For more information about preparing for Fall 2020, Duke Learning Innovation has developed a new resource, Flexible Teaching, which features a series of guides for course design, delivery, and materials. Please refer to flexteaching.li.duke.edu as you prepare for your fall course(s).

Last updated April 20, 2020 

This FAQs addresses the Spring 2020 semester. We will continuously update this as new questions come in so please check back regularly. If you have questions that are not answered here, please contact us at keepteaching@duke.edu.

Questions regarding COVID-19

Q: Has anyone within the Duke community tested positive for COVID-19?

A: As of the writing of this FAQ, we have been informed that at least 15 additional members of the Duke community who were part of the same overseas travel group that we reported on Friday have tested presumptively positive for COVID-19. Four other members of this group were diagnosed with COVID-19 in another country and are remaining there until they have recovered.

All members of this group were directed by Durham County Department of Public Health and Duke to undergo a self-quarantine at their homes off-campus upon returning to Durham and that will continue until they receive medical clearance. We understand that the individuals who tested positive are in good health. Durham County Public Health and Duke Health will work to test all other individuals who traveled with this group. For more information about how Duke is supporting these individuals, read this message from Kyle J. Cavanaugh, Vice President for Administration and Emergency Coordinator.

Check the Duke-wide Coronavirus Response website for more details.

Q: Students are asking me about the situation. What should I tell them?

A: Duke’s top priority is our community’s health and safety. These changes are being made to protect our community. Refer students to Duke’s Coronavirus Response website (coronavirus.duke.edu) for the most current information and to the student information website (keeplearning.duke.edu).

Be clear with students about changes to the syllabus and expectations. But also remember that your role as an educator extends beyond the syllabus. Showing empathy is as important as providing information. Faculty, students, and staff are facing immense personal and professional challenges right now. It’s ok to be open about that and to invite conversations among your class about how best to cope.

Spring & Summer 2020 Instruction

For information about Summer 2020 instruction, visit the Summer Session FAQ page.

Q: How are we finishing the Spring 2020 semester?

A: From President Price’s message to the Duke community on March 10: 

“First, all on-campus classes will be suspended until further notice, and we will transition to remote instruction (video and other forms of delivery) for all undergraduate, graduate and professional schools. In order to provide time for students and faculty make this transition, Undergraduate Spring Break will be extended to Sunday, March 22 and classes will resume on Monday, March 23. Graduate and professional schools will notify their students about their specific schedules.

“Second, all undergraduate, graduate, and professional students who are currently out of town for Spring Break should NOT return to the Duke campus if at all possible.”

Q: How does the extension of Spring Break impact the rest of the Spring term course schedule?

A: No further changes to the academic calendar are anticipated. Work in the intervening weeks should be accelerated to make up for the extension of Spring Break. You should revise your syllabus to reflect the compression of the material into this shorter time frame.  Schools and departments should follow their own processes for student issues, with consideration for the extenuating circumstances. 

Q: Has the last day of classes changed?

A: No. Undergraduate classes still end on April 22. Reading period will still run between April 23-26. Final exams begin April 27 and end May 2.

Class Meetings

Q: Are instructors required to cancel remaining in-person instruction?

A: Yes, all in-person instruction for all undergraduate, graduate and professional schools is cancelled and is moving to remote teaching starting on March 23. Classes may not meet in person. 

Q: Can an instructor cancel remaining instruction for the Spring semester?

A: No. Classes are continuing at Duke via remote teaching for the rest of the semester. There are approximately six weeks left in the semester. This is a shift in the modality of teaching, and it may not be ideal for every course. But we are committed to continue the work of teaching and learning over the coming months. 

Q: How am I going to be successful teaching online when I’ve never done it before?

A: These are unusual and trying circumstances. When Duke’s Learning Experience Designers work with faculty they typically spend months carefully planning and implementing a course design. What’s happening now is more like first aid.  

Joshua Eyler, a respected faculty development leader, recently offered this advice to faculty: “The most important thing we can do in the coming weeks as more and more courses shift to remote learning has nothing to do with content. Community, belonging, and your presence will matter as much, if not more, than the material you are teaching. Caring will be crucial.”

Q: What should I do about the deadlines for my class?

A:  Faculty should move deadlines for student work in line with the extension of the break. No work should be due the week of March 16. Remember that students may be under unusual stresses and challenges.

Q: Can an instructor change their class meeting time?

A: No further changes should be made. If you plan to have synchronous class meetings, they should meet at the regularly-scheduled class time. (Students may have commitments to synchronous participation in other courses – keeping synchronous participation to the originally scheduled time will minimize scheduling conflicts for students and faculty.) You may offer additional alternate times for students in other time zones to participate in optional discussion sessions.

Students should be responsible for understanding the content of Zoom sessions – either by participating live or by viewing later, or both. But you should not require that they participate live, as many students will be facing challenges due to technology, connectivity, time zones, and other unforeseen access issues. Undergraduates should still submit an incapacitation form to their instructors for each day that graded work or participation is missed. The form can be accessed at class-absences.trinity.duke.edu/if 

Live class sessions should therefore be recorded, to be viewed by students at alternate times. (You can find instructions here for recording Zoom sessions. We also have this recording of a webinar on how to use Zoom.) If you have concerns about the distribution of these recordings beyond your course community you should remind students that they may not distribute recordings of any Duke class – online or in person – without permission of the instructor. If requested, we can delete any recordings at the end of the semester. For details on policies regarding the recording of classes, see the Duke University Policy on Intellectual Property Rights in the Faculty Handbook

Of course you may also elect to use other teaching modalities that do not require recording.

Q: Can I continue an independent study with my students?

A: Independent studies should be converted to remote projects using approaches similar to those you are using for courses. 

Q: Can an instructor bring together their teaching team, including student course assistants, in person?

A: We recommend moving meetings of the teaching team to Zoom, in keeping with social distancing, and to accommodate student TAs who will be away from campus. The goal is to protect the health of the whole community.

Q: Can I come back to Duke campus to teach my class virtually? Can I use a classroom or office space on campus?

A: Everyone should now be developing plans now to teach remotely without access to classrooms on campus. The Strategies section of this website has guidance to support that planning. 

President Price has asked that Duke faculty and staff follow the guidance for social distancing and refrain from small-group or individual meetings. We strongly discourage individuals from visiting campus or accessing their offices or classroom spaces. Furthermore, many of these spaces are not supported as many staff, including IT professionals, have been asked to work remotely. Check with your department on current restrictions before planning to visit campus for any purpose.

Q: What should I do for graduate students?

A: Graduate students who are only doing coursework should not return to campus, as all classes will be taught remotely.


Q: What resources are available for students who need technical help?

A: For technical help with Sakai or Zoom, contact the Duke OIT Service Desk at https://oit.duke.edu/help, email (help@oit.duke.edu) or phone: (919) 684-2200. You can also access help documentation for Zoom here and for Sakai here. The help desk will be able to escalate an issue quickly if necessary. 

Q: How long does it take for Zoom to process a recording when I'm done?

A: In our experience, most hour-long meetings process in under an hour. Due to increased use, wait times for cloud recordings to process may be longer than average. Try to plan ahead when possible.

If you are in a hurry to record a lecture video and find that Zoom is reporting delays or downtime on their status page, try recording with a different tool: the screen capture and narration features offered by Warpwire or Loom may work well for your needs.

Q: If a student does not have access to a laptop, connectivity, or other essentials what options are available?

A: If you know of a student who is unable to access the tools required by your course, or have issues with connectivity, please contact Duke LIFE. The Director of Duke LIFE, Sachelle Ford, will work with you and the affected students to help. For other basic human needs, refer students to the Keep Learning website. 

Q: If a student is unable to access the course materials what options are available?

A: Some students may have left their textbooks and notes in dorm rooms or other locations they cannot access. In such cases, faculty should work to accommodate these challenges by relying less on textbooks and more on other content sources. In some cases, ebook versions or limited scans of textbooks may be available. Some suggestions for faculty approaches to content are here

In cases where students may not have access to their notes, we encourage students, within the limits of the Community Standard, to share notes with one another. Faculty might use Forums notes in Sakai, set up a Box folder and share notes via Box notes, or use other tools like MS Word or MS Word online (through Office 365).

Q: Can I use a non-Duke supported technology for remote teaching?

A: We understand that you and your students might be using non-Duke supported technologies in your courses. While we recommend using the supported and endorsed tools to keep things simple, secure and reliable, you might also be faced with a situation that warrants the use of non-Duke tools. 

Keep in mind that when you use tools that have not been reviewed and supported by Duke you are (1) responsible for making sure your students’ data is protected and not shared; (2) responsible for informing your students that they’re using a tool that Duke does not support and has not reviewed for privacy and security (this is especially necessary when a tool produces something public – like a public blog or website, for example); and (3) responsible for providing technical support for the tool yourself (if the tool or platform doesn’t already provide sufficient support).

For Duke students in China some commonly used tools (e.g., Google Docs, Google Sites, WhatsApp) may not be accessible. Students may be able to work around this problem by using a VPN (or virtual private network); however, this solution may not be straightforward for students.

Intellectual Property Concerns

Q: I am worried about protecting my intellectual property. What are Duke’s policies?

A: The same policies apply on campus and online. The Duke Policy on Intellectual Property Rights in the Faculty Handbook “reaffirms [the university’s] traditional commitment to the personal ownership of intellectual property rights in works of the intellect by their individual creators…” 

The policy states that “recording of lectures may only be done with the permission of the instructor presenting the lecture.” It also limits what students may do with such recordings: “Student recording of lectures, when permitted by the instructor, shall be for private study only. Such recordings shall not be distributed to anyone else without authorization by the instructor whose lecture has been recorded….Unauthorized distribution is a cause for disciplinary action by the Judicial Board.”
Zoom allows class sessions to be recorded. We recommend faculty record class sessions and require it if students will be responsible for content that is presented exclusively in Zoom. (This is because students are now located in time zones all over the world and cannot reasonably be expected to participate live in synchronous sessions.) If faculty have concerns about recordings they can set them to delete after a certain length of time. Or they can focus their teaching on instructional methods that do not require audiovisual recording.

Q: I am concerned about privacy regarding Zoom but want to use it. What should I do?

A: Students in different time zones might not be able to attend live class sessions, so if instructors use live Zoom sessions they should be recorded and shared with the class later. 

  • Make sure recording is turned on before you begin each session.
  • Remind your students that the session will be recorded and that their classmates will be able to review it. (Zoom will also ask for consent to be recorded.) For more information on protecting student privacy visit the Privacy page on ScholarWorks.
  • Remind students they may not share recordings outside the class, nor should they record sessions without your permission. To do so violates Duke policies. Set guidelines and expectations clearly. 
  • If you schedule a Zoom session in Zoom and record to the cloud the link for the recording is only sent to you as the host. If you schedule the session through Sakai the recording is visible to those with access to the Sakai site.
  • Breakout rooms in Zoom are not recorded without permission of the instructor. 
  • Direct your students to review this section on the Keep Learning website for further information.

Duke respects the privacy of the community and will follow its policies and relevant laws.

Academic Accommodations & Accessibility

Q: Should instructors do anything differently for students who have Academic Accommodations?

A: Instructors should continue to comply with academic accommodations authorized by the Student Disability Access Office (SDAO). In most cases, accommodations will not change, and the Testing Center is operating remotely. If you are concerned about meeting particular accommodations remotely, reach out to SDAO. Students with accommodations should provide instructors with a letter outlining their approved accommodations. If a student has new or updated accommodations for any reason, the SDAO will provide the student with a new letter to give to instructors.

Q: How may a student request an update to their Academic Accommodations?

A: Students should be in touch with the Student Disability Access Office to update accommodations under these circumstances. They can request updates online here. More information for students is available at keeplearning.duke.edu.

Q: If a student has an Academic Accommodation for additional test taking time, does that extended time also apply to a take-home exam?

A: The specific accommodation for a take-home exam is based on the nature of each student’s disability. Some academic accommodation letters indicate that additional time is not needed. Other letters indicate students should receive extended time in such cases. The Student Disability Access Office (SDAO) staff member listed on a student’s academic accommodation letter can assist with the interpretation and provide guidance on the implementation of a specific accommodation.

Q: How do I make my remote classes accessible?

A: Accessibility guidelines for remote instruction are essentially the same as for in-face instruction, and the two main instructional platforms–Sakai and Zoom–are ADA-compliant.  Continue to design documents, presentations, and images according to web accessibility guidelines.  Duke Learning Innovation provides guidelines for creating accessible content in Sakai. If you are using a new online tool or app that you have not used in class before, consider whether it is accessible before adopting it.

Q: Should I enable auto transcription in Zoom?

A: Yes. Transcriptions of recorded Zoom sessions are helpful for students. However, even the best automatic transcription often contains errors.  We recommend you view and edit the transcript before posting.  If you have a student that requires captioning or a note-taker, SDAO will work with you and the student to ensure their accommodation is met.

Student Support

Q: How can I help students with concerns or financial hardships?

A: If you learn of a student who has concerns, please immediately contact the student’s academic dean. If you are concerned about a student’s wellbeing, please contact DukeReach at 919-681-2455 or dukereach@duke.edu.

If students ask you questions regarding financial hardships, they should be directed to the “Financial Issues” section of Keep Learning’s FAQ page. They may also email keeplearning@duke.edu with questions or concerns.

Q: What academic support and mental health resources are available to students away from campus?

A: Duke’s Academic Resource Center (ARC) is preparing to support peer tutoring and provide other academic resources (including learning consultations and workshops) remotely through Zoom and by phone. Information about their new online services is here.

DukeReach directs students, faculty, staff, parents, and others to the resources available to help a student in need. If you are concerned about a student’s mental health or wellbeing, you should report your concern to DukeReach. You can contact them by completing a DukeReach report via the web, call 919-681-2455, or email them at dukereach@duke.edu.

And don’t discount the care and support that each instructor can provide to students in need. Your expressions of humanity and presence for students are crucial right now.

Grading & Assessment

Q: Will Spring 2020 courses have a satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U) grading option?

A: Yes. Accordingly, during Spring 2020, we will transition courses to a satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U) grading option, but allow students the option of receiving a letter grade until the last day of classes. 

Effective immediately, Spring 2020 courses will transition to a default S/U grading option. If students choose to receive a letter grade for any class, they can do so by submitting a form to the registrar’s office no later than April 22 at 5:00 pm EST.  To provide students with additional time to consider their options, the deadline for declaring a letter grade has been extended to Monday, April 27 at 12 PM EST. 

Courses taken for S/U grades during Spring 2020 will count towards curricular, major, continuation, and graduation requirements.  

Faculty will grade students as usual during the semester, and record the S/U designation using our existing rubric (where an S is equivalent to a C- or above).  

Grades of S and U are not factored into a student’s grade point average.  

This policy does not apply to 500/600-level courses. Although undergraduates may enroll in these graduate courses, they are subject to the grading policies of the graduate program.

Q: I'm concerned that an S will replace a strong earned grade for a student who doesn’t get the message or request a grade change.

A: Faculty are welcome to initiate a conversation about grades with their students throughout the semester. 

Q: How should I administer exams?

A: We urge faculty to convert exams from closed to open book. While it is theoretically possible to administer a closed book proctored exam remotely, given the circumstances it would add complexity to an already challenging and stressful situation. 

Q: What are the options for administering an exam?

A: The Assignments and Assessments section of this site has advice on the best approaches for administering exams. We recommend you use Sakai to administer exams. Sakai includes the Duke Community Standard in its Assignments tool and its Tests & Quizzes tool, and allows for timed exams.

As a backup option you can also use Box to distribute and have students upload final exams. Create a new Box folder for your exam and set students’ permissions in a folder to “uploader.” You can see instructions on the Box website here.

Q: May an instructor make exams optional, so that students have the choice of taking the exam or having their grades based upon only already completed course work?

A: An instructor may offer all students in a course an option to have their final grade based upon only the course work that they have completed to date, or to have their final grade based upon completed coursework plus the final exam. 

Should an instructor decide to offer this option, the students should receive clear guidance on how their grade will be calculated within each choice available to them. Students should be required to inform the instructor of their decision in writing well in advance of the start time of the scheduled exam.

Q: Can reading period be used for instruction or class meetings?

A: No. Reading period will still be provided as protected time for students working on final projects or preparing for final exams.

Q: If we are unable to offer in-person exams, how can I ensure academic integrity during these assessments? 

A: If you normally give in-class exams or tests, we recommend using timed, open-book exams online. We’ve integrated the Duke Community Standard as an option in the Sakai Tests & Quizzes Tool and the Sakai Assignments Tool, and have shared other strategies for ensuring academic integrity on this site.

Q: What are the Duke Community Standard guidelines for take-home exams?

A: The Community Standard applies equally to all modes of assessment and teaching. It is worth reminding your students of the Community Standard as you make the transition to remote teaching. It is available online here: https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/conduct/about-us/duke-community-standard

Sakai integrates the Community Standard in Tests & Quizzes and Assignments and, if enabled for each assessment, requires students to review and confirm it before starting an assignment or quiz.

Q: What else do I need to know about final exams?

A: Please review the most recent communication about final exams here.

Labs, Theater, Dance & Hands-on Learning

Q: What are some ways I might be able to do labs?

A:. There are many options for doing labs remotely that are worth exploring. More resources will be forthcoming on this site. 

  • Take the lab online: Consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work). 
  • Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot, Journal of Virtual Experiments, PhET, iBiology for materials that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.
  • Build alternative lab kits. Some faculty have already begun collecting and sending out lab kits to students to carry out lab activities from home.  Or you can redesign the lab procedure to accomplish the same learning outcomes using materials commonly found in or around a home. This approach may not be feasible for all labs, but some labs may be redesigned to allow for home alternatives. (There are commercial providers that will organize and ship lab kits to your students.)
  • Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.
  • Explore alternate software access: Some labs require access to specialized software that students cannot install on their own computers. Virtual Labs allow employees, students and staff to use free software containers and virtual machines that provide Duke computing resources from a web browser, which prevents troubleshooting issues on personal computers.
  • Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are more about having time for direct student interaction, so consider other ways to replicate that level of contact if it is only your lab that is out of commission.
Q: What are some ways I might be able to teach theater or dance?

A: Many have been impressed by the ingenuity and resilience of faculty who are developing ways to teach courses at a distance that previously may not have been considered. At Duke Kunshan University, for example, which made an online transition on February 24, physical education instruction is continuing using a combination of fitness trackers and Zoom. The Dance Studies Association has published a website devoted to teaching dance remotely in response to the crisis. We will publish more information on this topic as it becomes available

This page will be updated with more information as we receive more questions.