FAQ - Academics

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Will there be pass/fail grading options for classes?

Yes. Undergraduate students can take two classes pass/fail for the spring 2021 semester. If a student elects this option, only one P/F course may be counted for major, minor, or AU Core/Gen Ed credit (each semester).

Graduate students can take one course pass/fail for the spring 2021 semester. The decision to take a course pass/fail will be made after final grades are submitted. 

This option is not available to students at the Washington College of Law or in the International or Master’s Accelerator Program. Furthermore, some students may have unique circumstances—including, but not limited to, federal financial aid or scholarship regulations and probation or progression standards) that will impact their ability to move a course to pass/fail. We strongly encourage you to consult with your academic advisor to explore these issues.

Why do I have to wait until after the semester (or term) is over to select the pass/fail option?

We are asking you to make the pass/fail option after the semester (or term) is complete so that you have full information about your progress and have ample time to consider the pros and cons of electing a grade type change to consult with advisors and faculty in making your decision. We want you to carefully weigh the impact of one or more pass/fail grades on your immediate academic profile and progress, as well as on career opportunities in your field of study (e.g., in applications to graduate/professional schools and future jobs). 

What are the pass/fail grading options during spring 2021 for undergraduate students?

During the spring 2021 semester, undergraduate students may exercise the option for pass/fail grades in two courses.

Per current regulationsone of these pass/fail grades may be an elective course. With the policy change, you may also elect a grade type change for one additional elective/major/minor/Gen Ed/Core course.

Some students may have unique circumstances (including, but not limited to, requirements related to the International Accelerator Program, federal financial aid or scholarship regulations, and probation or progression standards) that will impact their ability to move a course to pass/fail. We strongly encourage you to consult with your financial aid and academic advisors to explore these issues.

We also want to remind you of a prior policy change that provides additional flexibility. In recognition of the challenges students may face this year, the Faculty Senate has approved changes to the previously named Freshman Forgiveness Policy, now known as the Course Repetition and Grade Replacement Policy. In addition to the deliberate name change to remove gendered language, the expanded policy allows undergraduate students to retake any two AU courses (over the course of their time at AU) in which they have earned a C- or lower for a grade replacement at any point during their undergraduate career at AU (the previous policy limited grade replacement to courses taken in the first 30 credits). The policy has also been expanded to permit transfer students and part-time degree-seeking students to retake a course for a grade replacement. For complete regulation details, please refer to Regulation 4.4 of the Undergraduate Academic Rules and Regulations.

Please also remember that, if you have personal or medical circumstances that are impacting your academic progress, you can work with your advisor and the Dean of Students Office to review academic options.

What are the pass/fail grading options during spring 2021 for graduate students?

During the spring 2021 semester, most graduate students may convert one course from an A-F grade to a pass/fail grade after the semester is complete and final grades have been posted. For graduate students in an online program that is comprised of four terms or a Spring I and Spring II semester, students will be able to select one course across the two relevant terms (for Spring 2021 either Spring I & II or T1 & T2) to convert to a pass in the period designated.

This option is not available to students at the Washington College of Law or in the Master’s Accelerator Program. Furthermore, other students may have unique circumstances (including, but not limited to, federal financial aid or scholarship regulations, and probation or progression standards) that will impact their ability to move a course to pass/fail. We strongly encourage you to consult with your academic advisor to explore these issues.

While most graduate courses will convert a C grade to a pass, several courses, such as many graduate capstone courses, explicitly require a grade higher than a C. These courses will continue to require that higher grade to receive a pass.

Please also remember that, if you have personal or medical circumstances that are impacting your academic progress, you can work with your advisor and the Dean of Students Office to review academic options.

Can I convert a course a course to pass/fail that will double count for my combined bachelor’s/master’s degree? 

If you are completing coursework for a combined bachelor’s/master’s degree, please consult with your graduate advisor before converting a course to pass/fail that you plan to double count for both degrees. Assuming there are no other progression standards or requirements of the master’s degree, it may be possible for you to convert one undergraduate course per semester that would double count for your master’s degree. 

Can I convert a course to pass/fail if I am on probation?

If you are on probation and need the grade in the course to get your GPA to the required GPA, then you will not be able to convert the course. If you do not need the letter grade to increase your GPA to the necessary level, you can convert the course to a pass/fail grade. However, we ask that you please consult your advisor.

Is temporary leave available to students for the spring semester?


Undergraduate regulations for General Temporary Leave may be found in the Undergraduate Academic Rules and Regulations and regulations for  graduate students on a four-term calendar may be found in the Graduate Academic Regulations.

How can I meet with my academic advisor in the spring 2021 semester?

For the most part, academic advisor meetings will continue online. You may schedule an appointment with your advisor online via each school.

What if I have a question about my spring course?

Professors will set virtual office hours and will also be available to set up virtual meetings and phone calls with students to answer questions. Our faculty understand the importance of being accessible for our students to answer questions. There will not be any in-person office hours for any classes.

Will there be changes to the Academic Calendar in terms of add/drop or refund deadlines?

There are no changes to the Academic Calendar at this time. We will continue to monitor any changes in public health conditions and follow guidance of global, national, and local health and government officials.

What remote support services are available?

Remote support services for students, such as the Counseling Center, the Writing Center, the Tutoring Lab, and Academic Coaching services will be available while classes are held. Academic advisors will be available, and you should reach out to your individual advisor to schedule a remote appointment.

Academic Coaching is here to support students virtually through one-on-one academic skills development sessions designed to support student thriving. These sessions will assist students in creating engagement opportunities to intentionally interact with their courses virtually. Sessions will be held on Zoom and Skype for students to easily access. Students can sign up for an online Academic Coaching session using YouCanBookMe. Students will open the link, select the appropriate appointment type, and then fill out our intake form. On the intake form under "Session Method," students will select Skype Video or Zoom Video and input the appropriate information.

Where can I access books, reading materials, etc.?

Faculty are being asked to make every effort to be accommodating, flexible, and supportive. We understand this is difficult and that some students have circumstances that will make it challenging. The AU Library can scan textbooks in their collections or on reserve and link them to class syllabi in Blackboard. Individual faculty will be determining the specific materials and how they will be available for each class, so please look for instructions from your faculty.

What accommodations are available for online classes?

For the duration of online classes, approved disability-related accommodations will work as follows:

Testing Accommodations:

  • Main Campus Students: Make sure that your faculty member has a copy of your Academic Support and Access Center (ASAC) accommodations letter, and work with your faculty member regarding your accommodations. If you need additional assistance or have a new accommodation need, please review the information on ASAC’s website, or contact ASAC at asac@american.edu or 202-885-3360.
  • WCL Students: WCL students should continue to work with the Office of Student Affairs for exam accommodation implementation.
  • Faculty: It is critical that faculty continue to provide reasonable accommodations, including testing accommodations, to students in their online classes. Faculty should pay close attention to students’ ASAC memos and be in contact with students about their accommodations. The ASAC is committed to helping faculty work through challenging situations and can be contacted for guidance at asac@american.edu or 202-885-3360.

Accommodation Guidance for Blackboard Assessments:

  • Can I use Blackboard for accommodated assessments? Exams and quizzes on Blackboard are not compatible with the software many of our students use to take exams. If you plan to use this platform you will need to create alternative assessment formats for students with text-to-speech and speech-to-text accommodations. For questions/guidance, please reach out to exams@american.edu.
  • How do I extend time for a student on Blackboard?
  1. Left click on the small circle next to the assessment title you want to modify
  2. Click “Edit the test options”
  3. Scroll down to “Test availability exceptions”
  4. Click “Add user or group”
  5. Select the student with accommodations and click submit
  6. Select the criteria for that student (attempts, time, availability)
  7. Click “Submit” all the way at the bottom
  8. More Resources:View Adding Extended Time to Quizzes and Tests in Blackboard.For technical questions, visit the AU Blackboard support page.

Notetaking Technology:

  • For notetaking purposes, you can continue to use both Sonocent Audio Notetaker and Glean. Livescribe pens can also be used to record online lectures in real time.

ASL and CART Accommodations:

  • Services for synchronous lectures are being provided remotely. Students can continue to request ASL interpreters for meetings with professors, staff, and other course-related activities; interpreters will be provided through video relay. Interpreter and CART requests can be sent to the ASAC via the Interpreter and CART Request Form.

Captioning Accommodations:

Faculty and students are also encouraged to use readily available assistive technology supports within their computer’s operating system:

We will provide updates for the fall as soon as we have more information. For any questions regarding accommodations please contact the ASAC at asac@american.edu or 202-885-3360.


What is the university doing to provide technological support for students?

The Student Technology Task Force, led by the Office of Information Technology (OIT), has been established to field students’ urgent and exceptional technology issues that exist due to AU’s altered operational status as impacted by COVID-19. The goal of the task force is to provide accommodating resources and services to our students to support continuity of the academic experience. OIT will maintain primary responsibility for receiving and triaging student inquiries and will strive to identify resolutions that can be provided using creativity or a combination of readily available resources. OIT will partner with respective departments across the university on support requests, as necessary.

Though the task force anticipates a majority of students’ overall needs are being addressed by the university’s administrative shift to, and focus on, online learning, unique and creative solutions may be required. These adaptive, non-traditional services and support methods are being offered:

  • Internet Access (stipend) – Where the student has a moderate or high financial need, the task force will facilitate a stipend to be used for internet services.
  • Software licensing – The task force will work to identify and advise on the availability and use of multi-device licensing that may have otherwise gone unused.
  • Loan computer equipment – Where the student has a moderate or high financial need, OIT will provision, package, and send computers/laptops to individuals who need to be loaned a personal computer replacement.
  • Advising on multimedia equipment – The task force will evaluate academic needs and the efficacy of non-IT equipment like cameras, tripods, and other audio-visual equipment.

Please email techtaskforce@american.edu for assistance.

What can I do if I can’t connect to Zoom, Canvas, Blackboard or other platforms during class time?

If you are having problems connecting during class, please email your professor to let them know and then contact the Help Desk at helpdesk@american.edu or Blackboard support at blackboard@american.edu. Please see the Canvas support tab for a detailed list of FAQs and the Learning Support Services - Students ServiceNow page for more information on technical resources and support.

Members of the community may email techtaskforce@american.edu to request student technology support as it applies to their course work.

What technical requirements are necessary to engage in online coursework?

While individual requirements for courses may vary, the minimum technical specifications required to participate in an online learning course can be found by visiting Online Learning: Technical Requirements . If you have specific concerns about technology needs or access, please contact Sara Biggs at sbiggs@american.edu.

What are the key security issues I need to consider when using Zoom?

Zoom is an easy way to teleconference with colleagues, but you need to be aware of several security issues and be aware that the Office of Information Technology continues to monitor the situation and identify best practices to safeguard the Zoom experiences of the AU user community. As of April 1, Zoom stopped work on all non-security related features and improvements for 90 days. Security issues to consider are:

  • Zoom Bombing: Because Zoom meetings are easy to host and join, uninvited guests are disrupting meetings. Zoom bombing can be significantly mitigated by putting controls into place at the account level—such as setting the waiting room to “on” by default—and providing hosts with best practices and meeting controls training.
  • Software Vulnerability: Zoom has provided software patches to mitigate identified vulnerabilities in the Windows and Mac versions of its client software to prevent hackers from installing malware, launching small-scale phishing attacks or taking control of the cameras or microphones of devices.
  • Privacy Policy: Zoom has updated its privacy policy and posted about the changes.
  • Data to Facebook: Zoom updated its iPhone app to no longer send data to Facebook. The data sent included information about the user’s iPhone such as model and carrier, iOS version, and other technical specifications including processing power and available memory. No personal data was sent.

Encryption: Zoom is no longer using the term “end-to-end encryption” and has clarified the limitations of their encryption, which appears to be less secure than the complexity of the industry standard and not at the level required by government agencies. Meeting hosts can specify that all participants must have an “end point” (e.g., Zoom client app) to receive or send the meeting as encrypted, and meeting participants are not allowed to join without one.