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Controversial Study Photographed 29 Courses in Total

By Theodore R. Delwiche, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching researchers photographed students in 29 courses during a controversial attendance study last spring, the researchers said Thursday when pressed to disclose the exact number of courses studied.

This figure differs from the number of courses, 10, that Samuel T. Moulton '01 mentioned in a September presentation of preliminary findings of the attendance study. That number has been widely reported in the media in recent days.

Moulton and fellow researcher Erin Driver-Linn clarified in an email to The Crimson Thursday that by the Sept. 16 HILT conference, 10 course instructors had provided their consent for the data to be used in their presentation and “the analysis of their data had been refined sufficiently such that they could be reported.” Since mid-September, both HILT researches wrote that Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Peter K. Bol has met with most of the 29 course instructors, but further analysis of the other 19 courses not presented at the HILT conference “has not been completed and may not ever be completed.”

Twenty-two courses in the College or Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and seven in the Division of Continuing Education were studied, according to the researchers. Moulton and Driver-Linn did not comment on how many students were in those 29 courses. In the video, Moulton, HILT’s director of Educational Research and Assessment who helped lead the study, said that about 2,000 students were in the 10 courses presented.

The Crimson first identified 10 courses as potential subjects of the study through an analysis that involved cross-referencing enrollment data and syllabi from dozens of lecture courses with the October presentation on the study’s findings. When presented with a list of 10 courses that The Crimson identified through the analysis, Bol declined to confirm any of them Wednesday night.

Students in Physical Science 3: “Electromagnetism, Circuits, Waves, Optics, and Imaging,” Statistics 104: “Introduction to Quantitative Methods for Economics,” Economics 1010b: “Macroeconomic Theory,” and Psychology 15: “Social Psychology” were all photographed as part of the study, according to their respective course instructors, Physics lecturer Logan S. McCarty, senior Statistics lecturer Michael I. Parzen, Economics professor of the practice Christopher L. Foote, and Psychology professor Joshua D. Greene.

Moulton and Driver-Linn did not mention in which lecture halls the cameras were mounted. All of the courses confirmed by The Crimson to be in the study were held in the Science Center.

Students from all 29 courses photographed were notified in an email sent Wednesday afternoon by Bol. The email, shared with The Crimson, did not mention specific courses photographed.

In a statement presented in response to Computer Science professor Harry R. Lewis ’68 at last week’s meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Bol said that beginning in August, he began to make appointments with course heads to present data collected and “ask what should happen next.”

According to one faculty member whose course was part of the study, the email contact from Bol and Moulton in early September did not mention how data was collected in the study. Bol wrote in an email Thursday night that during individual meetings, the method of data collection was revealed. He added that by the time of the September conference presenting preliminary findings of the study, course heads had provided him permissions to use data for ten courses. Bol wrote that all of the faculty members he has met with since have also agreed for their course’s data to be used.

Though the study has come under controversy since it first came to light, Driver-Linn and Moulton wrote that the goals of the study were to understand attendance in order to improve learning, not “to bring scrutiny to individual courses, faculty, or students” or “to judge individual courses or faculty. “

The purpose of the study, according to preliminary findings provided to The Crimson, came from the fact that undergraduate attendance had not been “comprehensively or rigorously or measured.” An algorithm was developed over seven months and was trained to accurately identify whether a seat in a lecture hall was empty or full.

In addition to finding attendance rates of courses throughout the semester, the preliminary findings of the study found that courses that factored attendance into overall grade had higher attendance rates than those that did not. Additionally, time of day, day of week, published Q Guide ratings, or the availability of lecture and videos did not show “significant effects.”

Driver-Linn and Moulton reaffirmed that “the underlying imagery data (from which attendance estimates were drawn) have been destroyed for all courses.”

—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @trdelwic.

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