Even students at the world's finest universities can struggle to make it to class. At Harvard, university officials initiated a controversial research program that saw cameras secretly installed in lecture halls just to keep tabs on student attendance. The program — which was kept secret from professors and students alike — was revealed this week at a faculty meeting, reports The Boston Globe.
The research project, which was carried out this past spring, used cameras placed in lecture halls to take a photo every minute. According to remarks from university vice provost Peter Bol, computer software then analyzed the pictures to see how many students attended lectures. The photographs were then destroyed.
But university officials didn't inform professors or their students that they were being monitored. Bol says that was to make sure that the data gathered was accurate, and he added that the research wasn't designed to track particular students or analyze professors. Instead, professors were provided the data after the research was completed.
The incident raises concerns over how and when a community can be studied for research without their knowledge. A balance must be struck between maintaining useful data without compromising privacy. Many believe Facebook similarly crossed that line when it altered hundreds of thousands of users' News Feeds for a psychology experiment that was revealed this summer. In its defense, Harvard says that that a federally-mandated review board approved the project, though officials note that the assistant undergraduate dean will be consulted for any similar projects in the future.