Learning Online Orientation

Learning Online Orientation

Welcome to the Orientation Materials for the online courses associated with the Department of Statistics!

If this is the first time that you are taking an online course, then we would strongly urge you to work through the pages that follow here. We work hard to ensure that your learning experience is as positive for you as possible and we hope that the information and contacts that you will be introduced to in this orientation will help to point you in this direction.


As a result of working through this Orientation module participants should:

  • Be able to describe the general nature of how the online courses are designed and the online course environment.
  • Understand the role of students in an online course and what is expected from them.
  • Be able to list a range of technologies that are used in association with our online courses and be able to assess whether the computer setup that they will be using is able to handle how materials are presented and interactions with others.
  • Be able to list the various statistical software packages that are used as part of the online courses be able to describe how to obtain a copy of this software so that it can be installed before classes begin.
  • Be able to list a range of resources and services that are available to Penn State students.
  • Know who to contact when you need additional information about the program or about learning online at Penn State.
  • Know who to contact when you need technical assistance.

Begin by reading through the pages that follow in this module. Follow the links that are presented so that you can check the various technology requirements on your own computer and make note of the different services that are described.

There will be a short quiz at the conclusion of these materials.

If you have any questions as you go through this Orientation, please feel free to contact John Haubrick, instructional designer & teaching faculty, Department of Statistics.

O.1 How do the online courses work?

O.1 How do the online courses work?

The activities in the online courses offered by the Department of Statistics are found in two different but connected locations. The course administrative functions such as announcements, grade book, homework assignments, quizzes, and exams are all accessed from within Canvas, Penn State's learning management system. Here is a link to a Canvas Overview Video for Students if you want a sneak peek at how Canvas works. Other useful documentation for using Canvas can be found in the Canvas Student Guides. Lesson materials such as lecture notes, examples, animations, movie or audio clips, or other interactive pieces that are needed to help drive an important concept home are found on the companion course materials website.

Canvas front page
STAT 500 Front page

Each course companion website intends to provide students with information, examples, images, formulas, or code that supplements what is presented in the required readings or in the instructor's Canvas course space. Wherever possible we try to make these interactive when this helps to aid understanding. In general, our notes strive to provide a rich narrative, liberally enhanced with graphics and augmented with video where appropriate. Where other online programs may base their online materials on recorded lectures, our approach intentionally promotes the use of short video segments that are embedded with our online materials for the purpose of presenting specific concepts, sharing worked examples, or responding to student questions. Our online material websites also include a search tool and a printer-friendly option, and all formulas and equations are rendered using MathJax (more on this later!).


Click on the frequently asked questions below to view the answers.

An important aspect that all of the online courses include is interaction - interaction with the instructor as well as interaction among students. The course's email, discussion forums, and live chat are tools typically used for these interactions, however, many instructors take advantage of other video or interactive whiteboard types of communication tools outside of the course management system where they can work with students as a group or individually.

Please Note: Your PSU email is the universities primary mode of contact for you. Make sure that you are reading your PSU email!

In Canvas you can find out who your classmates are by selecting the 'People' link on the left. Each course typically starts off with an introductory activity. Take advantage of this to introduce yourself to your instructor and your fellow classmates. Later on, in this orientation, you can follow the tips to update your profile in Canvas by clicking on your Account > Profile and adding information to this page.

Want to know more about your instructor? Start with the Online Instructors page or send them an email.

The course schedule is published along with the syllabus at the beginning of the semester by the course instructor. Depending on the course, the flexibility of the course schedule varies, but in general, our courses are pretty well packed with readings, homework, quizzes, exams, etc. We work hard to maintain the policy of Penn State University and the Department of Statistics that all of our online courses are equivalent to what would be taught in the residence course section on campus and we take this curriculum integrity issue seriously.

Our online courses all follow the same academic calendar as the rest of the university, with perhaps a few changes because it is online. And, all of our courses are cohort-based. This means that all the students start at the same time and work through the lessons at the same time, with the instructor opening and introducing perhaps a couple of lessons at a time. Our courses are not open-enrollment oriented where everyone is on their own studying at their own pace. This would make discussions problematic and the role of the instructor nearly impossible trying to direct your attention and answer questions from all directions! Also, given the wide array of time zones that our students represent, nearly all of the activities in our courses are asynchronous. Instructors may establish times for office hours that are held in an online meeting room, (recorded for those that can not attend) or an instructor may want students to present work to the class, but in general, most of the work and interaction takes place individually through email, discussion forums and other methods that do not require everyone to log in at a specified time.

The pace and approach to courses are very similar to how things are taught face-to-face. In fact, some of our online instructors are teaching the same course on campus. However, this being said, and because this is online and we realize that our online students are typically returning adult professionals with full-time work and family responsibilities, our instructors try their best to make accommodations. For instance, we've come to realize that for many the majority of the discretionary time you have to apply to coursework has been on weekends. Therefore, a Friday deadline for homework is problematic for many. We found that shifting due dates to Sunday night or Monday works better for most. Again, when something comes up, travel, medical, or other issues, that might impact your ability to meet deadlines, whenever possible reach out to your instructor ahead of time.

This is a good question, and of course, you might expect the answer, "It depends". Well, it does depend. It depends on what background understanding you bring to the course. And it depends on the course. Some may involve a lot more work for you, whereas other courses may involve much more difficult concepts or methods.

To help you answer this question, take a look at the results displayed in the pie chart (right). Every semester we administer a Mid-Semester Survey in each of our courses as a means of monitoring the perceptions of our students and providing an opportunity for feedback. These are the results combined across all of our MAS courses during the Summer 2018 semester asking how much time students spend on their course. The Graduate School guidelines at Penn State state that a student should be expected to spend 3 hours outside of class for every course credit. So, for a 3-credit course, one would expect to spend 9 hours on reading, homework, study, etc. Taking this into account, the pie chart shows us that our students are reporting that we pretty much meet this standard. For instance, 40% of students reported spending 4-6 hours on a course, and 39% of students reported spending 7-9 hours per week on a course. In the long run, we work to ensure that our courses are rigorous without being impossible and that what you learn is of lasting value.

Summer 2018 Survey Results
10-12 hours 12% 7-9 hours 39% 4-6 hours 40% 3 hours or less 9%

Each course includes an assessment plan which is published as part of the course syllabus. Deadlines for each of these assignments are given in the course schedule. By the way, all of the course due date times are US Eastern Time (the Canvas timestamp) - not for each of your time zones. The deadline time is set so the grading and feedback process can begin. Keep up with the course schedule. If you get behind it is a real chore to catch up! This would be true in a face-to-face class as well.

All assessments are submitted in Canvas. Lesson quizzes are mostly multiple choice but could include T/F or essay-type questions as well. Sometimes it might be necessary to write out an assignment by hand. In these cases, students will need access to a scanner that would produce a .pdf of their work which could then be submited to your Assignment or Quiz in Canvas.

Whereas homework and labs are open until they are due, mid-terms and exams are available to be taken by students during the pre-established time frame. For instance, if a 90-minute mid-term is open beginning Thursday to Sunday, then students will need to find a 90-minute time slot somewhere in this time frame that they can complete this exam. Additionally, some courses have exams that are required to be proctored. For more information about proctored exams read What is a Proctored Exam?

Because these courses are online we will be using various technology tools. We will tackle this in the next section...

O.2 What technology is used?

O.2 What technology is used?

In our online statistics courses, you will use a variety of technologies to facilitate the learning process.

The following sections highlight just a few of these technologies. Visit the Technology Tutorials on this site for more information on the technology used in our courses.

Other Resources

Technical Requirements for Online Courses

Technical Requirements for Online Courses

Recommended Technical Requirements for "Frustration Free" Computing

View our World Campus Technical Requirements page to see the minimum technical requirements for our courses.

To review minimum technical requirements for individual statistical software packages, please visit the technical support pages of the individual vendors. See the Statistical Software page on the Statistics Department website.

Students are strongly encouraged to download, install, and test computer and browser requirements prior to the beginning of classes.

Courses with Proctored Exams

For courses using Honorlock you must meet the following technical requirements.

Honorlock System Requirements

  • Desktop computer or laptop (tablets, Chromebook and cell phones do not meet our requirements)
    • Windows 10 or 11
    • MacOSX 10.14 and higher
    • ChromeOS 93 and higher
  • Webcam and microphone (built-in or external).
    • Currently, Honorlock is incompatible with:
      • iPads
      • Walmart Branded Camera (Onn)
  • Connection to network with sufficient internet speed: at least 1.5 Mbps download speed and 750 Sbps upload. Hot spots are not recommended.
  • Chrome Browser version 93 or higher with pop-up blocker disabled
  • Installed Honorlock Chrome Extension
    • "Once you install the extension, you get the protection and ease of simply logging into your school’s learning management system and getting started."
    • "We’ll walk you through a quick 60-second pre-test checklist to make sure you’re ready to go."

Reaching Honorlock 24/7/365 Support

  • Phone: 1 (844) 243-2500
  • Email: support@honorlock.com
  • Live Chat: Click on the live chat link located at the bottom right corner of your Canvas exam page
  • Honorlock support: Click on the link at the top right-hand corner of your Canvas exam page

Reference: July 18, 2022, Honorlock Help Center "Minimum System Requirements"

Take a Screen Capture

Take a Screen Capture

In the online environment, being able to capture graphs, images and equations is an important skills for assignments, discussion forums and even troubleshooting issue with your instructor to the help desk.

Most new operating systems come equipped with some sore of screen capture tool. Here are the basic ones.

Windows Windows

Using Keyboard

  • PrtScn: Another option is to use the print screen ("PrtScn") function which will copy your entire screen, then paste it into Word and crop down to only the necessary part of the screen.
  • SHIFT + S: (Windows 10 only)

Using built-in tool

  • Snipping Tool: Computers with Windows Vista and later will have a snipping tool. This will allow you to select a portion of your screen. Then, you can copy it and paste it.

macOS macOS

Using Keyboard

  • + shift + 4: This will allow you to select a portion of your screen. By default, this saves your screenshot as a graphic

Using Built-in tool

  • Grab: This tool will allow you to capture, the entire screen or just a selection.

Once you have your image you can then upload it to Canvas or add it to your document.

Uploading an image to a Canvas Forum or Quiz

As a student in our online STAT courses, you may have to upload an image to a discussion, quiz, or assignment in Canvas. Canvas provides a way to upload directly from their rich content editor.

View the step-by-step procedures in the Canvas documentation.

How do I embed images from Canvas into the rich content editor as a student?

Working with Images in Documents

Cropping a Picture in Word

There are times when you have to crop your screenshot to only show certain parts of the image in your document.

How to Crop an Image in Word (Microsoft Support Site)

O.3 What is a proctored exam?

O.3 What is a proctored exam?

Proctored Exams

Some of our online STAT courses have exams that are proctored. Why a proctor? The proctor's role is to monitor the exam environment to ensure the academic integrity of the exam process on behalf of Penn State and the Department of Statistics. 

Proctoring Process using Honorlock

Honorlock will proctor your exams this semester. Honorlock is an online proctoring service that allows you to take your exam from the comfort of your home. You DO NOT need to create an account or schedule an appointment in advance. Honorlock is available 24/7, and all that is required is a computer, a working webcam/microphone, your ID, and a stable internet connection.

Honorlock Minimum System Requirements

You will need:

  • Laptop or desktop (tablets and cell phones are not compatible)
  • Windows 10, MacOS 10.13 or higher
  • Chrome OS93 or higher
  • Google Chrome latest version
  • Internet Speed 1.5 Mbps. download, 750 Kbps upload
  • Installed the Honorlock Chrome Extension
  • A valid Photo ID (PSU ID, Drivers License or other government issued photo or passport)
    • You may not use military IDs or credit cards.

Taking Your Exam with Honorlock

When you are ready to complete your assessment:

  1. Log into Canvas, go to your course, and click on your exam.
  2. Clicking "Launch Proctoring" will begin the Honorlock authentication process, where you will take a picture of yourself, show your ID, and complete a scan of your room.
  3. Honorlock will be recording your exam session through your webcam, microphone, and recording your screen. Honorlock also has an integrity algorithm that can detect search-engine use, so please do not attempt to search for answers, even if it's on a secondary device.

Honorlock Support

Honorlock support is available 24/7/365. If you encounter any issues, you may contact them through live chat on the support page or within the exam itself.

Guides to Review:

O.4 How can I be successful?

O.4 How can I be successful?

OK, so you now have the technology all in place, your browser and plug-ins working and a reliably fast internet connection. This is good but it is just a start! There is more to learning online than just the technologies!

We want you get to most out of your online learning experience. So, we have put together a list of 'Tips & Suggestions' that have been gathered from research and our own experience working with students. We want you to listen to interviews with students who share their own advice based on their personal experiences and what they have to say about how they organize their time so that they can complete all of the necessary tasks and activities for a course. 

Read through these suggestions, watch the video and then make a personal plan for an approach that will help you make the most of your online learning experience!

Tips & Suggestions

  • Pay close attention to the due dates of the assignments and check the Syllabus regularly in case changes have been made by the instructor!
  • Plan ahead and plan well. Do not put off quizzes or assignments till the last minute! Courses in statistics are challenging and these courses are no different. If you begin to fall behind it will be very difficult to catch up!!
  • Check your e-mail regularly, but be patient while waiting for responses.
  • Communicate with your instructor and/or classmates by e-mail, message boards, chat rooms, Instant Messenger, or phone. Subscribe to discussion forums so that you get notified if there is a post!
  • Use courtesy in online communication and deal with conflict with respect.
  • Evaluate your own progress by the course objectives and assignments, and regulate your own study pace based on this evaluation. Talk to your instructor if you encounter a problem.
  • Participation is important to your learning experience in an online learning environment, so be confident in making contributions. Don't be afraid of making mistakes!
  • Identify a way of taking notes you would prefer: use Word, online journal/Web logging, note-taking software, bookmarking the Web sites important to you, or any method that works well for you.
  • Be aware of the resources for HELP available: your instructor, the Outreach HelpDesk, Outreach Student Services, Canvas Help, or a librarian.
  • Always check the file size when you try to upload a file to share. The bigger the file size, the more difficult it may be to upload and download.
  • In addition to becoming familiar with the online learning environment, pay attention to the physical learning environment around you - try to arrange everything ergonomically in your learning space.
  • Be sure to always display appropriate "Netiquette". Netiquette covers not only rules to maintain civility in discussions but also special guidelines unique to the electronic nature of forum messages. View Penn State's Earth and Mineral Sciences faculty development resource on 'Netiquette'.

Ask GOOD Questions!

Communicating back and forth with your instructor and classmates using email or discussion boards can be frustrating because of the back and forth nature of trying to find out specifically what you need to know. For this reason it is important to ask questions that have enough information so to ensure that you will efficently get a helpful answer in return. 

  1. Be Specific! For instance, if you ask, "I just don't get problem #4, can anyone help me?" - this is pretty general and I am sure potential respondents are saying, "Where do I start?!" Instead, add more specific details to help your helpers help you more efficiently. If the question posted was, "I am gettting a different value for the standard error and here are values that I am using. Can anyone see what I am doing wrong?"
  2. Capture Your Screen! They say a picture is worth a thousand words - so you might as well take advantage of this! Rather than explain, show what you see when you can. You can then either embed this in your message or add it as an attachment. This can save you are your instructor lots of time!

O.5 What resources are available?

O.5 What resources are available?

Penn State provides a host of resources to every Penn State student.  Here are some pages that we think might be of particular interest to our online students.

Penn State Information and Resources

The pages that follow provide specific information that you can skim through quickly.  Perhaps something will catch your eye that you might want to investigate further. 

In any course, whether it is face-to-face or online, as a student of The Pennsylvania State University, you are required and expected to understand and accept our policies on academic integrity and plagiarism. While you may have read this information in other courses, you are encouraged to re-read it.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity free from fraud and deception and is an educational objective of this institution. Violations of academic integrity include but are not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating of information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor or tampering with the academic work of other students. At the beginning of each course, it is the responsibility of the instructor to provide a statement clarifying the application of academic integrity criteria to that course. A student charged with academic dishonesty will be given oral or written notice of the charge by the instructor. If students believe they have been falsely accused, they should seek redress through informal discussion with the instructor, department head, dean, or campus executive officer. If the instructor believes that the infraction is sufficiently serious to warrant referral of the case to Judicial Affairs, or if the instructor will award a final grade of "F" in the course because of the infraction, the student will be afforded formal due process.

For this and every course, you are required to read and abide by Penn State's Academic Integrity Policies. Each course syllabus contains a statement similar to the one below with links to the Eberly College of Science's policies governing Academic Integrity:

All Penn State policies regarding ethics and honorable behavior apply to this course. Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity free from fraud and deception and is an educational objective of this institution. All University policies regarding academic integrity apply to this course. Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor or tampering with the academic work of other students.

For any material or ideas obtained from other sources, such as the text or things you see on the web, in the library, etc., a source reference must be given. Direct quotes from any source must be identified as such.

All exam answers must be your own, and you must not provide any assistance to other students during exams. Any instances of academic dishonesty WILL be pursued under the Eberly College of Science Academic Integrity Policies concerning academic integrity. 

The Eberly College of Science Code of Mutual Respect and Cooperation embodies the values that we hope our faculty, staff, and students possess and will endorse to make The Eberly College of Science a place where every individual feels respected and valued, as well as challenged and rewarded.

To learn more about specific scenarios such as: How to avoid plagiarism? Academic integrity issues that may arise when collaborating with a group? and others, visit Penn State's Academic Integrity Training. You can test your understanding of these issues and those that score 80% or better will earn a certificate.

Use the Penn State Libraries!

As a Penn State student enrolled through World Campus, you have a wealth of library resources available to you — just like on-campus students!  Please review the World Campus and Distance Researchers page on the library site. Eligible users include currently enrolled or employed Penn State faculty, staff, and students in good standing who do not have access to a Penn State campus.

As a registered user of Penn State Libraries, you can...

  • search for journal articles (many are even immediately available in full-text);
  • request articles that aren't available in full-text and have them delivered electronically;
  • borrow books and other materials and have them delivered to your doorstep;
  • access materials that your instructor has put on electronic Library Reserves;
  • talk to reference librarians in real time using chat, phone, and e-mail;
  • ...and much more!

For additional information on using the Library as a World Campus student check out the following two flyers.


Library Contact:

Denise Wetzel
Science & Engineering Librarian

Statistics (Mathematical) Library Research Materials

Research or Subject Guides

Research guides help you find high-quality information and are created by librarians who are subject specialists in a wide array of disciplines. Search the research guides by keyword or use the alphabetical list to find the appropriate guide.

SAGE Resarch Materials

SAGE's Little Green Books, Methods Map, and Methods lists are all now available to all Penn State students for FREE!  This includes the famous series, Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences. This entire series is available on SAGE Research Methods, with additional tools across the site to filter your search on just these titles.

To access these SAGE Research Materials, go to the Penn State Libraries > click on the Databases tab > select 'S' > then click on the SAGE Research Methods Online link:

Penn State has been successfully offering education at a distance since 1892.  One big reason for this success is because of the work of the folks in Student Services. From financial aid to technology support to career services, students are all encouraged to take advantage of the vast expertise they have gained over the years.  They have recently received recognition for their work with students in the military.  If you have not logged into your World Campus portal, follow the link to find out how. Penn State's World Campus has a variety of different services related to learning online that at one time or another, you may want to take advantage of.

Besides the help you may have received in getting admitted to a program, registering for courses, and technical support once your course gets started, there are also support services for students that you might not be aware of.  These include:

  • Financial Aid, Scholarships, and other benefits
  • Support for Students in the Military
  • Support for Students with Disabilities
  • Career Services

Do you know how to defer loans you do have while you are a student?  First, it is important to know that you have to be at least a half-time student in order to be loan eligible. And, once you have a loan it is important to demonstrate satisfactory academic performance, i.e., completing a course with a passing grade or your opportunity to obtain future aid may be in jeopardy!

World Campus provides a Student Portal that has links to help you answer all of your questions.  The screenshot below of this portal points to some of the important links to check out!


There are a handful of valuable resources that every student will want to take advantage of while they are at Penn State including your account profile, Canvas, Office 365, Zoom, web publishing, software, and others.  This page offers you a quick listing of services to check out!

Students | ITS Resources

When is the first day of classes?  What does the drop/add period end?  The Penn State calendars are a page that every student visits at one point or another!

O.6 Summary

O.6 Summary

The Department of Statistics is proud to be able to offer these opportunities to learn online to individuals who otherwise might not be able to take advantage of taking a course or getting an advanced degree. We hope that the approach that we take will help you build your understanding and experience base in positive ways.

Having worked through this Orientation module you should now have a good idea as to how our online courses are delivered and the role that students play throughout the semester. Being all online you should understand that there are a number of technologies and internet resources that will be central to your success with the program. As a result, you should see the need to check the computer setup so that you have all hardware, software, and internet connection in place before any classes start. If you have any questions about any of this technical information, please do not hesitate to reach out to the contacts listed within the orientation.

Also, you should know that once you get your PSU Access Account userid, there are a host of resources available to all Penn State students, this includes through World Campus. Take advantage of these!

And, finally, if you have any questions about our courses, your program of study, or the technology, please do not hesitate to contact someone here at Penn State, in the Department of Statistics, or at one of the various Help Desks online.

Quick Tutorials

You will notice a 'Quick Tutorials' section of the website that follows this Orientation. These quick tutorials focus on some of the specific applications that are either used regularly in our online courses or tools or methods that we think will come in handy. Check them out! They are organized in terms of:

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