Youth & Opportunity
Engineering , Math
Food shortages and distribution issues have become a major problem in the aftermath of the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In many areas, supermarket shelves are empty, particularly as people stock up on food and other items as they face uncertainty around the nuclear situation in the country. In Sendai, people in shelters are waiting for food to arrive, as transportation problems have slowed distribution.
Second Harvest Japan, Japan’s food banking network is coordinating donations and distribution of food and other grocery items for impacted people of the earthquake and tsunami. The recent events have driven massive local demand for their services and many government agencies, relief organizations, shelters, and people in need of food are reaching out to them for help. Their existing website wasn’t set up for the rapid updates required in a time of disaster. They needed a site that could not only support real-time publishing, but also provide high performance and the ability to handle large volumes of visitors from around the world.
Microsoft, AidMatrix and Slalom Consulting have partnered to provide a cloud based community communication portal for Second Harvest Japan. The portal uses Microsoft’s Windows Azure and related Aidmatrix Microsoft-based cloud technologies for coordination across food donors, transportation providers and distributors in the Japan relief effort.
Microsoft is offering the disaster response portal free-of-charge to government and nonprofit agencies working on relief efforts in Japan. Interested agencies should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cloud services and applications can be hosted anywhere in the world, avoiding issues such as damaged infrastructure and equipment, power shortages or telecommunications service interruptions. In addition cloud services can actively scale to meet increased demand.
The portal provides mass communications and light collaboration. It includes features such as situational awareness through mapping and information overlays, rich search and HTML content editing, social network capabilities, and RSS feeds. It’s particularly effective in disaster situations because it helps customers avoid latency or downtime issues that can be caused by a traffic spike during a disaster and there are no IT back-end and support costs.
The team at Second Harvest Japan have already noted increased community activity which they attribute to the emergency portal.
Microsoft is offering the disaster response portal free-of-charge to government and nonprofit agencies working on relief efforts in Japan.
Find out more about the resources Microsoft is providing to aid relief efforts here.
For local Japanese information and contact details please visit here.
Yesterday was a "pre-day" for the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) here in Washington DC. Microsoft's Community Affairs team hosted a "Day in the Cloud," a series of sessions providing a deeper look at some of the online tools and how they can be useful for nonprofits.
The day's sessions included a look at Windows Live SkyDrive and the Office Web Apps, which enable people to create, collaborate and share documents and information. We also explored Bing Maps and the different Bing Map Applications that nonprofits can use to share valuable information and insight such as rich visual representations of community health metrics and service locations. One of the highlights of this session was Photosynth, a neat tool that allows any individual to upload photos to a "synth" and create a multi-dimensional photographic array which can be used to complement storytelling and documentation. (We even took a virtual tour of some D.C. sites.)
Shawn Michael and Linda Widdop of NPower Seattle and NPower Pennsylvania, respectively, led a discussion on Dynamics CRM for Nonprofits. We had an informal lunch at DuPont Circle's Flippin Pizza, followed by a session on Microsoft's software donations program and an impromptu training session from NPower's Shawn Michael on SharePoint for nonprofits. There was a great deal of interest in our SharePoint for nonprofits webinar earlier this month; you can access a recording here.
It was likely that the 2,000 wired technology professionals in the same hotel had something to do with the on and off connectivity issues, but in the end we managed to connect with Xbox 360 Kinect at the evening's Science Fair! The Microsoft Citizenship booth includes a Kinect, which was a highlight last night at the Science Fair for many. We hope to see you tonight; Dance Central dance-off anyone?
Thursday was a great conference pre-day, and we are looking forward to Friday's and Saturday's NTC sessions. You can follow the conversation, in real time, from this year's Nonprofit Technology Conference on twitter at #11NTC, or follow our team's tweets from @msftcitizenship. Watch our Facebook page for images from the conference as well.
Editor’s Note: Our thoughts are with those impacted by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Today’s post on the American Red Cross was drafted before the recent earthquake and Tsunami in Japan. The American Red Cross is accepting donations for Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami relief and is working closely with The Japanese Red Cross to help those most in need. More on Microsoft efforts supporting relief in Japan can be found here.
Photo courtesy of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Guest Post by: Wendy Harman, Director of Social Media, American Red Cross
Technology is increasingly important to the American Red Cross. We are an old organization proving we can learn new ways of doing good. Our ultimate goal is to empower the American public to get help or give help during emergencies. A healthy dose of passionate people, tools, and gadgets are required to do this effectively.
For the public to give help we’ve seen impressive results from mobile fundraising initiatives. In the wake of the disastrous earthquake in Haiti, we partnered with organizations like Microsoft to mobilize public awareness and the power of small donations across huge populations. In addition to the work done around the “Text ‘Haiti’ to 90999” campaign, Microsoft worked with the American Red Cross to put in-game Public Service Announcements throughout its online gaming platforms, helping us to reach an audience and demographic that would have otherwise been more difficult to connect to. In addition to using mobile technology tools for raising awareness, we’ve also been able to text preparedness and safety information to people in Haiti who were at risk in the recent cholera outbreak.
On the back end, we have a disaster services technology unit (DST) which establishes connectivity from within a disaster zone. As Keith Robertory, the head of this unit says, “We are the high-tech in a soft-touch humanitarian disaster relief organization. Traditional IT operates in stable, well known environments; DST deploys to chaotic disaster areas. Traditional IT lives in ‘maintenance mode’ with large unique projects to add or sunset solutions; DST scales up cookie cutter solutions rapidly. IT’s idea of disaster response is really business continuity and redundancy; DST takes the technology to the disaster any time, any day and all year long. And finally, most IT shops would never consider letting an unpaid person handle their most critical and expensive technology; DST does it every day – and very successfully.” In the wake of a disaster, communication and information can mean the difference between life and death. Because of the technology and infrastructure available to the Red Cross, we are able to begin communicating very quickly in Disaster Response scenarios, and are able to mount the most effective response possible, as a result.
For the public to get help, we are using platforms like Facebook and Twitter to listen to the 1,500 mentions of the organization each day. We’ve developed a National Shelter Map that automatically updates every 30 minutes based on data our chapters are providing. Just last week we launched this map as a mobile app so people will be able to access this information from their mobile phones. We also use our “Safe and Well” system to allow families and friends to locate one another after a disaster and we’ve recently added the ability to share this information on Twitter and Facebook.
Technology has created unprecedented opportunities for the public to play an important role in responding to disasters. The American Red Cross looks forward to continuing to innovate and take advantage of technology in the smartest, most effective ways as we continue to aggressively pursue our mission.
Editor's Note: Our thoughts are with those impacted by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. While it may be some time until the full impact has been assessed, we will continue to work with our nonprofit partners to determine where our support can be of the greatest benefit. More on our efforts supporting relief in Japan can be found here.
Alex and Carlos were helped by KIND
Guest Post By Wendy Young, Executive Director, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
Unaccompanied children – those under 18 years old who come to the United States without a parent or legal guardian – are largely invisible members of our society. Thousands of these children are placed in deportation proceedings every year without a lawyer to help them make their claim for U.S. protection. The stories of these children – what they suffered in their home country, their journey to the United States, and what has happened to them since they arrived – are often shocking and deeply sad. It is important that we’re aware of these children on the fringes of our society and that we understand the importance of providing them with legal representation. This is at the center of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). We work on providing these vulnerable children with access to legal services.
Technology provides KIND with the ability to reach a wide audience to tell these children’s stories while supporting our staff and volunteers in helping to provide them with a better life. We recognize that our expertise is legal not technological and that is why we partnered with Microsoft to utilize the latest technology while remaining focused on the kids.
Microsoft Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS), which includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, and Office Communications Online underpins all of our work. We use it for nearly everything we do. We don’t have to worry about our server going down or backing up our data every night. The Cloud is the primary way KIND shares information among all of our sites, and is an extremely useful tool in the training and mentoring of our volunteers. We store individual case information online with the peace of mind that the information is secure and safe. This is particularly important to KIND because the information we learn about our children is confidential and sensitive.
Training is an essential part of KIND’s work. Our volunteer lawyers typically do not have immigration experience when they agree to take on a KIND case. KIND stores training and information that is vital to our volunteer lawyers online enabling them to access the information wherever they are located. KIND pro bono coordinators from across the country access this shared information and use it as a basis for their ongoing mentoring and support, which continues throughout the case. Using the Cloud helps our mentoring become far more efficient and allows our pro bono coordinators to devote more of their time to finding pro bono lawyers to represent children and to training new lawyers.
Improving efficiency and ensuring the right people can access and share information quickly is vital to KIND because it can make all the difference to the children we serve. As an organization, we’re working with more than 2,600 children. The less efficient we are, the less time we have for them.
Technology is an integral part of our daily operations and it enables us to reduce administration and inefficiency so that we can help more children. We look forward to continuing to adopt technology that helps us to reach and support more children in desperate need and to give them a fair chance at gaining safety and security in the United States.
Editor’s Note: Today we announced the full availability of Microsoft Kodu Game Lab for the PC and the launch of a nationwide Kodu Cup competition. We’re inviting students, aged nine to 17 to design, build and submit their own video games.
The following is a guest blog post about the educational benefits of video games and video game design from Gabrielle Cayton-Hodges, Research Fellow, The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, which specializes in advancing children’s learning in the digital age.
There's a growing body of evidence that both playing video games and making video games have promise as educational tools. In fact, it may be one of the most effective ways to engage today's youth as they learn the critical skills they will need to succeed. As the Federation of American Scientists concluded from its 2006 Summit on Educational Games:
“The success of complex video games demonstrates that games can teach higher-order thinking skills such as strategic thinking, interpretative analysis, problem solving, plan formulation and execution, and adaptation to rapid change. These are the skills U.S. employers increasingly seek in workers and new workforce entrants. These are the skills more Americans must have to compete with lower cost knowledge workers in other nations.”
In fact, game-based learning has emerged as one of the most promising areas of innovation in making Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) topics more engaging for kids today. The report Game Changer: Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children’s Learning and Health , demonstrates that video games can be used to learn not only content, but also STEM skills and systems thinking, which are essential for preparing youth for STEM careers.
Additionally, real-time 3-D action video games have been proven to improve cognitive skills such as attention and other executive functioning. These skills enhance learning in a wide array of areas and are also tied to number sense, a skill critical for early math learning in and out of school.
Researchers are finding that making games fosters the development of critical STEM skills. Our colleagues at E-line Media have shown that a well-designed game is a well-designed system with a delicate balance of goals, constraints, challenges and rewards. Learning how to create and edit such a system is learning critical analytic skills including systems thinking, problem solving, iterative design and digital media literacies.
This is not to say that we advocate children playing all video games and without restriction. Many games obviously have violent themes that are not age-appropriate. And some genres of games have proven more beneficial than others. For example, the cognitive skills that are enhanced with 3D action game play are not enhanced by other game genres, such as simulation games. We also know that some games are better for “transfer” than others (for example, playing many hours of Tetris will make you very quick at rotating Tetris shapes, but no better at any other mental rotations). There is still a lot of research to be done in this area, so we encourage parents to look critically and wisely at the games their children are playing. If something looks inappropriate, be cautious, but also keep an open mind while exploring redeeming qualities.
This past winter in the U.S., the Cooney Center and E-line Media launched the National STEM Video Game Challenge, in partnership with sponsors AMD Foundation, Entertainment Software Association and Microsoft. The goals were: (1) encouraging children to create video games and (2) encouraging game developers to make games that can truly educate and inspire children in STEM subjects. This effort was a huge success, with over 550 applications. Fourteen Youth winners (grades 5-8) were recently named and the Developer winners will be named on March 30th in Washington, D.C. Our Youth submissions came from programs designed to teach kids how to make games (such as Kodu and Gamestar Mechanic) as well as open platforms such as Flash that are frequently used by adult game developers. Developer finalists submitted games in many platforms--from SMS to Flash to Unity--and over many content areas, from biology to number sense to systems thinking.
For a sneak peek at some games that were entered into the challenge, take a look at our Popular Vote Award contestants and the winner, Ko’s Journey, which is a promising example of mathematics being integrated into the storyline of a game.
Gabrielle Cayton-Hodges is a Research Fellow at The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop
Download Microsoft Kodu Game Lab today.
For information about entering Microsoft’s new video game design competition for kids ages 9-17 in the U.S., visit Kodu Cup, visit www.koducup.us. Happy Gaming!
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