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Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Bol to Step Down at End of Summer

Faculty Meeting
Robert A. Lue, left, and Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Peter K. Bol enter University Hall before a faculty meeting in November 2015.

Peter K. Bol, a professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, will step down from his post as Harvard’s vice provost for advances in learning at the end of this summer, he announced earlier this month.

Bol’s decision comes after a five year tenure in the job; he was the first person to hold the position, which administrators debuted in 2013. The University will convene a search committee for his successor in the coming weeks, according to the Harvard Gazette. A specific date for the selection of Bol’s successor has not been set.

During his five years as vice provost, Bol focused on growing digital education platforms. While he served in the role, the course collection of HarvardX, which offers online versions of Harvard classes, mushroomed from ten to more than 100 classes. More than two million people from 193 countries used the service.

Bol also created VPAL Research, a group that works to improve residential and digital educational environments and to facilitate research collaborations that study education. He started HarvardDART, a search application that lets professors incorporate elements of HarvardX courses into Harvard class websites.

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Bol wrote in an email Monday that he chose to step down as vice provost because “my time was up.”

In a statement to the Gazette, he thanked faculty and staff for helping him with his work as vice provost.

“The goal of the Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning is to further teaching and learning efforts on campus and across the globe,” he said in the statement. “Without the commitment of the faculty to teaching and research, and our extraordinarily talented professional staff, it would not be possible. It has been a pleasure and an honor to work with them these past five years.”

But Bol’s tenure was not free from controversy. In 2014, he admitted to authorizing a study that used cameras placed in classrooms to take photographs of students and faculty without their notice. Bol justified the electronic monitoring as part of a broader research effort to study student attendance in lectures.

University President Drew G. Faust praised Bol in a statement to the Gazette, noting he helped Harvard make the most of technological advances. She said Bol had “pioneered” new approaches to learning, teaching, research, and scholarship.

“His leadership as vice provost for advances in learning has helped accelerate Harvard’s important online efforts, all while enhancing our understanding of how students learn in an era of educational innovation in the classroom and beyond,” Faust said.

Provost Alan M. Garber ’77 also praised Bol’s commitment to education. In the Gazette piece, Garber said he believes Bol encouraged a “culture of innovation and collaboration” that will help the University accomplish its educational mission for years to come.

In the email Monday, Bol wrote he does not expect to participate in the search for his successor. But he will not be leaving Harvard.

Next fall, Bol will return to teaching and conducting research on Chinese history. He will also remain director of two research projects that explore the history of China, the China Historical Geographic Information Systems project and the China Biographical Database project.

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at caroline.engelmayer@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

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