Student Resources

System Requirements

General Recommendations

We try to keep technical requirements as simple as possible for Online and hybrid courses at Penn. Most course activities can be performed in standard desktop web browsers or on Chromebook computers; some activities can be performed on mobile devices. Instructors often use Canvas for course sites and asynchronous class time, and Zoom for synchronous class time. Some courses use remote proctoring software as well. The following recommendations relate to all of these platforms:

  • Evaluate your device: Students can participate in online and hybrid courses using a PC or MAC desktop or laptop with a screen size no smaller than 1024 x 768, or the average size of a Chromebook. If you are unsure of your screen resolution, you can test the resolution of your scree here.
  • Update everything: Update your operating system, your preferred browser(s) and Adobe Flash. Supported operating systems include: Windows 7, 8, or 10, Mac OS X 10.10 or higher, and ChromeOs latest version. Please see specific platform operating system recommendations below for more specific information.
  • Check your internet connection: Students need a Broadband (cable, FiOs or DSL) connection with at least 1Mbs upload and download. 3G/4G/LTE mobile networks can provide adequate speed but performance will vary widely with location. So, we highly recommend a wired broadband connection. If you are unsure you meet these requirements, you can test the speed of your network connection here.
  • Have a preferred and a backup browser: We generally recommend the latest version of Google Chrome for Penn online classes. Cookies and JavaScript must be enabled. Pop-up blockers should be configured to permit new windows from websites. Sometimes, switching between browsers can help resolve issues, so it is recommended that students have more than one up-to-date browser on their computer. Firefox may also work, but Internet Explorer is not recommended.  
  • Be aware of download requirements: The desktop and laptop version of Canvas are web-based and do not require any downloads. However, for mobile devices there is a Canvas mobile app for iOS and Android. Zoom requires a free download  and will prompt users to do so the first time they join or host a session (similar to Skype). The Zoom app is also available on mobile devices in the Apple App Store or Google Play.

    Students enrolled in Penn degree programs are eligible for free Microsoft Office. Some classes may require special software. The requirements will be detailed in the course information.
  • Note requirements for synchronous sessions: Most classes include live online class sessions. A webcam, microphone, and computer speakers are highly recommended but are usually not required. Important note: Some classes may require online video proctoring for exams. The requirements will be detailed in the course information and usually include the need for a webcam.

    The camera, mic and speakers built into most laptops work well. If you don’t have a mic or speakers on your computer, you will be able to call into a telephone number to join the audio conference. For the best possible classroom experience in Zoom, we recommend using a headset with a microphone. The Logitech ClearChat USB headset often provides the best results. Smartphone earbuds with a microphone will work in a pinch, but a headset with microphone is the best option.

Canvas is Penn’s university-wide learning management system (LMS) and is used to host course sites and is a key site of asynchronous class activity. It is home to readings, video segments, discussion boards, quizzes and tests, group projects and other assignments both in Canvas and in tools that integrate with Canvas.

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ProctorU is a remote proctoring solution used in some online and hybrid classes. Students use a customized browser to take tests in Canvas or a similar platform and live proctors monitor them via webcam while also watching their desktops. All exam rules are written by instructors who also have final determination of whether cheating has occurred. Students need a photo ID, webcam, and a quiet, well-lit room to take the test.

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Zoom is a synchronous videoconferencing platform used in online and hybrid classes. It is similar to GoToMeeting, Skype or GoogleHangouts in that it is webcam-driven, uses several adjustable windows rather than one, and also supports presentation and document share interactions.