Carnegie Mellon University

CMU Campus

July 17, 2020

See the Results of our Return-To-Campus Survey for Fall 2020

Thank you for taking our survey about returning to campus in Fall 2020. On June 25th, the Osher at CMU Board of Directors voted to continue conducting courses online through Fall 2020. Based on this decision, the results of our survey were particularly encouraging because they showed a welcoming attitude from members towards distance learning. While we do not know how long the pandemic will go on and how long we will need to keep our distance, it is uplifting to know that so many of our members are embracing the present and open to continuing distance learning!

A noteworthy aspect of the feedback to the survey is that many respondents remarked that they cannot comment on how we can improve if we continue to use Zoom for courses because they have not taken the online courses. Before coming to a conclusion about if you will take online classes in the fall, try out using Zoom this summer! You may take a training in Zoom hosted by staff before registering for classes. Attending training is highly recommended; click here for more information about Zoom trainings. Since the Zoom trainings are hosted on Zoom, you may be wondering how to attend a training if you have no experience with Zoom. You have support – both in online resources such as our Zoom Tips and Hints or Zoom’s website ( and from staff. Emailing staff at is recommended for the fastest reply.

Feedback about Online Courses

The feedback we received from members who have taken online classes showed ten topics that came up frequently. Below, please see the topics and a description of each.

  1. Classroom etiquette: A lack of muting is a widely shared concern. Members are expected to know how to use the mute function in Zoom before attending class, and to mute themselves throughout class except for when the instructor has called on them. Many members find that while they enjoy the instructor’s presentation, they cannot enjoy it to the fullest due to distracting sounds from non-muted classmates. This is a problem we can easily mend by taking the time to both learn about Zoom and to practice considerate behavior in class by muting ourselves.
  2. Zoom literacy of class participants: As we are all learning Zoom, members are expected to prepare for class by learning the basics of Zoom. The Zoom trainings held three times per week (see link above) are held by staff and cover not only the basic functions that you will use in Zoom but also how to use them in the context of an Osher at CMU course. Technical questions about Zoom are not appropriate for class, so please prepare and be aware that if you disrupt class a great deal, then you may be removed from class. If you need to ask technical questions while a class is running, email staff at
  3. Zoom literacy of instructors: Zoom trainings are held for study leaders before each term, and study leaders may receive one-on-one help as well. Since instructors both teach and manage the Zoom class as host, the Zoom Class Helper volunteer position has been created to take on some of the Zoom tasks so that instructors can focus on teaching. Even the most prepared instructor can have issues on Zoom when juggling both managing a meeting as host and teaching the material. To avoid potential issues with Zoom, please volunteer to be a Helper for a class. For more information about the Helper position, click here. Email to volunteer.
  4. Security of Zoom: Osher at CMU has an educational license through Zoom, which provides added security because the instructors are on the license as hosts of classes. Even if you are using a free Zoom account, there is extra security in class meetings because you are participating in a class hosted on a license. Additionally, courses each require a password for enhanced security.
  5. Materials for class, such as readings: Members have found it very helpful when study leaders send materials for class, especially in plenty of time for them to read those materials before class. This supplement reinforces the course material and can assist with staying organized in class.
  6. Locking classes to latecomers: While some members would like classes to be unlocked, others like the added security that locking provides. Those that prefer unlocking pointed out that sometimes their Internet connection goes out. Since locking or unlocking classes is up to each individual study leader, members are advised to check that their Internet connection is as strong as possible before starting classes and to arrive early. The option to lock classes exists both to prevent latecomers and to provide further security against potential Zoom bombings.
  7. Quality of audio transmission when video clips are played during class: If your instructor is playing a video clip with sound during class, the quality of the clip will be best if everyone mutes their microphones and turns off their video cameras (this puts less strain on the bandwidth). You will still be able to see the presentation if you turn off your own camera.
  8. Size of classes: Feedback about the size of classes is greatly varied. Since many courses are larger now, some members are thrilled to get into class instead of going on a waitlist; others say classes are too large. Typically, you will see variety in class sizes as some are lecture style while others are kept smaller to allow for more discussion depending on the topic.
  9. Length of classes: Many members are finding that while they enjoyed the length of class time for in-person classes, focusing on class via video conferencing for that same timeframe can be difficult. Various timeframes were suggested, though the length of about one hour came up several times.
  10. Variety and number of classes offered: Members would like to see a wider variety and number of online classes. This is great news, because it means members want to keep taking online courses and are interested in them expanding! To continue our volunteer-based programming online, we need study leaders who are willing to take on the task of teaching online. If you know someone who would like to teach, or you would like to teach a course yourself, please see the form for proposing to teach a course here.

Feedback about Returning to Campus

The survey also asked about members’ likelihood to return to campus. The majority of responses took a very prudent and positive approach, indicating both a great concern about the safety of our community and an enthusiasm for continuing courses online. Most members feel a strong need for various safety measures (such as masks, social distancing, and increased sanitation) to be taken before they would consider returning. Most members agree that our community must exercise caution regarding returning to in-person activities, and that the online courses are going so well that continuing them is preferable to risking returning to the classrooms at this time. Many members even suggested that we continue online courses after we return to the classrooms – offering a choice of in-person or online courses for those who have difficulties commuting to campus due to physical disabilities or lack of transportation.

Overall, despite the particularly difficult time in which we are living, members have expressed a welcoming of this new technology for our courses. For those who have not yet tried taking courses on Zoom, we recommend trying it out and making the best of this unique situation. You may take a Zoom training before committing to signing up for a class, and there are backup options if you do not have access to a video camera. For example, you may still see class even if you are not able to be seen by others, or you may join by phone call. Please email staff at with questions or concerns. We will do our best to support you so that you can begin or continue taking courses online. Thank you to those of you who took the survey and who are helping us improve programming.