November 7, 2014

Harvard uses secret surveillance cameras on its students...

... to study the crushingly mundane problem of classroom attendance.

Is that more evil than lame, more lame than evil, or an intoxicating, mystifying brew of evil + lame?

ADDED: With cameras and face recognition software, a school could set things up to take attendance, outsourcing an old-fashioned teacher task that I don't think many higher-ed teachers do anymore. Maybe we could forgo exams and just judge the students by whether they were there and paying attention. I hope I'm not throwing away a billion dollars by revealing this wonderful idea: Program the computer to recognize what the teacher was saying and whether the faces reveal that they pick up the message at an appropriate interval, and score the student for an entire semester of facially revealing understanding. A million data points, registered in real time, unfakable, and calculated to perfection. AND: This would not merely relieve the teacher of the work of grading papers and exams, it would rivet the students to the classroom experience and make it the real event for everyone. Result: excitement, efficiency, and intrinsic interest where it belongs.

47 comments:

Big Mike said...

Back when I was an instructor I never cared about attendance. The students were responsible for turning in homework assignments and taking the exams. If they thought they could learn the material better without my lectures than with them, well that's their call.

EDH said...

Can anyone explain what expectation of privacy was violated by this?

rehajm said...

Conclusion: Harvard students are not self-starters.

Peter said...

If students can learn without classroom attendance, that would imply that classrooms aren't really necessary for many students.

But if you don't need classrooms, why not switch to an online model and let everyone stay home?

Freeman Hunt said...

Link goes to the link in the last post.

MadisonMan said...

Link)

Wonder why education is so expensive? It's because Universities hire Vice-Provosts (!!) to do stupid stuff like this. I wonder what this whole thing cost, and who is paying for it.

Patrick said...

If class is neither necessary not interesting, attendance will be low. If attendance is a big enough problem to require such monitoring, Is say it's a problem brought in by the professors.

Moose said...

I'm sure they use survellience cameras to keep them safe - whats the difference?

traditionalguy said...

NSA may have asked for this facial recognition keyed and digitally stored record of the speech and intelligence talent of each of the coming ruling class elites...or it is meaningless nonsense that nobody ever bothers to look at.

chuck said...

The students are looking for jobs in non-profits and are out doing community work to improve their resume. Perhaps the professors should give up on attendance and go back to measuring subject mastery by giving tests. Not that non-profits require competance of any sort, but retaining remnants of historical tradition would complement the ivy.

Bruce Hayden said...

When I was an undergraduate, we lost grades for a couple of years, until grad schools forced the school to reinstate them. The guy who taught classic languages and ancient civilizations would announce the first day of class that everyone passes his classes, and to not bother coming to class if they just wanted the credits. Worked like a charm - the students were motivated, only being in class if they wanted to be. Not having a facility for languages, the classes were hard, but some of the best I had there.

Ann Althouse said...

Link fixed. Thanks.

There are surveillance cameras all over the place without warnings.

Perhaps the issue is one of "human subjects."

David said...

I'm glad you had the stupid tag, because that's the best description.

Also shows they have more money than they know what to do with.

virgil xenophon said...

In the 70s the use of "outside experts" to take final exams for students at LSU became such a huge problem in large survey courses where hundreds of students would sit in large auditoriums to take their finals that one professor, fed up with the problem, sprang cameras unannounced on his students during a final, locking the rear doors to the auditorium (which opened directly to the outside) telling them that if their picture didn't match the pic on their student iD card that they would automatically fail the course and the offending substitutes would be kicked out of school. The reaction? About ONE-THIRD of the class BROKE DOWN the doors to escape! ROTFLMAO!!

tim maguire said...

If attendance is not reflected in the grades, then the problem is with the teacher, not the student. If attendance is reflected in the grades, then it will resolve itself.

Roger Sweeny said...

One of the law professors at the Volokh Conspiracy has repeatedly said that he prepares for a class and runs the class for free. But it takes all the money they pay him to get him to read and grade the exams.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Result: excitement, efficiency, and intrinsic interest where it belongs.

Real result: all the classroom's a stage, and all the students players.

Picture your local politician pretending to listen to your comments and react sympathetically - that act would be multiplied X class size, enhanced by the shared knowledge that the most exaggerated expressions of concern, outrage, comprehension, sudden dawning, furrowed brows and incipient questions would best score with the Grade-O-Mat computer.

jacksonjay said...

These young scholars do not have the time to attend class what with all the anal sex seminars being offered.

LYNNDH said...

When I attended University in the mid '60's (that is 1960's) the Profs did not take attendance. We were there or we weren't. We were expected to be adults and responsible.

tim in vermont said...

You could apply this at a high-school level and save time just by consigning some students to prison farms, others to trade school, and those who showed genuine interest throughout to college and pay their way. Save a whole lot of time for everybody!

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I never had a college course that took attendance. I had small classes that did in-class work that was collected and graded, and this was an appropriate way of teaching the material.

I also had one incredibly boring lecture class which encouraged attendance by making all of the tests pop-tests. This had the effect of ensuring near-perfect attendance, for the first five minutes of class. Once it was clear that there was no test that day, a sizable percentage of the class got up and left.

Crimso said...

WWSD? ("S"=Socrates)

lgv said...

Well, the study itself may be pointless, but I have no objection to a "secret" camera in a lecture.

Pointless or not, the surveillance had to be covert in order to avoid the "Hawthorne Effect".

Whatever is happening to the student is the effect associated with the cause being the lecture. If professors new they were being recorded, would they step up their game?

Bob said...

Which reminds me of this old legend, (might be true?):Dr. Harold Taylor, former president of Sarah Lawrence College, addressing an educational conference in Aspen, Colo., told this story to illustrate the point that impersonality in teaching tends to kill curiousity and initiative:

A professor became so enamored of giving outside lectures that he decided to tape his weekly remarks to his seminar group. When he unexpectedly returned early because of a canceled engagement, he went right to his classroom to see how his students were getting along. As he opened the door, he heard his own voice coming out of the tape recorder — and in the students' places were 12 other tape recorders.
Read more at http://www.snopes.com/college/admin/recorder.asp#ChtsRoPTgvjQftwO.99

Eleanor said...

I taught seniors in high school, and other than attendance in home room, I never took attendance. Since state and federal money is tied to the number of kids warming seats everyday, we needed to generate a head count at the start of each day. If you missed class, you missed whatever assignment we did in class that day. If your name appeared on the general absentee list, you could request a makeup assignment. If it didn't, you were SOL. I used the class time that's wasted taking attendance to teach.

Todd said...

Bob said...
... voice coming out of the tape recorder — and in the students' places were 12 other tape recorders.
Read more at http://www.snopes.com/college/admin/recorder.asp#ChtsRoPTgvjQftwO.99
11/7/14, 9:52 AM


That was a scene in some collage comedy movie as well. The professor was an audio tape player sitting on the podium and all of the students were tape recorders on their desks. There was one physical student in the room and he was taking notes at a furious pace.

Can't remember the name of that movie at the moment.

justaguy said...

Why care about attendance and homework? These are not indicators of mastering the subject matter. What happened to the days of giving 2-3 tests total, or a combination of tests/term paper that determined the grade? Maybe the lack of actually having any material to master in too many of the subjects is the reason. The Law School methods seems to work (1-2 tests only), even if the students don't have to pay attention in class to learn the material (they are too busy browsing the web on their computers)!

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said.... A million data points, registered in real time, unfakable, and calculated to perfection.

Unfakable why? Any measuring device will have limitations. Exploiting those limitations is cheating/faking your result. Why wouldn't your new regime be subject to fakery (vulnerable to fakability)?

James Pawlak said...

A!!!! The joys of Harvard's understanding of "academic freedom"!

I doubt me that such face recognition will be used to punish those who limit free and academic speech by "protests"

Kirk Parker said...

"WWSD? ("S"=Socrates) "

Die.

Ann Althouse said...

"One of the law professors at the Volokh Conspiracy has repeatedly said that he prepares for a class and runs the class for free. But it takes all the money they pay him to get him to read and grade the exams."

That is a old and oft-repeated witticism among law professors.

I've heard it for 30 years… because I started teaching 30 years ago.

mikee said...

One of the very few truly genius persons I have known in my 55 years spent most classes apparently asleep in the back row of class, sometimes snoring gently. His GPA was something like 3.96 at graduation and after grad school at Harvard he started several very successful companies.

Class behavior is not determinative of grades, or of smarts, although it might be predictive statistically, in most cases.

Ann Althouse said...

"Unfakable why? Any measuring device will have limitations. Exploiting those limitations is cheating/faking your result. Why wouldn't your new regime be subject to fakery (vulnerable to fakability)?"

I thought my description explained that. Face recognition, expression reading, and correlation of the point being made in class and the expression on the face, something that happens 100 times in one class hour. It would have to be your face and you'd have to be reacting appropriately to what you were hearing.

mikee said...

Todd: Real Genius, 1985: Val Kilmer guides a younger science prodigy at a university to adulthood, space lasers and successful dating. The movie made fun of Reagan's Star Wars while simultaneously predicting it could work just fine. An odd flick.

Biff said...

Obviously, we need to collect all of the students' electronic devices at the doors of the classroom to ensure that there is no surreptitious recording or photography going on, too.

Crimso said...

"Die."

No, no. Prior to that. I wonder whether he had problems keeping his students' attention and interest. Presumably they were biased towards people interested in the subject matter and would therefore not blow him off. But I have seen classes where the students were very definitely interested in both the subject and the material, yet still skipped class frequently. And not because the person teaching it was boring.

Gusty Winds said...

If Harvard Students don't go to class, what's the difference between them and the University of Phoenix?

John Lynch said...

Why not have punch clocks?

Too 19th century? Too working class?

John Lynch said...

My father never took attendance in his classes. If the students were not there they would not learn and would fail the exams. They were adults and that was their problem.

The exams were always in-class essays.

He believed in having the least intrusive environment possible. Learning, not control, was the goal.

He also thought Milton Friedman had it right. He taught economics.

Todd said...

Milton Friedman, w00t w00t!

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...I thought my description explained that. Face recognition, expression reading, and correlation of the point being made in class and the expression on the face, something that happens 100 times in one class hour. It would have to be your face and you'd have to be reacting appropriately to what you were hearing.

Why would it have to be your face? Your future face reading tech would be succeptible to future face reader-spoofing tech, right? It's like saying your lock is secure because only your key fits it--lockpicks exist, etc.

The idea of expression-reading is neat but I wonder how you'd set the trigger. I've had difficult classes where I struggled to follow a lecture or presentation during the class, but later at home went back over my notes or the reading and understood. Would your AI note that I looked lost in class and harm my participation grade? If it's looking for a particular expression or facial response the "faking" would be adopting that visage or projecting that countenance during class time--paradoxically striving to have the correct appearance during class could require more effort than listening closely/applying thought to the material, so that method of measurement could result in less of what you actually want.

My quibbles are with "it'd have to be your face" (which, yes, probably, but that's still subject to fakery) and what an "appropriate response" actually is + how that would be measured.

Achilles said...

MadisonMan said...
Link)

"Wonder why education is so expensive? It's because Universities hire Vice-Provosts (!!) to do stupid stuff like this. I wonder what this whole thing cost, and who is paying for it"

Cost: Lots.

Who is paying for it: us.

The Federal student loan program has massively inflated tuition and created a generation of debtors. All of that debt owed by college students has gone to funding a massive education bureaucracy filled with useless administrators. It is all a jobs program for womens studies majors.

And it is nondischargeable.

MadisonMan said...

How many times, when the Harvard tag is used, is the lameness or stupid tag not also used? Zero?

Sam L. said...

I vote Lame/Lame-O/Stupefyingly Lame, if you get my drift.

MadisonMan said...

Actual answer: Surprisingly rare is the juxtaposition of the Harvard and Lameness/Stupid tags.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...and correlation of the point being made in class and the expression on the face, something that happens 100 times in one class hour.

To expand on my point just a bit, I assume you don't mean that the reaction(s) to the points being made (on avg 1 every 36 seconds!) should all be the same, do you? Some points would be designed to elicit a response of "I get it" but some should elicit confusion while the student thinks further, or perhaps amusement at a joke, and so on, right? If so you'd need the AI to understand the correct response for each point (in order for it to "grade" for deviations), and to do that you'd need to program that desired response along with the material ahead of time. You'd need to deliver the material in the same manner every time, too. Alternately you could teach the AI what to expect from the material/your lecture and judge accordingly, but you'd have to validate that somehow on the front end and-more seriously-once you have AI capable of doing that you probably don't need the law professor at all.

Anonymous said...

Is there a, "...banality of evil," tag?