The Internet Age: A New Generation of Harvard Students Get Connected | News | Harvard crimson

Two students study in the library during their final exams in 1997. Online educational tools have transformed Harvard academics.

For Harvard students today, technology is virtually inevitable. Students select courses, submit assignments, and even attend classes through various online platforms. The Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard Graduate School of Design have gone so far as to explicitly require students to have computers.

But that wasn’t always the case. In a 2017 interview with The Crimson, computer science concentrators C. Eric Rosenblum 92 and N. Edwin Aoki 92 both said they didn’t use the internet during their time at Harvard. Then, in 2017, Mark W. Jacobstein92 offered a possible explanation: The Internet didn’t seem useful to students.

In 1992, not everyone even had a computer, Jacobstein said. I don’t know if we would have known what to do with a network Your friends didn’t have email addresses at other colleges, it just wasn’t part of the environment.

The status quo changed in 1995 when a faculty committee urged all staff and faculty members to obtain personal computers and Internet access by the summer of 1996. The College then implemented online access to degrees in the fall of 1997.

Since then, the Internet has played an instrumental role in shaping student experiences and the future careers of Harvard undergraduates.

A new way to learn

In 2014, the College announced it would adopt Canvas, a web-based learning platform, for all of its classrooms by the 2016-17 academic year. In a 2014 interview, Kristin Sullivan, senior director of educational technology and public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, said the university was an early adopter of Canvas.

We were able to contribute to the platform, Sullivan wrote in an email to The Crimson at the time, noting that Harvard has been experimenting with Canvas since the fall semester and recently decided it will universalize the system. We are participating in their open source community and have built custom tools supported by the platform.

Canvas allows students to submit assignments, receive grades and feedback on their work, and contact fellow teaching and course assistants all in the same place.

Some professors have even opted to allow students to enroll in their courses without ever attending a class at least in person.

In the spring of 2023, four Computer Science courses, four Economics courses, one Government course, one Neuroscience course, and one Statistics course allowed students to enroll in another course taking place at the same time without further authorization. Students enrolled in these courses were required to view lecture recordings posted on the course Canvas pages.

In the fall of 2022, Statistics 110: Introduction to Probability garnered 788 students making it the most enrolled course at Harvard and allowed students to enroll simultaneously without petitioning the board of trustees.

In addition to altering the lives of Harvard undergraduates, the Internet has opened doors for a new generation of Harvard students through Harvard Extension School. In 1997, Harvard created the Distance Education Program to help adults seeking to continue their education. The Extension School, which has served students ages 18 to 89, issues more than 8,000 degrees and 1,000 certificates each year.

Two students study in the library during their final exams in 1997. Online educational tools have transformed Harvard academics.

Two students study in the library during their final exams in 1997. Online educational tools have transformed Harvard academics. By Aneesh Venkataraman

It’s crazy

For some students, the infusion of the Internet into student life at Harvard has altered their career paths.

In 1997, Harvard undergraduate students Wellie W. Chao 98, Seth P. Sternglanz 98, and Phuc V. Truong 98 presented an online job recruiting website they had developed for Harvard’s Office of Career Services.

Many universities are moving towards a system like this, but we’ve beaten many to the punch, Sternglanz told The Crimson at the time.

Chao, Sternglanz and Truong then started their own company, Crimson Solutions, which provided a recruitment platform for students to use as they entered the job market. According to Truong, Crimson Solutions raised over $22 million in funding and eventually merged with another company.

For Truong, entering the Internet company space with Crimson Solutions was the first of a number of business ventures he has undertaken since. After leaving Crimson Solutions, Truong worked as a consultant for a few years, during which time he said he realized he didn’t go to Harvard to be someone’s manservant and returned to entrepreneurship.

Truong said he wasn’t the only member of his class to get into Internet startups during the dot-com bubble, and he referenced other tech entrepreneurs who graduated from Harvard in the years since him, ultimately attributing the own success to tenacity.

In the intervening years, internet careers, even outside of entrepreneurship, have become increasingly common among Harvard alumni, with 12% of respondents to The Crimsons 2023 Senior Survey saying they want to work in the tech sector after a degree, the third most popular choice after finance and consulting.

Using the internet, Truong said he hopes his most recent venture, a robotic recycling company called Phuc Labs, will lift him to billionaire status, but added that he is already a millionaire.

This is the fucking internet. It’s crazy, she added.

Staff writer Jonah C. Karafiol can be reached at jonah.karafiol@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonahkarafiol.

Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at neil.shah@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @neilhshah15.


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