoft Graph and uses AI to provide contextual, boundless, and relevant results for your Bing search. These results help employees save time increase productivity.
For example, you have a question on how to set up your work VPN, or how to reset your Bitlocker password. Today, getting these questions answered could include calling tech support and potentially incurring costs associated with the call, searching the public web or the corporate intranet, and browsing knowledge base articles. Bing for business uses Machine Reading Comprehension and Deep Learning to understand the intent of the question across all documents in your enterprise. And since it knows who you are based on your authentication session, it can synthesize the best answer for your specific query across all the documents you can access – from the public internet to your private intranet.
Enterprise grade protection, manageability, and analytics
Bing for business offers enhanced protection for your Bing web searches and treats your enterprise data in a compliant way. Searching with Bing for business requires Azure Active Directory authentication to access results, and the results that are returned are ones the authenticated user has access to, coming directly from the trusted cloud. Search queries are anonymized, aggregated across all companies and separated from public Bing search traffic. Additionally, these queries are not used for displaying targeted ad based on your work or company identity, and company-specific queries are not viewable by advertisers. This provides a level of protection unavailable anywhere else in the industry.
In addition to enhanced protections, Bing for business is easy to manage and deploy. Available as part of Office 365, Bing for business can be easily deployed by adding Bing to your tenant from the Office 365 admin panel. Once added, a quick configuration to set the logo, name, and color is all that is required to set up Bing for business. From there, users that have been enabled for Bing for business can access it at www.bing.com.
Today, Bing for business is in private preview as we move towards general availability next year. During this period, we are interested in partnering with a diverse group of customers to try out the feature, and help us shape future versions. If you would like to request an invitation to participate in the private preview, please visit http://aka.ms/b4bprivatepreview. We look forward to receiving your feedback as we continue to add features and capabilities to Bing for business.
– Deen King-Smith
Sr. Product Marketing Manager | Search, Edge, and AI
Bing is adding a new UX element to the search results, called the “Fact Check” label, to help users find fact checking information on news, and with major stories and webpages within the Bing search results. The label may be used on both news articles and web pages that Bing has determined contain fact check information to allow users to have additional information to judge for themselves what information on the internet is trustworthy. The label may be used on a broad category of queries including news, health, science and politics. Bing may apply this label to any page that has schema.org ClaimReview markup included on the page.
Example of the Fact Check label for a news article in the SERP:
Example of the Fact Check label on a website:
When determining if you should use this tag for your articles or webpages, consider whether it meets the following criteria, which are characteristics we consider for fact-checking sites:
• The analysis must be transparent about sources and methods, with citations and references to primary sources included.
• Claims and claim checks must be easily identified within the body of fact-check content. Readers should be able to determine and understand what was checked and what conclusions were reached.
• The page hosting the ClaimReview markup must have at least a brief summary of the fact check and the evaluation if not the full text.
Bing determines whether an article might contain fact checks by looking for the schema.org ClaimReview markup. In addition to the ClaimReview markup being contained on page, Bing also looks for sites that follow commonly accepted criteria for fact checks including of third-party fact checking organizations.
Please note that we may not show the Fact Check label for all pages that include the ClaimReview schema markup. If we find sites not following the criteria for the ClaimReview markup, we might ignore the markup. We will consider the reputation of the site as well as other factors to determine if and when the tag should show. Use of the Claim Review tag when appropriate fact checking has not been done is a violation of our webmaster guidelines and Bing may penalize sites for such abuse or take other actions.
More information on how to implement and use this tag can be found at https://schema.org/ClaimReview
In the last few posts, we’ve explored a few aspects available to you as part of the wider group of Microsoft Cognitive Services APIs. Microsoft Cognitive Services puts the power of machine learning within your reach with easy to consume REST APIs. Using the APIs and SDKs can add a whole new level of cognitive awareness and intelligence to your applications.
Today, let’s take a closer look at the Search APIs and show you how to get started. The five Search APIs available are:
- Bing Autosuggest
- Bing Image Search
- Bing News Search
- Bing Video Search
- Bing Web Search
You can use the in-browser API test that you see linked after each topic to see these in action now. At the end of the article we’ll show you how to get a free trial and your APIs keys to start adding functionality to your app.
Okay, let’s dig in.
This API provides you with the same feature you see as you type into the Bing search box, providing intelligent suggestions based on the current query. The usage for this API is pretty simple, you send the query and get a response containing the suggestions. This API is typically used for application scenarios where you need an autocomplete search box, but can be used for much more as the results are not simple word matches, they’re intelligent and context aware suggestions.
Here’s an example of getting suggestions:
Resources for Bing AutoSuggest:
- Try the AutoSuggest API, in-browser, here
- API Reference
- API Guide
- See AutoSuggest used in the Intelligent Kiosk Demo
Bing Image Search
Bing Image Search puts millions of photos at your fingertips. You can define search parameters to get more accurate results. Parameters such as Market, SafeSearch, Color, Freshness, Image Type, License and Size.
Sending a query to the API will return thumbnails, full image URL, metadata (such as width & height), original website source and much more in an easy to use JSON response.
Here’s part of the result when searching “beaches”:
Resources for Bing Image Search:
- Try the Image Search API, in-browser, here
- API Reference
- API Guide
- See Image Search used in the Intelligent Kiosk demo
Bing News Search
With Bing News search API, you can get intelligent web search results containing news articles related to your query, quickly and within your application. In addition to the link to the article, this API will provide results containing the official article image, a video URL (if one is available), related articles and provider information (the source).
Just like with Image Search, you can use initial search parameters. The parameters are Market, SafeSearch and Freshness.
Here’s part of the result when searching “Microsoft Cognitive Services”:
Bing News Search Resources:
- Test the API in-browser here
- API Reference
- See News Search used in the Intelligent Kiosk demo
Bing Video Search
Similar to Image Search API, you can make a call to the API using parameters such as Market, SafeSearch, Pricing, Freshness, Resolution and Video Length. You’ll get a result containing the video name, description, video URL, thumbnail, creator, video view count, encoding information and a lot more.
Here’s an example search for “beaches” again, but using the Video Search API this time:
Bing Video Search Resources
Bing Web Search
To wrap up today’s post, let’s take a look at the Bing Web Search API. This API will deliver the trusted results you get from Bing into your application. You’ll have access to literally billions of web documents using this API and you can pass parameters such as Market, SafeSearch, Relevance and Freshness. In the results you can expect the web result with metadata, such as name, url, displayUrl and snippet.
For example, here’s a search for “Microsoft Cognitive Services” again, but this time using the Web Search API:
Additionally, if the result has deep links available, you’ll see a deepLinks array. Here’s the top of the JSON response for the same search:
Bing Web Search Resources
You can easily add some great functionality to your application by introducing one, or more, of the Cognitive Services APIs. As we promised at the top of the article, go here to enable the free trial and get your API keys, then swing by the Getting Started guide for a walk-through on how to get up and running.
Welcome back to another edition of Weekend Reading, where you’ll get stories on how the Internet of Things has transformed both the petroleum supply chain and nurses’ daily routines, the origins of #GivingTuesday and the first annual Biofabricate conference.
The Internet of Things plays a big role in improving efficiency of the petroleum supply chain and in the care of patients at hospitals. Enhanced by IoT, Rockwell Automation is bringing its vision for the connected enterprise to life by building new forms of intelligence to keep the petroleum supply chain operating smoothly 24 hours a day, from some of the world’s most remote areas. At Clermont-Ferrand University Hospital in central France, an intelligent system securely connects hundreds of medical devices and data from multiple existing systems into a single, secure Windows-based interface for monitoring patient data, such as vital signs and medications. This gives nurses more time with patients.
#GivingTuesday, an idea hatched in New York three years ago, went global this year. Microsoft will match donations on the site, up to $350,000, to create opportunities for young people around the world across a full spectrum of technology education.
At the first annual Biofabricate conference, the Microsoft Research Visiting Artist who created a wedding dress made of fungus is presenting an amulet designed to help fight cancer, an example of a process called biofabrication. At its most basic level, biofabrication is about manipulating the tiny computational engines that exist within living cells, and using them to either generate new behaviors at the cellular level, or to generate materials with desired properties.
Kim Kardashian dethroned Beyoncé as the most searched-for person on Bing this year. The Bing team attributed this crowning achievement to Kardashian’s Vogue cover, her over-the-top wedding to Kanye West and her photos that “broke the Internet.”
Microsoft is again partnering with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to create its annual Santa Tracker website. It has been redesigned with a new set of games, improved performance and an optimized mobile experience, in addition to using Bing Maps to track Santa. Also, Windows Phone users can track Santa using Cortana, who is getting her information straight from NORAD’s advanced systems to ensure to the most accurate, up-to-date data.
If you’re looking for bargains in music, games and apps, there were plenty to choose from this week. You can find savings of at least 50 percent off Windows and Windows Phone apps and games through the Red Stripe Deals. With Music Deals for this week, you can get Mary J. Blige’s “The London Sessions” for 99 cents and a bevy of soundtracks for under $1.99. There are also 50 free albums that you can call your own by just downloading. Also check out the App of the Week, “FarmVille 2: Country Escape.”
This week on our global adventure to find people who #DoMore on the Microsoft Instagram page, we met acclaimed graffiti artist Allison Hueman. Follow us on Instagram to hear her story and meet more people like her.
Thanks for checking out this edition of Weekend Reading. Keep warm and enjoy the lead up into the year-end holidays!
Posted by Athima Chansanchai
Microsoft News Center Staff
As Alice Keeler looked at her batch of upcoming Bing home pages, the former high school math teacher found the image of the Siberian tiger swimming through the waters of a Belgian zoo very striking. But that wasn’t all.
She started brainstorming possibilities for how to use the image to create a lesson plan; the choices of content were many and wide-ranging (and, for example, could have included having students read William Blake’s poem “The Tyger“). Such lessons, available for free every day through the Bing in the Classroom program, are paired with Bing’s home page image of the day. Keeler is one of four teachers who work on the lesson plans, which are tailored to three different age groups (elementary, middle and high school).
Bing has published nearly 800 of them since the fall of 2013. As teachers and students head back to school, these short lesson plans give them another tool they can use to increase digital literacy and Web research skills.
“We get great feedback from teachers, particularly about the use of the lessons to drive real creativity,” says Matt Wallaert, a behavioral scientist at Bing who created Bing in the Classroom, which also provides free Surface tablets and ad-free Web searches to schools. “It’s easy for search to become about take the question, copy it into the search engine, copy back the answer. And that’s not genuine. Search should be about real things you want to know in the world, and real ways of finding bits of information that can help you learn about them.”
Anyone can get to the lesson plans through the Bing home page. In the lower right corner of the home page image, you click on the “Info” tab and on the results page, you’ll see the image, a short description of the image and underneath, a link to the lesson plans.
“People really like the idea as an important way to explore questions that aren’t being presented in standardized testing,” says Wallaert, who is often on the road and presenting research on digital literacy. “It’s a form of project based learning, and students learn how to present to the class and synthesize information.”
When paired with Bing in the Classroom’s ad-free search offering, the lesson plans allow students practice these critical thinking and search skills in an ad-free, safer, more private online environment. And for schools short on devices, Bing Rewards allows community members to help earn free Surface tablets, just by searching the Web.
The lesson plans all follow the same template, presented through a PowerPoint deck. They start with a critical thinking question designed so that students can’t answer it by simply plugging it into a search box. Then the plans suggest five follow-up questions that online research that can help answer the main question.
For the Siberian tiger image, which published July 29, Keeler started with the question, “Does having tiger parks breed captive tigers as a source of tiger-bone medicine decrease poaching of wild tigers?”
This question can be a launching point from which high school students can find out how many Siberian tigers are in the wild and in captivity, why they’re endangered and what poachers are after.
“I like this one because it is an opportunity to highlight the plight of an endangered species,” says the Central California-based Keeler, a mother of five who taught high school math for 14 years.
Through her blog, Teacher Tech, Keeler encourages other teachers to try out the lesson plans.
Wallaert says the emphasis on multi-part questions can help students work as a team as they gather different pieces of information from multiple sources and searches.
“That’s something only a human can do to get a real answer,” Wallaert says.
There’s also a blank template teachers can use to create their own questions.
“I try to think about questions that would encourage kids to use the Internet and develop skills they might not naturally think about on their own,” says Nell Bang-Jensen, an artist who teaches at numerous theaters and schools around Philadelphia and is developing curriculum for the Philadelphia Young Playwrights. She’s in charge of the K-4 lesson plans for Bing. “We’re giving them solid resources, websites they know they can go to. Some questions, they would have to look at a map, or watch a video, so they’re learning to interpret information presented in different ways.”
Bang-Jensen says the lessons can “lead to larger conversations.” She adds, “Using questions as a way of understanding the world is important.”
For example, with the image below, of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, Bang-Jensen realized the average third-grader may have heard of the famous bard, but might have no context on his life. With her lesson plan, they can check out his basic biography, but also watch clips and find out why people talk differently in his plays.
For Christy Fennewald, who was contracted for a limited span of lesson plans that tied into Microsoft’s first-ever sponsorship of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the same image inspired a lesson plan that focused on Shakespearean sonnets. She also included a search for words he created and the chance for them to make up their own poems.
For the teachers who create the plans, the lessons help continue their education, too.
“I was a history teacher, so images that point to the deeper story are what I like to pull out,” says Ja’Dell Davis, who works in New York City’s Youth Services Department at the Educational Alliance as the assistant director for Higher Education Initiatives. She handles the middle school lesson plans. “It may be a beautiful image, but it could also be fraught with uncomfortable aspects.”
For instance, when she receives images of landscapes and cities, she researches the story behind the picture, its history and the people who live there or who settled it.
Keeler remembers an image featuring Danyang County in South Korea that was particularly challenging.
“I was expecting a major historical event associated with, but I found nothing. It took a while to find they had a unique folklore tale. So then I wanted to make it a broader question about how folklore develops. That’s not something you can go do a simple search for. You have to look up folklore, find different examples and draw conclusions based on evidence.”
“It’s a fun challenge to see what lessons come in every week,” says Bang-Jensen. “It feels like a puzzle, but it’s also engaging and worthwhile.”
Microsoft News Center Staff