Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science
August 07, 2020

Update on Preparations for Fall Hybrid and Remote Instruction

Dear Members of the Carnegie Mellon Faculty and Staff:

Let me begin by first wishing you and your loved ones well during this extraordinary time and expressing my appreciation for your thoughtfulness and support. Over the past several weeks, there has been a great deal of activity on campus preparing our teaching and learning spaces to be ready for hybrid and remote instruction in the new academic year. I am writing today to share an update on these preparations and resources to support your teaching and build confidence in our plans to return to campus, including monitoring, testing and contact tracing plans.

As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we remain committed to the health and safety of our entire community while at the same time retaining the excellence, flexibility and accessibility of a Carnegie Mellon education. As a result, our learning spaces will look and feel very different, even if you have taught in them previously. In order to help familiarize you with this new environment, we have prepared a number of resources that will help you to acclimate yourself to our new surroundings and better adapt to minimum requirements inside and outside of our classrooms and learning spaces.

Technology and Learning Spaces

Each of our learning spaces has undergone a number of assessments and modifications, including assessment for capacity, removal and modification of furniture, installation of new audio and visual technology, addition of hand sanitizing stations and directional, flow and distancing signage, as well as plans for enhanced cleaning. Proximate facilities, such as restrooms, elevators and stairwells, have also been assessed for capacity, flow and enhanced cleaning protocols. 

Each classroom will have a minimum standard of audio and visual equipment installed by mid-August. The goal is to be as consistent as possible in order to facilitate use by instructors and technical support. The equipment is undergoing thorough testing to ensure appropriate broadcasting of audio and video for faculty and students attending remotely. Support documentation and real-time technical support will be available for all classrooms.

Please visit the Faculty Resources page on the COVID-19 Updates website to find information about these technologies, configuration options, training and support. From here you can find links to details about this new audio-visual equipment and setup as well as teaching and learning scenarios from Computing Services and links to Eberly Center resources to aid in designing your course, your assessment structure, and other tools for teaching and learning. In addition, 25live has been updated with the new modified capacities and layouts for university classrooms.

Computing Services and the Eberly Center have convened IT specialists from across campus to learn about this equipment and new real-time technical support models. Faculty and instructors will be invited to college-level virtual training that will be held for faculty to preview classroom technology and functionality. Each local units’ IT specialists will be invited to join. And finally, for those attending the virtual training, there will be an option to coordinate a time to visit classrooms in-person. Details are forthcoming from Computing Services and will be communicated through your departmental liaison.

Returning to Campus Minimum Requirements

Returning to campus safely requires us all to adhere to the minimum requirements. As a reminder, this includes wearing a facial covering at all times while teaching classes and while moving about campus and inside buildings, with some exceptions such as when alone in private offices and while eating or drinking. Every member of the faculty and fall 2020 instructors are being provided two cloth facial coverings and one clear facial covering. Instructors will be provided guidance and support for how to handle instances of non-compliance.

Arrival of Students and Related Expectations

Students returning from outside southwest Pennsylvania are expected to complete a quarantine for 14 days on or off campus before joining in-person coursework and coming to campus if they live off campus. Therefore, instructors should expect for some students to join remotely for the first week or two of classes, even if they intend to have some in-person classroom experience during the semester. We are in the process of collecting information about student plans for study modality and location and will share this information with instructional staff as appropriate and available through course rosters. Students will be required to affirm their commitment to a set of rules and standards to guide their behavior while interacting with our campus community, whether living on or off campus. More information on this will be shared in the coming days.

Update on the Plan for Monitoring, Testing and Contact Tracing

I recently updated the Faculty Senate and the Academic Leadership on our plans for monitoring, testing and contact tracing, about which we will soon be updating the community.   

We have been studying these issues for the past few months and are developing a comprehensive plan that includes testing of symptomatic cases, asymptomatic surveillance testing and monitoring as well as daily symptom assessment and contact tracing. I would like to recognize the dedicated work and expertise of our University Health Services staff for developing the plan and the support of consulting physicians at UPMC and Allegheny Health Network who have endorsed this work. I am also grateful to a group of Carnegie Mellon faculty experts who reviewed our initial testing plan, and with some feedback, gave it their support.

A key component of this testing plan is to provide symptomatic point of care testing on site with the ability to return same-day results. As a result of the summer COVID surge in certain geographical hot spots, the specialized equipment and supplies we ordered in May to support this same-day solution have been diverted to acute care settings. We are in the final stages of securing a number of alternative testing supply chains that will allow us to guarantee timely test results so that we can quickly isolate and care for COVID-positive students. Let me also assure you that we have ample PCR testing capacity available at University Health Services through a contract with Quest Diagnostics.

In the meantime, we have trained a sizeable group of Carnegie Mellon contact tracers in partnership with the Allegheny County Health Department and are making preparations for isolation housing for residential students and support for all students. In addition, the daily symptom assessment tool, currently in final stages of testing, will be released to students, faculty and staff soon. Through this tool, each day we will be asked about our intention to come to campus, symptoms, contacts with known positives and temperature. Students will be provided a thermometer as part of their wellness package along with facial coverings, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.

We are finalizing our plans for testing and will be communicating it with the broader campus community no later than the end of next week. This is crucial for our return to campus and I want to reassure you of our commitment and confidence in our ability to deliver a robust plan to support identification and containment of the virus. I ask that you please wait to see the details of these plans before requesting to adjust your teaching plans.

On the Horizon

Next week, you will receive a message from Marsha Lovett, Associate Vice Provost for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation, and me that will include links to a new Eberly Center faculty resource page for preparing syllabi and course design that recognizes the dynamic situation that we will have on campus this fall.

We are actively receiving and reviewing return-to-campus plans from academic and administrative units. The results of these reviews and ultimate approvals will be communicated so that faculty, staff and students will understand the campus experience outside the classroom, including university libraries, fitness and recreation, dining, and indoor and outdoor common areas, as well as student advising and other academic support services that will support physical distancing.

Finally, there are a number of communications forthcoming in the near future that will provide more information about our plans to support the health and safety of our campus community. Please continue to check the COVID-19 Updates websitefor updated information.

Again, thank you for your ongoing commitment to our students and for your investment in the student experience under such extraordinary circumstances.


Jim Garrett