Harvard Took Secret Photos of 2,000 Students for Attendance Study

Researchers at Harvard University secretly took photographs of roughly 2,000 students to study classroom attendance, prompting privacy complaints from faculty members, The Boston Globe reports.

Researchers in Harvard’s Initiative for Learning and Teaching conducted the study, which was approved by the university’s institutional review board and involved installing cameras in 10 classrooms in the spring of 2013. The cameras took one image every minute, and a computer program scanned the photos to determine which seats were empty and which were filled.

Faculty members brought up the matter publicly at a faculty meeting on Tuesday night. Harvard’s president, Drew G. Faust, said that she takes the issue “very seriously” and that it will be reviewed by a committee that oversees electronic communications at the college. Last year it came to light that administrators had searched the email accounts of 16 resident deans while trying to find the source of a leak about a notorious cheating scandal.

Peter K. Bol, the university’s vice provost for advances in learning, told Harvard Magazine that, after the results of the study came back, he ordered that the photos of the students be destroyed. The study’s findings were presented at a conference on the campus this fall, but the methods of data collection were not specified.

For more, see this Chronicle article.

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