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At Yale, the days of quietly slipping into the back of a classroom—and promptly dozing off to your professor’s muted buzz—may be coming to an end.
Beginning this fall, Yale professors will have access to online, password-protected facebooks for all their classes. The facebooks will display students’ names along with their school identification photos.
Astronomy professor Richard Bailyn, the chair of the student-faculty panel helping to develop the facebook, denies the group intended it for any nefarious disciplinary purpose.
“That [motive] didn’t occur to any member of the committee,” Bailyn wrote in an e-mail.
In fact, he says, the true goal of the system is to help faculty in large lecture courses learn the names of their students, and follow up with students who have made particularly insightful comments in class.
“This should allow there to be more personal interactions earlier in the semester,” he wrote. “My personal experience is that the best interactions I have with my students tend to occur late in the semester, when we've gotten used to each other—the hope is that such things can happen soon.”
And in any case, he emphasized that faculty do not intend to use the facebooks for disciplinary action.
“The ability to identify inattentive students was not something the faculty considered—it was the students who worried about this, not us,” he wrote. “It sounds trite, but it really does seem to be true that the faculty are much more interested in identifying good students for positive interactions than in finding out bad students for negative interactions.”
Some students, however, are skeptical.
“Just to err on the side of caution,” said Yale first-year Adam B. Cushner, “I would probably be a bit more attentive and attend a few more classes.”
The facebook system has been used by Yale Law School for several years. It came to the attention of Yale College’s Teaching and Learning Committee after several faculty members expressed a desire for a student photo database. A test program launched earlier this fall, and the committee plans to expand it in the coming year.
Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 says it is already quite easy for instructors at Harvard to create their own facebook of students in their class.
He said he doesn’t see it as an invasion of privacy, however.
“There is...a certain irony in students having misgivings about being recognized in class, given what one hears about complaints about lack of student-faculty contact and the supposed anonymity of Harvard classes,” he wrote in an e-mail.
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