Important information on Fall 2020 instruction

Dear SEAS Faculty,

We hope that you and your families are safe and doing well. The university has decided to move Fall 2020 courses online, and with less than a month for the school to reopen we would like to share some important information. We apologize in advance for this rather long email. 

In light of the university’s decision, and input from the SEAS Ad-Hoc Committee on Online Education, we want to share some information and make some requests of you. Our requests are motivated by our shared principles of Uncompromised Quality and Resilient Inclusion with the goal of providing a high quality educational experience for all of our students.

  1. FAQ page: We have posted FAQs for SEAS students on our main SEAS website, and the information will be updated to reflect the latest changes in operations:
  2. On campus students: As noted in the President’s message, there will be a small number of students who will be given the opportunity to apply for housing: “Undergraduate students without a safe alternative, students for whom their home situation is not conducive to successful virtual education, international students, and students with specific in-person academic or research requirements or culminating experiences that must be completed on-campus may apply to be considered for on-campus housing.”

  3. Student retention: The University and SEAS will be messaging students to help communicate the online value proposition for students. We encourage Departments to develop a message to your own majors. Reaching out to your students, via townhalls for example, is strongly encouraged. If you have examples that we can showcase in terms of selling this value proposition, please let us know.

  4. Moving classes to remote/online teaching: All undergraduate courses are moving to remote instruction, and that will be done automatically by the Registrar’s Office. Most graduate courses will be offered remotely (see item 5 below for exceptions).

  5. International students: For continuing, transfer, and change of level students on an F-1 visa, as long as they were enrolled since March 9, 2020 and otherwise maintained status, they are considered as continuing F-1 status and can enroll in online coursework while in the US with no limitation. For new F-1 visa students, if they plan to come to the US they must be enrolled in at least one in-person course to maintain their F-1 status. We are still working to provide a solution for the in-person course requirement, so please stay tuned for updated information from GW and SEAS.

  6. Academic calendar: The university has altered the academic calendar back to its original schedule since we are moving to fully online. This will involve moving back to a final exam period in the end of semester time frame and elimination of the major assessment period prior to Thanksgiving.

  7. Principles for Fall remote teaching: We did a commendable job with the sudden transition to online this past Spring. However, with the move to all remote teaching in Fall, the expectations from students will be much higher, and we need to make sure that we deliver the same high quality courses that we do in an in-person setting. Faculty really need to think through and set expectations for how the virtual classroom works. Students expect engagement with faculty and their classroom community. Student surveys from Spring 2020 showed that students experienced less engagement and learned less from in-class activities when they moved online. We would like to remind you of a few principles that all faculty should bear in mind as they prepare their classes:

    • All classes should involve some synchronous elements making use of the scheduled time for the course. Students expect engagement, and this will be even more vital in the online environment.

    • If you have planned to record lectures and post them as asynchronous content, then it is expected that you are using the class time for discussion or other activities to engage the students. (We expect that instructors will not simply convert their course to an asynchronous course and discard the official synchronous sessions scheduled in the schedule of classes.) If you have previously developed a course that is asynchronous, you could still use much of the elements from that course structure, but we expect there to be synchronous engagement.

    • Students will expect courses to meet online at the scheduled hours. But this does not mean that you have to use that entire scheduled time to only lecture. You can use the scheduled time in various ways to keep students actively engaged in the course material (e.g., discussions, breakout groups with TA, etc.). Interactive activities such as question/answer sessions, polls, discussions, problem solving have been shown to increase student engagement, and platforms such as Blackboard and WebEx provide tools to support these.

    • All classes need to be recorded and posted for students who might be ill or who have connectivity or time zone issues. Faculty will need to consider options for students who cannot be virtually present during synchronous class meetings to have other ways to satisfy participation requirements and participate in discussions. With this in mind, faculty are reminded to think of ways to include all students and to share all course content in an accessible way. 

    • If you are recording any synchronous sessions, please consider privacy issues. Specifically if students have their cameras on, ask them to switch them off and switch to screen sharing before start of recording (and do not require students to turn their cameras on). If you are using Blackboard Collaborate (or WebEx), captions are not generated for the recordings; so please post your lecture materials (slides, etc.) so we meet accessibility and other ADA policies. Please refer to GWU’s accessibility policies at

    • We ask that faculty consider having multiple distributed office hours at different times of the day to accommodate students who will reside in different time zones. 

    • This is a semester in which faculty will need to be flexible about absences and understand that students face challenges when learning from their home community.

    • A revised GW syllabus template, addressing remote instruction, is being prepared and will be made available soon.

    • It is important that instructors work hard to build the classroom community. We encourage finding ways to reach out and get to know students in your class (arrive early, stay in the virtual classroom after class ends to answer questions, hold small group virtual coffee hours, etc.). Some tips on building community are available at

  8. Teaching from campus and technology requests: We are exploring the options for faculty to come into GW and teach from a campus room that is set up with the requisite technology. We received the technology requests (to support online instruction) from faculty and are working to support as many requests as possible. We are in a tight financial situation, so not all requests may be met and/or realistic compromises may need to be made in the technology requests. In addition, anyone coming to campus this Fall will need to comply with the university’s plans for testing, contact tracing, masks, and other public health considerations.
  9. Teaching resources: The SEAS instructional resources webpage (created in Spring 2020) will be updated and provide links to various online instruction resources (including GW ITL resources and tutorials)


Please let us know how we can assist. SEAS has consistently risen to challenges, and we can and we must deliver an excellent educational experience to our students. For further information and discussion, please join us for the SEAS Faculty Town Halls on Friday, August 7: 10am for full-time faculty and 11am for part-time faculty.


Warm regards,

john lach
John Lach, Dean 

Rumana Riffat, Associate Dean

Can Korman, Associate Dean

Bhagi Narahari, Associate Dean

School of Engineering and Applied Science