Digital and On-Campus Teaching Research Groups Merge

The research arms of HarvardX and the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching have merged to create a new research group, according to Harvard’s vice provost for advances in learning, Peter K. Bol.

The new VPAL Research Group was created to formalize the close relationship between research on digital learning—conducted by researchers for HarvardX, the University's branch of virtual education platform edX—and on-campus learning, conducted by HILT.

The move comes less than a year after the discovery that HILT researchers conducted lecture attendance studies that involved photographing undergraduates without their prior knowledge or permission.

Government professor Dustin Tingley, who will serve as faculty director for the new group, said he was “deeply invested” in addressing privacy concerns. Tingley referenced the Committee on Undergraduate Education, a joint student-faculty committee, as a source of institutional oversight for the new research group.

Tingley’s group will consist of four research scientists, two of whom have already been hired. Senior research scientist Yigal Rosen joins the group from the education publishing firm Pearson, where he worked researching effective assessment methods.

Working alongside the VPAL research group will be the VPAL Research Committee, chaired by Education School professor Andrew D. Ho. The committee, which will be made up of about 17 faculty members, will provide guidance and expertise on research projects conducted by the VPAL group.

The new VPAL Research Committee replaces the HarvardX Research Committee, previously chaired by Ho. In a statement, Bol said many former members of the HarvardX Research Committee will follow Ho to the VPAL Research Committee.

Individual committee members may also suggest and conduct their own studies with the support of the research team, according to Tingley, the faculty director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science's Undergraduate Research Scholar program and founder of ABLConnect, an online resource for “active learning” initiatives.

While HarvardX will retain some in-house researchers associated with their course development team, HILT will not.

“HILT won’t have its own internal research group but they will be fundamental to my collaborating with other faculty because they have a great [faculty] network,” Tingley said.

The VPAL Research Group will work at the same Mount Auburn Street offices that contain HILT and HarvardX.

—Staff writer C. Ramsey Fahs can be reached at cfahs@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @ramseyfahs.

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