Communicating Online

Communicating Online

Communicating with others online is a critical component of learning online. Interacting with others is essential as your ideas develop and your skills progress. Outside of email there are a number of applications that will help you leverage the expertise of faculty and the experience of your classmates.

This section will provide a number of quick introductions that you can use to help get you started.



Online Discussions

Asynchronous online discussions are one of the most common and convenient methods of instructor-student, student-instructor and student-student interactions.

Canvas Discussions

Canvas provides a discussion tool for whole class or group interactions. Communication can take place via text, video or audio within the tool. You can also embed media such as images or online videos. Here a few tips and links to the Canvas resources to make the most of the Canvas discussions.

  • Make a discussion post: In a Canvas discussion create new posts by selecting 'reply'.
  • Subscribe to a discussion: By subscribing to a discussion you receive updates on the activity within the forum via email or text messaging. You can set your notification preferences.
  • Upload a screen capture to a post: There are times where you may need to share something on your screen in order to ask or answer a question. This page will show you how to take a screen capture on your computer and upload it to a Canvas discussion.


Online class discussions are improving with Piazza! Your instructor may have elected to use Piazza for holding class discussions, question and answer forums, or group work. The Piazza communication tool offers a robust interface for your coursework. Below are some tips and illustrations to help you quickly familiarize yourself with the interface and get started using Piazza!

Piazza's Features

Piazza offers many great features for students and instructors. Below are some key features that set Piazza apart from other discussion methods you may have used before:

  • Piazza has a free app available for mobile devices both for iOS and Android!
    • Keep up with discussions while you're on-the-go!
  • Folders, tags, and an easy-to-use search function help to keep the discussions organized.
    • You can find a question faster!
  • Questions can have a single answer with many student contributors using the "wiki" style "Student Answer".
    • Less scrolling through nested responses!
  • Mathematical concepts can be easily added to questions and answers using the built-in LaTeX equation editor.
    • Can't figure out where you went wrong? Type your problem out in an easy-to-read digital format!
  • Anonymous posting allows shy students to post questions for help.
    • Don't be embarrassed! Ask your question to other students anonymously!
  • Piazza is integrated with Canvas so you never have to leave your course.


Use the image below to get a sense of the look and feel of Piazza discussions. The images highlight some icons that will make searching through discussion posts easier and faster. If you don't see a question that you are looking for, you can search for it directly or post a new question!

Participating in an online class is easy with Piazza. The Piazza website has demo classes set up so that you can see how it works. Head over to the Piazza website and check it out!

The Piazza website also has a great support area if you are unsure how to use Piazza!

Video Conferencing

Video Conferencing

There are times in the online courses where live video conference sessions are held. Tutoring, whole class reviews, faculty virtual office hours or group meetings are just a few of the use cases for video conferencing. Penn State provides the video conferencing tool Zoom free to all Penn State students, faculty and staff.


Zoom is an online service that will allow you to hold HD online meetings with others. You can either hold a Video Meeting, which uses your webcam as the focal point, or a Shared Screen Meeting, which allows you to select your desktop or a single application, such as Microsoft PowerPoint, as the focal point of the meeting.

Zoom also allows you to easily record and share a presentation from within a meeting. Follow the short guide below to get started!

Getting Started with Zoom

To host your meeting, your first step is to go to the Penn State Zoom site and select 'Sign-In' using your Penn State credentials. This will take you to your PSU Zoom profile page.

Login and Begin Your Meeting

To start a meeting, select an option under the Host a Meeting button.

From the Profile page, click on the Host a Meeting button at the top of the page and choose which type of meeting you'd like to hold.

  • With Video Off
  • With Video On
  • Screen Share only

The next screen will ask you to download the Zoom application. If you have not downloaded the application previously, click the big Download button and install the applicaiton when it has finished downloading.

Otherwise, click the small Start Meeting link to begin.

At this point, you should be in your meeting! Below is a screenshot of the beginning of a Zoom meeting.

Click on Join Audio Conference by Computer to get started.

Recording a Presentation

To begin recording:

Once your meeting has started, at any time you can record your voice and what it taking place on your screen. Simply click on the Record button in the control bar on the meeting screen.

To stop recording:

When you are finished, click on one of the two Stop Recording buttons at the top of the meeting window or in the control bar.

Saving and Sharing Your Recording

When your presentation is over and you have stopped your recording, you must first end the meeting. To do this click on the Stop Share button. Then select the End Meeting For All option. This will close out the meeting.

If there was a recording, the Zoom application will process this recording and present a dialog box for a location on your local computer to save this recording.

Alternatively, Zoom may save the recording to a default folder automatically after closing the meeting. This folder, typically named Zoom will likely be located in your My Documents folder for Windows users or the Documents folder on a Mac.

Recordings are saved in a .mp4 format, which is a fairly standard video format. Right-click on the file and select properties to find out how large the recording file is.

If the recording is 10 MB or less, you may then upload this file to Canvas.

Keep your recordings short and to the point. Recording applications instead of the entire desktop is another way to keep the file size down of our finished recording.

If the recording is greater than 10MB, Penn State has external storage available to all students. The storage service, Box, allows students to store and share files with others. Students have unlimited space to upload videos, documents, and more. Sharing your files is as easy as sending someone a link to the file!

For more information about Box at Penn State, visit: Box at Penn State

That's all there is to getting set up and recording your presentation using Zoom! Do a few practice runs and you will easily get the hang of recording and sharing your presentations from Zoom!

Has Tooltip/Popover
 Toggleable Visibility