Campus & Community

H-Link will connect students in same classes

4 min read

In response to student requests and the evolving ways students are using technology to communicate with each other, Harvard University is creating H-Link, a Web application that connects students’ courses and classmates with their Facebook accounts, which will be available starting Feb. 25. Facebook is an Internet “social utility” very popular among high school and college students.

At the discretion of each student, H-Link will enable participating students to see which of their Facebook “friends” are in their courses, easily message with those students, and link directly from Facebook to their course Web sites.

H-Link does not contain course content, discussion groups, or any official course communication. It is designed to be a voluntary convenience for students to network with each other, not a replacement for course sites or school portals.

Features: H-Link provides three basic functions:

1. Students may add a box to their Facebook profile that shows their current course enrollment and provides convenient links to their course Web sites.

2. From within Facebook, students can view a list of their courses, along with a listing of the participating students in each course. For each classmate, students can send Facebook messages, write on their “Wall,” or view Facebook profiles.

3. Students can send e-mail to all of the students in a course who appear in their H-Link view.

“We know how important Facebook is in students’ daily life, and [we] sensed an opportunity to expand the ways students can connect with their Harvard classmates and friends,” said Provost Steven E. Hyman.

The idea for H-Link began at Harvard Chief Information Officer Dan Moriarty’s annual Academic Computing Workshop, which gathers faculty and staff from around Harvard to exchange ideas and techniques involving educational technology.

“I’d like to thank FAS [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] students Rachel Popkin and Sameer Lakha for their ideas on Facebook integration as expressed in our social networking panel discussion,” Moriarty said. “Their presentation influenced our thinking about how we could create a unique new service for the Harvard community.”

Input from other students, faculty, and staff helped shape H-Link’s design. “We’re delighted to be able to offer this to students as a pilot. Over the coming term, we’ll carefully evaluate how well it’s working and use that experience to guide the project’s future,” Moriarty said.

H-Link privacy and security

H-Link provides multiple levels of security and privacy protection for student information.

All of the features require that a student opt in, first by installing the H-Link application in Facebook, and then with individual privacy settings for each feature. By default, new H-Link users are hidden from other students until they choose to be visible.

H-Link data is stored and managed at Harvard, not at Facebook. While H-Link provides convenient links between Harvard information and students’ Facebook accounts, all student information remains on Harvard systems and is secured by the same security methods that protect other student data.

Background on the office of the CIO, iCommons, and the H-Link project

H-Link was developed by the iCommons team at Harvard University, under the direction of Moriarty, Harvard’s chief information officer. iCommons develops, integrates, and runs software that impacts and supports the academic experience at Harvard.

In partnership with Harvard’s various Schools, iCommons developed the iSites platform, which currently hosts course Web sites for more than 5,000 courses per year, as well as hundreds of noncourse sites and school portals. iCommons is committed to modular, flexible computing systems that employ and interoperate with best-of-breed solutions — whether open source, homegrown, or commercial.

“Our iCommons team has done a great job applying its expertise in developing the University’s academic software platform to create this innovative, student-focused tool,” Hyman said.

H-Link is available to any Harvard School that uses the iCommons iSites platform for its course Web sites. Schools may, at their own discretion, choose to have all or some of their courses included in H-Link.

The following Schools have elected to participate in the pilot during the spring term: Harvard College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Division of Continuing Education, Harvard Law School, the Graduate School of Design, Harvard School of Public Health, and Harvard Divinity School.

H-Link is a pilot project. The University expects to support H-Link through the 2007-08 academic year, although it reserves the right to deactivate H-Link at any time in response to issues that may arise. Decisions about continuing the application for the 2008-09 academic year will be made this summer (2008) after taking into account the popularity of this prototype and assessing the rapidly evolving world of Facebook application development.