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Harvard Debuts New Web Tool for Faculty and Staff

The Office of Vice Provost for Advances in Learning launched Harvard Link, a digital platform for connecting Harvard affiliates with individuals,  organizations, events, and more.
The Office of Vice Provost for Advances in Learning launched Harvard Link, a digital platform for connecting Harvard affiliates with individuals, organizations, events, and more. By Kai R. McNamee
By Jonah S. Berger and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard launched an online platform this semester to give faculty and staff tailor-made web pages with articles, events, and other information from University sources based on their academic interests.

The platform, called “Harvard Link,” bills itself as a tool that “empowers” faculty and staff to “make new and smarter connections with other colleagues, organizations, events, news, and courses across Harvard,” per an online project overview.

Developed by the Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning, the site uses faculty and staff’s professional websites to fill their dashboards with personalized information from existing Harvard web pages and databases, according to Zachary Wang, who works at the office and helped create the platform. Staff and faculty can also enter keywords to customize their pages.

“While there have been other things in the past that sort of aggregate information or that are directory services — which we built upon — nothing has really gone that next step to personalization, and nothing has aggregated as many different data sources as Link has done,” Wang said.

Government professor Dustin Tingley, who serves as deputy vice provost for advances in learning, said the idea for Harvard Link stemmed from the Harvard Syllabus Explorer, a search engine launched last fall by his office that allows students to search syllabi of current and previous courses.

“Other ideas started to layer on top of it, like, ‘Well, if we collected… faculty’s professional public websites, we could then recommend different people to each other, not just a syllabus to someone,” Tingley said.

One of the platform’s main features is a “nearest neighbor” tool designed to help professors better understand the interests of students enrolled in their classes, Tingley said. The tool provides faculty with information about their students’ past and current course enrollments to facilitate coordination among professors who share the same students.

Tingley said his office plans to add a feature to the platform that recommends research funding opportunities to faculty.

“We are working with a vendor that basically collects a database of research funding opportunities, and then we're going to then be able to pipe in sort of recommendations that draw from that database,” he said. “That's going to be something that's really exciting.”

Multiple professors said they would consider using the new dashboard, but had to learn more before making a full judgement about its usefulness.

“It looks pretty interesting, even interesting enough that I will probably go back to it,” Philosophy professor Edward J. Hall wrote in an email.

Tingley said his office is currently consulting undergraduates to potentially expand the tool to students in the future. He added that he hopes to formally coordinate with the College.

Correction: Sept. 27, 2019

A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning.

— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at jonah.berger@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at molly.mccafferty@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mollmccaff.

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