Student Resources

System Requirements

General Recommendations

Online and hybrid courses at Penn use three main platforms: Canvas for the course site and asynchronous class time, and Adobe Connect or 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 1024x600, or the average size of a netbook. In general, computers that are three years old or younger should be fine for online courses. Please see specific platform operating system recommendations below for more specific information. Even though app versions exist of several platforms used in online classes, Online Learning recommends students not rely solely on a tablet or smartphone.
  • Update everything: Update your operating system, your preferred browser(s) and Adobe Flash.
  • Check your internet connection: Students need a strong internet connection with a minimum of 512 Kbps download speed. Public WiFi is rarely adequate. Use “Speed Test” websites or apps to determine the strength of your internet connection. Cellular connections (4G, CLEAR, etc.) may not be fast or stable enough for a smooth class experience.
  • Have a preferred and a backup browser: Chrome and Firebox are the best all-around browsers for the platforms used in Penn online classes. Often switching between browsers can help resolve issues, so it is recommended that students have more than one up-to-date browser on their computer. Safari may also work, but Internet Explorer is not recommended.  
  • Be aware of download requirements: Canvas is web-based and does not require any downloads. Adobe is also web-based for students, though instructors may need to download an admin plugin. Zoom requires a download and will prompt users to download the first time they join or host a session (similar to Skype). Downloads are sometimes an issue for Penn staff or faculty on Penn-issued PCs, so you may need to involve your local service provider (LSP) in the setup process.
  • Buy a headset for synchronous sessions: For the best possible classroom experience in Adobe Connect or Zoom, use a headset with a microphone. We recommend the Logitech ClearChat USB headset for best results. Smartphone earbuds with 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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Adobe Connect is a synchronous videoconferencing platform that is used for online and hybrid classes. It supports text-based chat, webcam, microphone and presentation options. It is very versatile, and all functions appear in a single integrated panel. Zoom and Adobe Connect are fairly equivalent functionally; the difference is in user interface.

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RPN 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 while they are recorded via webcam and their desktop is also recorded. Recordings are reviewed after the fact by proctors to see if cheating has occurred. 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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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.

See also:

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 windows rather than one and also supports presentation and document share interactions. Zoom and Adobe Connect are fairly equivalent functionally, the difference is in user interface.