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On the Cutting Edge at Microsoft Research's Faculty Summit

Campus Technology heads West with Microsoft and SAC

magic time at microsoft

At Microsoft Research’s 6th Annual Faculty Summit ( in Redmond, WA, August 2, (left to right) Rick Rashid, senior VP of Microsoft Research, Sailesh Chutani, director of Microsoft University Relations, and Chairman Bill Gates Q&A’d with attendees. In his keynote, Gates told the audience, “It’s hard to think of a domain that’s going to change the world one 100th as much as advanced software will in the decades ahead.” He added that, with their help, he hoped “we can really show how magic software is, and how it can improve the world.” The summit was created by Microsoft Research to engage universities in cutting-edge research, with emphasis on the emerging computing environment, transforming science by computing, and advancing the computer science curriculum. It convened nearly 400 faculty from 135 higher education institutions in 20 countries.

demos, demos,

The Summit’s Demo Fest allowed close-up, hands-on interactions with the technologies, including an ambitious group of iCampus projects from MIT, a 3D sketching tool from the University of Minnesota, and advanced classroom presentation software developed by a University of Washington professor. Above, John Belcher shows how MIT’s TEAL may be utilized in Studio Physics courses; right, UW’s Richard Anderson demos Presenter.

inside the summit sessions

Giving Summit attendees an inside glimpse of current research initiatives and programs, several campus project teams and Microsoft Research staff delved into areas as diverse as wireless sensor networks, Web services architecture for online labs, grid computing, interactive photos and video, and gender equity in IT. Right, Jesus del Alamo presents MIT’s iLabs projects.

rocky moutain high ideals

Looking at the SAC conference setting from the rooftop tent in Snowmass (left), it’s not hard to understand why, every summer for more than 30 years, higher ed IT leaders have met in Colorado to share ideas and guide new director-level professionals.

Big Landscapes, Big Ideas
at the Seminars in Academic Computing (SAC)

SAC, now an Educause affiliate (, has traditionally focused on executive leadership development. This year’s conference was aimed squarely at CIOs—both seasoned execs and new directors—with strategic seminars for senior leaders, and sessions offering new tools for those just coming into the IT leadership role.

Each year, though the high-altitude venue offers a sense of retreat, those pesky “back home” concerns bubble up in the conference sessions. This year’s heavyweight topics: security, IT alignment with institutional priorities, assessment, and the role of the university in the information economy. No surprise was the fact that accountability and delivering technology programs on tight budgets were also recurring strategic planning themes. And in his opening address, Richard Detweiler (Distinguished Fellow of the Council on Library and Information Resources) maintained that technology development is easier than understanding the related cultural and organizational consequences of that development. He then offered a broad perspective on the leadership role of IT directors and the impact of institutional technology planning.

Conference sessions covered myriad topics and urged directors to bridge the gap between technology “concept” and communicating effectively with constituencies in order to integrate technology components to serve broader institutional goals. Says SAC Board Chair Joan Falkenberg- Getman, “The idea is to think strategically about how the topics will influence planning and direction.”

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