Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science

SCS COVID Guidance and FAQs

Effective for the transitional posture beginning July 1, 2021

CMU will be in the current “Modified” Posture through June 30. On July 1, with the continued reduction in COVID cases, we will move to “Transitional Posture” with departments in SCS taking more responsibility for facilitating our return and some relaxing of COVID guidelines.  University Minimum Requirements, which have been updated, will continue to apply.

Goals:  A key goal of July and August is preparation for the Fall 2021 semester, when students (other than those with visa issues) will be expected to be on campus and vaccinated (with certain exceptions).  The return to campus of faculty, staff, and students will facilitate other collaborative activities as well.

Note that these FAQs are intended as guidance for the Transitional period of July and August.  We expect guidance to continue to evolve, especially for the fall, as we continue to learn.  You may email the SCS Resilience Team with comments, which are most welcome.

Departments will work with faculty, staff, and students on their planning to return to campus, following CMU and SCS guidelines. Those already authorized to return to campus under a Research or Administrative Return Plan may continue.

In asking members to return to campus, departments are emphasizing the goals above, beginning with activities that we believe will most benefit from on campus presence, including some research, student-facing activities, and work that benefits from in-person interaction.  We are moving towards the fall where, in general, staff will be on campus between one and four days per week (determined also by role-based needs and activities).  Departments and supervisors are responsible for assessing physical spaces; communicating and coordinating specifics about return in their departments, including schedules, as/if needed; and ensuring supplies of PPE.

Note that the requirement for Physical Distancing will no longer be in effect in our Transitional Posture beginning in July.

Here are some example cases, subject to further department guidelines:

  • Research staff (including post docs) may already be working on campus under a Return Plan.  Additional research staff who participate in work with equipment located on campus or better utilized onsite are strongly encouraged to begin returning to campus soon after July 1.  Faculty and staff supervisors will communicate with people in their labs about specifics.
  • Staff whose responsibilities include safety, cleanliness, and maintenance of research equipment should be fully present on campus (or as often as necessary to maintain health and safety for research).
  • Administrative staff and other staff not conducting research or teaching should plan to be present on campus between one and four days per week beginning July 1. Departments will provide specific guidance, depending on the nature of the work, tasks to be performed, and the needs of other staff, students, and faculty. 
  • Faculty are welcome on campus at any time beginning July 1.  July and August should be used as a transition period to fall, including in-person participation in course preparation and student orientation.  Faculty involved in teaching should plan to be on campus for classroom instruction and office hours in the fall. Advising activities should be done on campus and in person as often as can be done safely.
  • Teaching assistants and other instructional staff are required, beginning in July, to deliver instruction, hold office hours, and generally be available on campus in a way consistent with faculty plans for course management.  (Summer instruction already being done remotely does not need to be moved on campus.)
  • PhD students and Master’s students in research-based programs are welcome to return to campus during July for research activities, but are encouraged to do so in consultation with their advisors and departments about arrangements and requirements.   (Those students with existing permission may continue.)  Students involved in instruction during fall should begin transitioning during August to increased activity on campus, consistent with faculty and staff that are also involved in fall instruction.  

Yes, for example fully vaccinated individuals no longer have to participate in Daily Self Assessment, Tartan Testing, or wear facial coverings (with some exceptions [link?]), although they are welcome to do so if they wish. (Tartan Testing remains available for those who desire it.)  Distancing is no longer required.

However, these requirements--facial coverings, Tartan Testing, Daily Self Assessment--remain in place for those not yet fully vaccinated. Everyone should continue to practice good hygiene, including hand washing or hand sanitizer.

Every 24 hours, FMCS will conduct enhanced sanitation and disinfection in high-traffic and common areas, following CDC guidelines.  In case of a suspected case of COVID, contact tracing and other measures will continue.

As of June 18, formal, CMU-approved Research Return Plans and Administrative/Operational Return Plans will be “sunset” (with the exception of Research Return Plans involving Human Subject Research).

Existing Return Plans for in-person Human Subject Research on campus (including guidance for the safety of both researchers and subjects) should still be followed.  Additional guidance is forthcoming.  Staff supporting Human Subject Research (e.g. business office staff and faculty support staff) should be on campus at least as often as necessary to support experiments (as well as additional time for other roles, as needed).

As of July 1, in person events aligned with safety protocols may take place without pre-approval (see below concerning visitors).

Indoor meetings and university-sponsored events of up to 50 persons are permitted.  However, recognizing that many colleagues may still be operating remotely during this transition period, virtual alternatives are encouraged and may be necessary to ensure adequate participation.

Outdoor meetings and university-sponsored events are permitted up to 50% of outdoor facility capacity.

Individuals are still encouraged to eat outdoors or in their workspace. 

Food (including take-out and catered) should be individually wrapped and sealed if stored in shared appliances.

Meetings or gatherings (subject to the size limitation above) with food should include only individually wrapped portions (and beverages in bottles or cans).  Shared food such as pizza, potlucks and buffets should not be ordered or consumed in group settings.

SCS will begin to bring kitchens (refrigerators and microwaves) online in July.

We anticipate additional guidance and information about food available on campus in July and August.

Beginning July 1, visitors to the Pittsburgh campus for one-time visits and/or recurring meetings are permitted, subject to approval. See the Visitor Protocol page for more information. Send requests to Philip Lehman, preferably at least 3 days in advance. Non-COVID-related visitor protocols and policies also continue to apply.

Effective July 1, university-sponsored domestic travel for all CMU community members is permitted subject to approval from your department/manager.

You do not have to quarantine following domestic travel. However, per the CDC's guidance on travel, we continue to encourage students, faculty, staff, vendors, and visitors to wear a facial covering and avoid large events or crowded spaces during travel.  Following travel, all faculty, staff, and students who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 must participate weekly in Tartan Testing if they are planning to be on campus.

 International travel for university business remains suspended until further notice and the university is working on a revised international travel policy. In the event there is a critical university business need that requires international travel, please contact Philip Lehman.

You may do so without requesting further permission.

Yes, but you will still need your ID to swipe in (including to escort visitors as mentioned above).

Effective now, fully vaccinated community members no longer need to wear facial coverings on campus (including inside campus facilities), complete the Daily Self-Assessment, or participate in Tartan Testing before coming to campus. “Fully vaccinated” means that someone has completed an approved vaccine protocol and at least two weeks have passed since the final vaccine dose.

Those who are not fully vaccinated must still participate in Tartan Testing, wear face coverings, and do the Daily Self-Assessment before coming to campus.

Note that Tartan Testing will also be available for fully vaccinated CMU community members who desire a weekly test. (Note that the check-in location has moved to the East Campus Garage.)

Open Enrollment for Carnegie Mellon University on-campus parking permits for 2021-2022 is open until Friday, June 18th.  See the parking web site for more information. After Open Enrollment, CMU Parking will consider additional arrangements.

For facial coverings, please contact:

For questions or further guidance, please contact your department business manager or Philip LehmanCPSAs and PSOs–as well as liaisons–continue as a source of expertise. 

SCS Teaching FAQ

Information for instructors on online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic

Please contact the Teaching Continuity Team with any questions.

On-campus Recording Studios

SCS offers on-campus studio rooms for lecture recording.

Guidance for on-campus teaching

An overview of modifications, including access and capacity limits, supplies, and etiquette for instruction within our teaching spaces.


Diderot is now open to all SCS faculty. Learn more about this teaching and learning tool for use in your courses and exams.

Spring 2021 Teaching Meeting

Materials from the January 25th meeting are available on Box (requires Andrew login):
Spring Teaching Meeting [video]   |  Spring Teaching Meeting [slides]

Course Syllabi

The Eberly Center has created a new webpage with suggested updates to your syllabus that address the current context, including sections on:

Please refer to this page, adopting or adapting the sample language provided to best fit your course context.


Fall 2020 SCS Teaching Workshop Videos


You can use Zoom. Zoom allows you to live-stream and record (simultaneously) slides, writing on a tablet, or using the camera. When in these scenarios (with a camera), it will place the camera output in the upper right corner (if selected) so students can see you while lecturing. Students can interact in real time either via audio or chat.

You can also use Panopto, especially if you've used it before. It may not be as convenient for live questions (it has some delay, 15 seconds or so). It however has the benefit of generating an index of your slides, and allows students to jump to the slide they are interested in. It also allows editing. It is easy to use, but you need to request access for recording. Please contact: Aaron Caldwelll.

Yes. Some students might loose connectivity, be in different time zones (see below), or be sick and have to miss the lecture. Recording can be done with a click of a button, or even better by setting it as a default when setting up the Zoom meeting. See privacy message below about making them available.

Yes. If you have a live synchronous lecture with students asking questions then the live stream and the recording must be private to the class. For example, you can put them on Canvas or Panopto's site to restrict access to your class. You should also tell students the class is being recorded, and tell them the recordings are to be used for the class only.

Important: please add the following notice to your recordings to make sure students do not post it elsewhere: "Recordings of course sessions are provided solely for educational use by students enrolled in the course and may not be distributed to any other person or posted on the internet without the express written permission of the course instructor"

What do I do with my recorded lectures?

“Uploading to the cloud” is an option when you start recording in Zoom. You will then have access to them on your zoom account through CMU ( You can then either download them or get a link to them. You can put them on Canvas, or put a link to them on your course web page (note privacy issue above). You can also record to your local computer and copy---probably better if you have a questionable connection. 

Important:  We have had a handful of issues with recording to the cloud which likely have to do with the overload at Zoom. Most importantly some recordings took over 24 hours to show up. This seems to be better now. Another issue is that went down for about 30 minutes on Friday. Also Comcast went down in some areas last week. Given the increasing load on Zoom and local networks, you are advised to record locally and have contingency plans if the network goes down.

There are various choices. For small classes you can use the “raise your hand feature” in Zoom. For larger classes you could take breaks for answering questions, possibly via chat. You could also have a TA or co-instructor answer questions live while you lecture.

Not if it is live with interaction. The students have multiple classes and we don't want them to conflict.

Yes. Some of our classes are doing this. You probably want some structure to your discussion. You should record the discussion for students who cannot make it, but the recording of the discussion should only be made available to the class.

What if my students are in vastly different time zones?

You should ask your students whether they will have difficulty participating in your regular class hours.    For recitations, you should be flexible about allowing students to move. For group projects hopefully the students can work this out among themselves, but you should check.

Zoom lists the participants live, and keeps a report of who attended.   On your Zoom account page (, go to the "Reports" menu item on the bottom left, then "Usage", then click the number under "Participants".  It can even keep track if students take focus off of the zoom application for more than 30 seconds.   If this is going to affect a “participation” part of the grade, make sure you tell the students.

You can also give a Canvas quiz at some point during the class.

Also, Panopto has continued attendance tracking and Zoom lectures can be uploaded to it.   This means you can see what percentage of your students have viewed the lecture.


Any special suggestions for recitations?

As with lectures you can use zoom, but most likely in a more interactive mode.   One suggestion is to have worksheets available in PDF, or otherwise online, before the recitation.  Then the recitation leader (probably TA) can work through them during recitation. Whether worksheets or not, the recitation leader can possibly use breakout rooms in zoom for discussions among smaller groups of students, and then bring them together to summarize their solutions.  Innovation is welcome.

Office Hours

What should I do for office hours?

Zoom has a waiting room feature that allows you to admit students one by one, or in batches.   It is probably worth having a tablet or writing surface for office hours. You can share both ways so both parties can see what they are writing. 

You can also setup an office hours Queue at Email Austin Schick <> to add your course to OHQ.    They will set up an online queue which students can sign up in the order they arrived. TAs then go through the queue in order answering each student before moving onto the next.   The TAs will find the student on Zoom as long as the student adds their Zoom personal link to their question.

Note that a student should not "remove" the TA/instructor from the call since this will "permanently" remove them.   Instead they should let the TA/instructor hang up.

Should I use audio, chat, and/or video?

Chat is most likely sufficient for simple questions.   We are sure you have all had a live chat with some business online, and it usually goes OK.     For more involved problem solving, audio along with a writing surface is better.

Is it OK to have in person office hours?

We strongly discourage this, except for special cases and on request by the student and acceptance by you.  

Exams and “In Class” Assessments

How do I give an exam or quiz?

If you already use online quizzes or exams, of course you should continue.   If not, we suggest, for now, that you give open-book “take-home” exams. These could be during your regular exam time.    One way to implement this is to send the students the exam as a pdf file at the start of “class” (via email, a link, or your existing assignment distribution system).   They can then print it out, or use some form of pdf markup. When done they can scan it by taking photos on their mobile device. One such app is “Genius Scan”, which is free.  The student can then submit via Gradescope, or similar tool.    It is strongly advised you try a test run with the students, e.g., have them do a small quiz and submit.   Some leeway for the students is likely necessary.

How do we prevent cheating?

As with any take-home exam, there is an element of trust that is required.   You can ask your students to sign a cover sheet that says they did not collaborate with anyone else on the exam.    We do not suggest making an online exam closed book.  

What about various lockdown browsers (i.e., only allow access to specified web pages) for preventing cheating?

At present we are advising against these unless you have already used one.    Our assessment is that they are not 100% portable across platforms, and are overly intrusive on the student platform.   That being said, Respondus is available via Canvas at CMU using the Canvas quiz utility.

What options are there for interactive online quizzes or tests?

Canvas has a quiz feature.    Gradescope has a quiz feature (in Beta).   Diderot will soon have a quiz/exam feature.    There is also Google forms. Whatever you use, consider how easy it will be for students to use.

Other suggestions?

You could replace an exam with a homework assignment.

You could reduce the weight of an exam.  But, clearly communicate this to students.

You could replace an exam with multiple online quizzes.   Again, clearly communicate this to students.


What about assignments?

Most SCS courses already distribute and accept solutions for assignments online.    Many tools are used, including Gradescope, autolab, Diderot, canvas, and github. Please continue.  It is important that assignments are also handed back online. If you want help here, contact us.



The Eberly Center is running a set of Webinars on Zoom, Canvas and other topics, and has a page on tools and strategies for online teaching.   You can contact the Eberly center at Zoom also has their own training resources.

New: For help on Canvas try

The SCS help desk will help individual faculty who request one-on-one help with setting up for online teaching.  This includes setting up equipment.

You can send mail to, the Eberly center or your departmental liaisons with questions:   Phillip Compeau (CB), Dave Eckhardt and Mark Stehlik (CSD), Chinmay Kulkarni and Ken Koedinger (HCII), Matthew Bass (ISR), Robert Frederking (LTI), Matt Gormley and Dorothy Holland-Minkley (MLD), David Wettergreen (RI), Guy Blelloch (SCS).   The teaching-continuity address goes to all the liaisons.

The settings in zoom can be confusing. There are settings per meeting when you set up the meeting on, there are settings in the settings menu item on, and there are preferences on the zoom app.

Suggestions for individual meetings:

  • "Telephone and computer audio" (some people might need to call in)
  • "Allow join before host" (it is nice to not be blocked until the host arrives)
  • "Mute participants upon entry" (students sometimes don't realize they are live if not)
  • Participants can remain muted and use the spacebar only when speaking.
  • (Maybe) "Enable waiting room".    Can be used for office hours.   Another option for office hours are "breakout rooms".  Note that this disables "join before host", and puts everyone in the waiting room to start.
  • (Suggest against) "Record automatically".   In conjunction with "join before host" you can get empty time at the beginning of the meeting, or random comments.  Just don't forget to hit the record button before you begin class!

For general settings (note tabs at top for "Meeting", "Recording", and "Telephone").

  • Chat (assuming you want chat).   Generally a nice place for students to ask questions, especially in large classes.   Note that some faculty have found it can be hard to keep up.   You might have a TA or co-instructor help answering questions on chat, or responsible for interrupting you if something important comes up.
  • (Maybe) "Prevent participants from saving chat".   Students might prefer if the chat is ephemeral.  Note you should also turn off "save chat messages" under Recording.
  • (Maybe, but think about it) "Record thumbnails when sharing" and "Display participant's names in the recording".   In a big class, do these make sense?
  • "Polling".   Can be useful but we have gotten several complaints from participants that the polling window does not always show up.   This might be an issue of it being hidden somewhere.  When working it is a reasonably quick way to ask students questions.   Polls can be created dynamically or before the meeting.
  • Critical: To avoid a "zoomboming" carefully control screen sharing. For classes make sure it is set to "Host only" under "Who can share".  Otherwise a rogue person can enter meeting and take over screen.  For office hours and other meetings it can be useful to allow participants to share.   You can turn it on a per-meeting basis (see up-arrow next to "share screen").
  • (Off) "Allow removed participants to rejoin" (should be off by default).   If you kick off a rouge visitor, you don't want them to come back.   Note however, this means that when finishing a meeting with a student for office hours let them drop out or move them to the waiting room, but do not "remove" them.
  • (Off) "File Transfer" (should be off by default).  Opens up the possibility of unwanted attendees sharing inappropriate files.
  • "Breakout rooms".  Many faculty have found these useful for several purposes, including project based courses, breaking out for discussions, and even office hours.

Chat, virtual backgrounds and breakout rooms seem to be some of the most popular features of Zoom.  It can be used for group discussions, small group problem solving, or office hours (as an alternative to waiting rooms).   For office hours you have the people who are waiting in a room such that they can talk/chat with each other while they wait.   You can then move them to and from the meeting, or work with groups of them.

For breakout rooms, faculty have had some problems with "pre-assigning to the rooms" (an option under "Settings" on    However the automatic assignment seems to work OK.   Note that you can set it so students cannot return to the meeting automatically.    This can be useful if you are using it for office hours.   Once you close the rooms, they can return immediately, and will be forced to return after 60 seconds (or other time you can set under options).

Hands up or chat?

You can decide to have students ask questions either by chat or hand-up, or both.   Faculty seem to be happy with all options.   If you use chat, some faculty say it can be hard to keep up.

Zoom has an annoying feature that you can only have one meeting open at a time that you scheduled. Some faculty created a bunch of meetings for their recitations to later find out they cannot overlap.   One way around this is to have your TAs create their own meetings for their recitations. It also turns out that by scheduling a meeting on someone else's behalf (see "Schedule Privilege" in "Settings") it counts for the person who schedules it (go figure).

Keynote hides the mouse by default making it hard to then click on buttons to start/stop recording, answer questions, or write on the slide. In Keynote, go to the settings->slideshow and set “show pointer”.


It depends on the situation. If you are teaching with slides from your desk, then a computer or laptop microphone and camera will probably suffice. If you plan to lecture on a board (either a whiteboard in your office, or in a classroom), then you might consider a separate camera and/or microphone. We have some suggested microphones and cameras below, and the school has purchased many of these and are available at the help desk as they last (note that they are due to be delivered on March 17).

If you want to write and you do not have a physical board, you can use a tablet. This could be, for example, an ipad with an apple pencil. You can then install one of many apps that allow you to write and this can easily be broadcast on zoom. There are also cheap single-purpose tablets/writing-surfaces for writing on. With either you can write over slides, or switch between slides and writing, or just write.   Zoom has a built-in "whiteboard" so you do not need a third party application.

Note: you should practice ahead of time.

Here is a list of tablets that Zoom supports.

Zoom supports Windows, Mac and yes, Linux. It is important to note there have been some complaints about certain combinations of browsers and platforms.  You should test ahead of time.

Here is a complete list of system requirements for Zoom.