Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


What platform is used for online courses at SAS?

Online courses at SAS use either Instructure Canvas or Blackboard.

Will I need a special login?

Canvas plarform works with your University of Pennsylvania PennKey.

What are classes like?

Your class on Canvas will have a main course page for announcements, syllabus and resources. Your course will be organized by your professor in the way that makes most sense for the topic. Classes are often laid out in unit topics or weekly content. Content may consist of recorded lectures, articles, web-based resources, video, discussions and blog posting. For most courses, you will also be expected to use your computer, including headphones and a microphone, to attend live virtual sessions at designated days and times.

Where will I “go” to class?

Once you register for an online class, your name and PennKey information will be processed to allow access to your online class. This can take 24 hours to complete. Most online classes will not be opened for student access until the start of the term. You will login to your class site through Canvas landing page at

Is an online course right for me?

Participating in an online class is different from a traditional face-to-face course, and it may not be the right choice for every student. Different skills and expectations are required for online learning, so students should consider carefully when deciding if it’s a good fit for them. Online courses can be demanding since contact with class members is not limited to a 2-hour classroom setting, but can instead extend for weeks as you and your peers use a website for discussions for ongoing discussion.

What are the benefits of taking an online course?

Benefits of taking an online class include flexibility, access, and convenience since students can participate in classes from any location. Successful online programs can also lead to deeper conversations and increased participation. Other qualities often developed through taking an online class are self-discipline, time management, and professional communication skills.


What are Online Communities?

Online Communities are websites created specifically for the students, faculty and staff of a specific program. Featured content may include:
- Discussion boards for students to collaborate on projects, network, find internship information and discuss life as a Penn student
- A program calendar listing important deadlines and events
- Video-sharing capabilities, including recorded workshops, presentations and course overviews with Masters of Environmental Science and Masters of Applied Geosciences faculty
- Direct access to the program director and staff to answer any questions or concerns students may have throughout their academic career at Penn


Will there be interaction with peers & professor?

Penn students come to the university with a variety of experiences and opinions. First-time online students may have fear and reservations about venturing into this new environment. For some students, the online option offers exceptional flexibility and convenience. But just as teaching online requires new and different skills, online learning may not be right for every student. Resources are available to help students determine if online learning is a good choice for them. The Commons website also offers a video demonstration of the platform to introduce students to this environment. Additional screencasts and tutorials exist to prepare students for their online classes.

In instances where students want to earn credit over the summer term to fulfill course requirements, The Commons is a terrific choice no matter where students spend the summer. The majority of students enrolled in SAS online courses are Penn undergraduates. Student feedback has been very positive with high satisfaction rates.


Will students have access to services?

Students enrolled in online courses have access to daily technical support. Online seminars and resources are also available to orient students to the platform and the live classroom environments. Online students in SAS have unlimited access to the campus bookstore as well as the library, which offers online databases for research. Efforts are underway to ensure that students in an online class have access to all of the same services as traditional students. Services such as Advising, Tutoring, The Writing Center, and Disabilities Services are all expected to be available for participants in online courses. For any questions, please contact The Online Learning Team.

What technology is required for an online classes or communities?

Required hardware includes a computer (Windows or Mac), and a broadband internet connection. A headset with microphone is also recommended for any live sessions. Live virtual sessions are offered through the web using Adobe Connect. No software download is required for online learning at Penn.

What resources are available for online learning?

Penn Online Learning team offers orientation training for students and faculty as well as instructional design and multimedia services. Students and faculty have access to technical support while working offline as well as during live virtual class sessions.


How can I be most successful in online learning?

Participants should schedule their time and be sure to attend virtual sessions. Learners should have some practice & comfort working with their computer and the internet. Since communication is mainly takes place online, students will be asked to write/type their responses, questions and reflections. Many online classes & community programs require that students check The Commons site frequently to read and respond to peers.


What online communities exist at Penn?

Two example communities have been launched at Penn are associated with the Pre-Health Program and the Earth & Environmental Sciences Program. For current case studies of online communities, please go to The Commons website.

What courses have been taught online at Penn?

A variety of courses have been taught online using The Commons platform, including Math, English, Music, Classics and Geo-computations. The program is expected to expand its offerings. Current information is available at The Commons website, where you can review a course case-study to see the look & feel of The Commons.