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...