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Computing Research Association Gathering Informs, Inspires

July 29, 2010 | By Microsoft blog editor

In even-numbered years, North America’s Computing Research Association (CRA) gathers computer-science department heads, deans, provosts, and major computer-science funding agencies at the Snowbird Resort and Conference Center in the Wasatch Mountains, not far from Salt Lake City. Hot on the heels of Microsoft Research’s Faculty Summit, the Snowbird Conference occurred July 18-20. The insight shared during sessions on statistics, trends, and the best ways to communicate computer science is applicable to the field as a whole, as were other ideas addressed in sessions held during the conference, including:

– A Call to Action: Peter Harsha, who represents CRA in Washington, D.C., led a session providing an inside view of how the legislative process can affect the funding of computer-science research. He also explained the role the Computer Research Advocacy Network plays in ensuring that elected officials receive targeted, timely communications.

– Understanding the Ranking of Graduate Programs: Charlotte Kuh of the National Research Council gave a progress report on a survey to update the 1995 database of Ph.D. rankings. The session chair, Jim Kurose of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, outlined the impact the CRA had in ensuring that its data included conference papers and citations in the computer-science field. Read the full story.

– Computer Games: Michael Mateas of the University of California, Santa Cruz made a case for graduate research in game design and development, presenting an array of research areas important to the industry, including artificial intelligence, procedural generation, and interactive narratives. Donald Brinkman of Microsoft Research External Research presented educational game-related activities such as Kodu and the game-themed programming approach, outlining Microsoft’s near-term plans to drive next-generation educational games.

– Social Good: Lakshminarayanan Subramanian of New York University led a discussion on the potential computer-science departments have to promote social advancements through global initiatives. Examples included high-speed, point-to-point, solar-powered Wi-Fi and the use of technology to detect counterfeit currency, prescriptions, and other documents.

Basic Computing Knowledge: Andy van Dam from Brown University presented the findings from the CRA Education Committee on trends critical to the future of computer science, including diversity, pipeline issues, and general apathy toward the field of computer science. The report, two years in the making, details best practices to introduce students to computational thinking, to address computer-science curricula, and to identify and develop cognitive, mastery, and research skills.

– Communicating Computer Science, The Hot Under the Cool: Chaired by Judith Bishop, director of Computer Science within Microsoft Research External Research, this session explored how to communicate innovation in computer science to a world already overwhelmed by technical advancements. Other participants in the session included Shyno Chacko Pandeya from the New Image of Computing Initiative, which uses the Dot Diva brand to attract middle-school girls; Virginia Gold from the Association for Computing Machinery, who provided insight into the marketing aspects of the first Computer Science Education Week campaign; and Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University, who introduced his new book Networks, Crowds and Markets, co-written with Cornell colleague David Easley, which is aimed at large classes from all fields of study.

Microsoft Research is a full member of the CRA and the conference. Rico Malvar, managing director of Microsoft Research Redmond, provided a new insight into the work of the association in promoting the interests of the members of the computing research community.

The conference was a tremendous opportunity to help support advancement of the CRA strategy and agenda, as well as network with computer-science thought leaders in North America.

Daron Green, general manager, External Research, a division of Microsoft Research