Jeffrey R. Young, The Chronicle’s senior editor for technology, has been named as one of 24 journalists in the Nieman Foundation for Journalism’s 2014 class of Nieman Fellows at Harvard University. As a Nieman Fellow, Mr. Young will study massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and their impact on higher education and pedagogy, exploring in depth some of the same themes he has written about extensively for The Chronicle. The foundation said he had been chosen as the Louis Stark Nieman Fellow; that fellowship is named in memory of a New York Times reporter who is regarded as a pioneer in labor reporting.
Tech trends on campus.
The Open Course Library, a project in Washington State, has reached its goal of creating free or low-cost digital textbooks for use in 81 popular courses at community colleges, officials announced on Tuesday. According to a report in The Seattle Times, books and related materials created for the project are free for anyone to use online. Printed copies are available for about $20 each. Nicole Allen, a textbook advocate for the Student Public Interest Research Groups, said her organization estimates that open-course materials cost 90 percent less than commercially produced textbooks and save students about $96 per course. The project was jointly financed by the state and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which each contributed $750,000.
The Digital Public Library of America has postponed its long-planned public debut that had been scheduled to take place this week at the Boston Public Library, in the wake of Monday’s explosions at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured more than 100 others.
“Unfortunately, I no longer think it is possible to hold those events this week,” said Daniel J. Cohen, the project’s founding executive director, in a message on the DPLA’s Web site on Tuesday.
He said it would be difficult to move the events, given that the area around the Boston Public Library had been closed off. “People need time to mourn and to get resettled,” he added. Mr. Cohen said an even larger event was already being planned for the fall, and the DPLA’s new Web site would go live on Thursday as scheduled.
A University of Toronto professor’s assignment that asked students to add content to Wikipedia backfired when a contingent of the Web site’s volunteer editors began raising concerns about the raft of new contributions, according to the Canadian Press.
The professor, Steve Joordens, had asked the 1,900 students in his introductory-psychology course to add information to relevant Wikipedia pages, in an effort to improve the site and to teach the students about sharing information. But the new contributions alarmed a group of Wikipedia’s editors, who said the additions came from individuals who did not possess the relevant expertise.
Some community members raised concerns that the contributions had been plagiarized, and others called the assignment an unnecessary burden on the site’s editors. Mr. Joordens defended his students, saying that only a small fraction of their contributions had been flagged for problems, the news service reported.
A spokesman for the foundation that operates Wikipedia told the news service that the professor had had some preliminary discussions with the site’s leaders before carrying out the assignment, which the spokesman described as “experimental.” He said the Wikipedia community’s fast response is one of the factors that makes the site attractive to educators.
The professor said he would limit the number of students who take on such assignments in the future and make sure that they’re familiar with the site’s editing practices.
Harvard University officials disclosed on Tuesday that secret searches of e-mail accounts following a cheating scandal were more extensive than previously acknowledged, according to reports by The Boston Globe and Harvard Magazine.
The new revelations came during a tense meeting of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences on Tuesday afternoon. Harvard had previously acknowledged conducting subject-line searches of the administrative e-mail accounts of 16 “resident deans,” who live in undergraduate residential houses, serve as student advisers, and have some teaching duties in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, or FAS. Resident deans also serve on the Administrative Board, which investigated the cheating allegations, and the initial search reportedly was seeking to discover who had leaked a board document that later appeared in The Harvard Crimson.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, Evelynn M. Hammonds, who is dean of Harvard College and chair of the Administrative Board, acknowledged that she had authorized two additional investigations of the e-mail accounts of a resident dean who had, perhaps inadvertently, forwarded a board e-mail to two students.
Those investigations looked at subject lines in the resident dean’s administrative and FAS e-mail accounts to determine whether the dean had had contact with two students who shared information with the Crimson. No e-mails were opened, Ms. Hammonds said, and no content was searched. Ms. Hammonds told faculty members present that she had made “serious mistakes” and regretted the anxiety and distress that had caused.
Also at the meeting, Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s president, said she had determined that the university’s policies regarding electronic communications were “highly inadequate.” She announced that she was asking an outside lawyer to review the e-mail investigations and determine whether all the facts were known. She also announced the appointment of a task force to develop recommendations on e-mail privacy.
Two students at Miami University, in Ohio, have been dismissed and face criminal charges for allegedly breaching the institution’s computer systems to change their own grades and the grades of others. The university said in a news release on Monday that a faculty member had alerted its information-technology staff and the police last fall, after noticing that grades she reviewed online did not match her paper copy.
A subsequent investigation showed that a “key logger” had been used on computers to record instructors’ user names and passwords. The recorded credentials were then used to gain access to grading systems without authorization.
One student, who has been charged with six misdemeanors, allegedly changed his own grades in 17 classes and altered those of more than 50 other students “in an attempt to cover his tracks,” the university said. The other student, who is facing three misdemeanor charges, allegedly changed his own grade once and those of two other students.
Both students have accepted responsibility for the misconduct and have accepted dismissal for dishonesty, according to the university’s statement. The changes are being corrected, the university said, and steps are being taken to prevent similar incidents in the future.
The director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab apologized this week after a furor erupted over wristbands adorned with pickup lines that were distributed at one of the lab’s parties during the annual South by Southwest conference, in Austin, Tex., The Wall Street Journal reported.
The controversy spread quickly after a picture of the wristbands circulated online and made its way to news outlets:
— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) March 10, 2013
Joi Ito, the lab’s director, apologized on Monday, calling the handouts “offensive” and saying that they “in no way reflect the sentiments of the MIT Media Lab.” He added that they had been provided by the party venue, and said the lab didn’t realize what was printed on them until after they had been distributed.
The lab is “fully committed” to supporting women in the sciences and other fields, and doesn’t want to disseminate offensive messages, he said.
Students who have to wait a semester or more to get into courses they need at California’s crowded public colleges may get some relief under proposed legislation that would require all of the state’s public colleges and universities to grant credit for faculty-approved online courses, The New York Times reports.
Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat who is president pro tem of the Senate, is expected to introduce the bill on Wednesday. The motivation for it, he told the Times, is so that the state can make this promise: “No college student in California will be denied the right to move through their education because they couldn’t get a seat in the course they needed.”
Under the bill, a nine-member faculty council that was created last year as part of a project to provide free or low-cost digital textbooks would determine which 50 introductory courses were most oversubscribed and which online versions of those courses should be eligible for credit.
Eligible classes might include online courses offered by other colleges and universities in the California higher-education systems; massive open online courses offered by providers like Coursera, Udacity, or edX; or courses offered by companies like Straighterline or Pearson. A student could get credit for a third-party course only if the class were full at the student’s home institution, and if that institution did not offer it online.
Despite faculty involvement in approving the courses, the idea is likely to draw objections from professors. Lillian Taiz, president of the association that represents faculty members at California State University, told the Times that she thought it was too soon to conclude that online classes from third-party providers were a good substitute for courses at state institutions.
“There’s a sort of mania for massive online courses right now,” she said, “but there’s no good evidence that they work for all students.” She also criticized the Legislature, saying it had imposed budget cuts that “have sucked public higher education dry of resources” and was now proposing to “give away the job of educating our students.”
University leaders, however, were more supportive. Mark Yudof, president of the University of California, said he was “flat-out optimistic” about the idea of granting credit for online courses “as long as our faculty has the chance to massage it appropriately.” Timothy P. White, chancellor of California State University, said, “We have to find a way to do better at meeting the growing demand” for higher education.
Two top Harvard University officials on Monday explained the details of an effort to search the e-mail accounts of 16 resident deans in order to identify the source of a leak about a cheating scandal that became public last fall, The Boston Globe reported.
The leaked e-mail contained information from Harvard’s Administrative Board, which investigated the cheating allegations, and eventually made its way to the news media. Some Harvard faculty members criticized the university’s administration on Sunday, after details of the search came to light, according to The New York Times.
The forwarded e-mail was “quite concerning” and “warranted a better understanding of what had occurred, since it threatened the privacy and due process afforded students before the board,” Michael D. Smith, dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Evelynn M. Hammonds, dean of Harvard College, said in a written statement.
Harvard’s information-technology department performed what the two officials called a “a very narrow, careful, and precise subject-line search” of the deans’ administrative e-mail accounts. That search, which examined only subject lines and did not look through the contents of the messages, turned up two e-mails from one sender, whom Harvard did not identify. Campus officials deemed the forwarded message an “inadvertent error and not an intentional breach,” and no further action was taken, according to the statement.
The statement also responded to critics who questioned why the university did not tell the entire group of deans about the search after it was completed, noting that such a question “is a fair one.” Operating without a clear precedent and with the knowledge that no person had looked at any e-mails during the investigation, the Harvard officials said they “made a decision that protected the privacy of the resident dean who had made an inadvertent error and allowed the student cases being handled by this resident dean to move forward expeditiously.”
The statement also offered an apology if any of the deans felt that official communication “at the conclusion of the investigation was insufficient.”
Administrators at Harvard University secretly searched the e-mail accounts of 16 resident deans last fall, looking for the source of a leak to the news media about a cheating scandal that was making national headlines at the time, according to reports by The Boston Globe and The New York Times.
One of the deans was told of the search shortly after it occurred. The others were left unaware that administrators had searched their e-mail accounts until the Globe questioned Harvard officials about the incident late last week.
The information that was leaked in the case was a memo from Harvard’s Administrative Board, which investigated the cheating allegations. The resident deans, who have teaching duties and live in undergraduate residential houses as student advisers, serve on the Administrative Board. What’s unclear in the case is whether they are entitled to the same protections as faculty members when it comes to e-mail privacy.
Under a Faculty of Arts and Sciences policy, administrators are allowed access to faculty e-mails and documents only under certain “extraordinary circumstances,” and then they must notify the relevant faculty members in advance or “at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Another policy, for nonunionized administrative and professional staff members, states that electronic records “may be accessed at any time by management or by other authorized personnel for any business purpose.”
According to The Harvard Crimson, resident deans hold administrative appointments that come with some faculty privileges, and they are listed as “house staff” on the Office of Student Life’s Web site.
Harry R. Lewis, a professor of computer science at Harvard who helped draft the Faculty of Arts and Sciences policy, writes in a blog post that Harvard officials apparently consider the residents to be staff members whose “administrative responsibilities trump their faculty privileges.” But their service on the Administrative Board complicates the issue, Mr. Lewis says. “Their status as faculty is intrinsic to their role as members of the Ad Board—that is, the board to which the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has delegated responsibility for administering its rules,” he writes. “The board is a faculty committee.”
Harvard officials did not specifically acknowledge the e-mail searches but, in a written statement quoted by the newspapers, appeared to defend them. “If circumstances were to arise that gave reason to believe that the Administrative Board process might have been compromised, then Harvard College would take all necessary and appropriate actions under our procedures to safeguard the integrity of that process, which is designed to protect the rights of our students to privacy and due process,” Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said in the statement.