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Microsoft Goes Back to School for Visual Studio

Microsoft this week awarded grants to five universities to enhance the Assignment Manager component of Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 2003 Academic.

Chosen from a field of 20 proposals from 17 universities around the world, the Redmond, Wash.-based company Tuesday selected the universities based on their submitted request for proposal (RFP) under the Visual Studio .NET Academic Tools Source Licensing Program, part of Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative.

The universities selected include the Federal University of Pernambuco (Brazil), Monash University (Australia), Universidade Estadual Paulista Julio de Mesquita Filho (Brazil), University of Hull (United Kingdom) and Yale University (United States).

The schools will be given access to source code for Assignment Manager Server, Assignment Manager Faculty Client and Assignment Manager Student Client. As part of the Shared Source Initiative, the program lets developers use, modify and redistribute the licensed source code of the Assignment Manager for both commercial and noncommercial purposes, including the creation and distribution of derivatives for non-Windows-based applications. The licensees also are free to use the source code to develop, debug and support their own software tools for integration with Visual Studio .NET.

"Microsoft is committed to empowering the academic community," said Morris Sim, senior director of the Academic Developer Group in the Developer and Platform Evangelism Division at Microsoft. "We're encouraged by the strong response to this RFP as the projects submitted extend the Assignment Manager functionality and improve the student learning experience."

Assignment Manager is one part of Microsoft's Visual Studio .NET 2003 Academic edition that lets faculty simplify course management through secure assignment submission, assignment tracking, automatic student project building, student notification of grades and message transmission.

For its project, Yale University said it is looking to extend and adapt Assignment Manager to scale to large introductory programming courses with a grading tool for compilation, project building, testing and reporting; support for grading GUI-based programming assignments; and an assignment submission and checking tool.

"We believe C# and Visual Studio .NET have the potential to become excellent language environments for introductory programming courses," said Zhong Shao, professor of computer science at Yale University. "Our proposal to extend Assignment Manager's functionality is a great step toward ensuring that Visual Studio .NET scales to meet the needs of the largest introductory programming classes."

Likewise, the Federal University of Pernambuco proposes to extend Assignment Manager with support for projects developed in the functional programming language Haskell, including the extension of the Visual Studio .NET integrated development environment (IDE) to support Haskell and adaptation of the Assignment Manager source code.

Project managers with Monash University said they want to develop a plug-in for Visual Studio .NET 2003 Academic that will permit the capture of various projects that a student user can create. The plug-in will be designed to capture a project's content, compilation progress and statistics on execution. The university also hopes to combine the plug-in with Assignment Manager to construct reports a tutor could consult to better understand a student's effort in developing programming assignments.

The Universidade Estadual Paulista Julio de Mesquita Filho said it intends to implement a selection of enhancements for Assignment Manager, including the ability to divide students into classes within a course; the ability of administrators, faculty, teaching assistants and graders to access student information; statistical analysis; and a tool that provides student access to information on pending and previously submitted assignments.

Finally, the University of Hull said it plans to modify the Assignment Manager source code to implement features that make the tool more useful to the broader academic community, such as a generic electronic submission system to accept nonprogramming course work, and the integration of additional tools developed by the university to enable academics to obtain useful evaluation feedback on practical work given to students.

"Legislation in the United Kingdom requires universities to archive coursework submitted by students for a minimum of five years, and the only sensible way to handle such volume is to require submission in electronic format," said David Grey, lecturer in the department of computer science at the University of Hull. "We see Assignment Manager as a valuable tool to help accomplish this, and our proposal seeks to make the functionality applicable to the broader academic community."

With the latest round of universities under its wing, Microsoft said its Shared Source initiative serves upwards of 650,000 developers through source code access programs. Currently Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows CE 3.0, Windows CE .NET, Microsoft Passport Manager and components of Visual Studio .NET and of ASP.NET Starter Kits have source code available through the Shared Source Initiative.