No change in grading plans; CMU prepares for transition to online-only education

As the campus community lurches past the midway mark of the semester, the university is poised to keep to its COVID-19 plans and protocols. With the exception of the recently announced delayed start of the Spring semester, the university is sticking with their previously laid plans to close campus after Thanksgiving break, transition to all remote classes, use asymptomatic sample testing, and maintain the current grading system.

Instead of letting students back on campus after an expected period of Thanksgiving-related risk, the university announced in June that classes will switch to all-remote teaching after Nov. 25. On-campus research is permitted and those living on-campus will be able to continue to do so, but the hybrid teaching model is set to end for the semester with the start of Thanksgiving break. According to a statement sent to The Tartan by Carnegie Mellon spokesperson Jason Maderer, the university has “been preparing for this transition all semester.” The Eberly Center has provided resources for instructors throughout the semester, Maderer said, including teaching consultation services and a collection of online learning guidelines and tools.

For students dealing with the transition, Maderer stated that “any student needing financial support or resources should contact their HUB liaisons,” referring to the HUB assistant directors that assist in student enrollment and financial aid matters. Maderer added that for tech needs, students should refer to Computing Services, and that “the Student Academic Success Center can also assist students as they prepare for the transition to fully remote learning through academic coaching and workshop resources.”

The university’s asymptomatic COVID-19 sample testing, a process designed to monitor spread of the virus among the campus community, is now seven weeks underway. In that time, there have been a total of five positive test results out of 2473 tests from Sept. 15 - Oct. 26. Asymptomatic testing has gone “very well” thus far, according to Maderer. “Students have been responsive and engaged in the process,” he said.

Fluctuations in the number tested each week can be seen on the university’s COVID dashboard.
Maderer says this fluctuation can be chalked up to the fact that some people are choosing to not participate in on-campus activities, leading to them not making a test appointment once selected for testing, and that some community members, citing commitments, request to be tested at a future date. Still, “a majority of those invited are making appointments to be tested.”

According to an Aug. statement to The Tartan from Gina Casalegno, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, the university had initially secured “enough test kits to conduct approximately 1000 asymptomatic student tests per week following the completion of our arrival testing.” Instead of testing 1000 students weekly, the university has adopted a different strategy of testing five to 10 percent of students engaging in on-campus activity, as written on the old version of the Ongoing Asymptomatic Testing page of the COVID dashboard. Newer versions of the site omit the percentage of students that the university seeks to test. According to Maderer, the university “initially considered testing approximately 1000 students per week,” but he wrote, “that number was reduced because our positivity rates were low.” He added that the university is “planning for more frequent testing of the broader community,” noting that “updates will be provided once we are prepared to expand.”

Given the foreboding transition to all-remote learning amid a deadly pandemic, some students have pushed for pass/fail grading for this semester, like what was implemented last spring. Students shouldn’t expect such a grading scheme again.

“With the opportunity faculty and students had to prepare for the upcoming semester, including additional support and resources to enable student and faculty success, we elected not to continue the pass/fail option for all courses,” Maderer stated. “We understand the pandemic has impacted each of us differently, and any student facing personal hardship or challenge is encouraged to talk with their academic advisor and/or associate dean so we can identify appropriate adjustments or accommodations and support.”