Course Tutorial, Tips & Technical Requirements for Students in Online Courses

Online Course Tutorial

If you're new to online learning, you may wonder what it's like to actually "attend" an online course. UNC uses Canvas, a learning management system, to deliver online courses (and to add support for face-to-face courses).

This Canvas tutorial will help you learn the features of Canvas and how to use them, as well as other tips to help you succeed in online learning.

  • If you have not done so already, you will first need to activate your Ursa student account.
  • You will log in to this tutorial (and all of your Canvas courses) with your Bearmail address and password.


Tips to Succeed in Your Online Courses

Prepare, Use Time Management, and Set Personal Reminders

Managing course time around your schedule is key for your success. Since in most UNC online courses you are not required to be "in class" at any particular time, it will be up to you to fit course tasks into your busy schedule. Here are a few steps that will help you stay on track and meet your course requirements:

  • Read the entire course syllabus.
  • Familiarize yourself with the course timeline and online classroom at the beginning of your course.
  • Set aside time each day to work on your course. Each day you may find new discussions or important announcements. The more often you visit the online classroom, the better you'll be able to respond and plan your time.
  • Note when your various class requirements are due and add important dates to your personal calendar (including "progress" goals toward larger assignments).
  • Plan multiple research or study sessions leading up to larger assignments or tests.

Organize and Backup the Work you Complete

Organizing your work and saving it in more than one place will help prevent you from losing any completed work and allow you to make progress on your work even if you aren't currently online.

  • Type your discussion responses and assignments in a word processor program or web tool, save them frequently, and copy them into the Blackboard classroom when they are done.
  • Name each of these files with the assignment name/number and your name and keep that saved copy on your computer.
  • Also include your name, course number, and the assignment name/number at the top of each assignment.
  • Organize your files in folders by course, and within each course it may help to organize by unit or project.

Use Proper "Netiquette"

Here are a few Rules of Netiquette for online classes.

Ask for Help

Whether you need technical assistance or clarification on course assignments, help is available to you.

  • Canvas Student Support
  • Technical support is available from within your online classroom or here on the Extended Campus site. Just look for links to "Technical Help" or "Technical Support."
  • For course-related questions, there are many options for assistance:
    • From within your classroom, you can pose questions to your classmates or your instructor in the discussion boards.
    • You can email your instructor from within your online classroom or save their email address in order to email even when not logged into your classroom.

Photo of a row of computers

Minimum Technical Requirements

You do not need to have the newest computer and world-class internet connection to attend courses online. You also don't need to be a computer expert. However, we do recommend a general comfort level with computers and the internet, along with the following minimum specifications to avoid technical issues while attending your online class and submitting your work online. Requirements for both computers and mobile devices are below.

Personal Computer Knowledge

There are a few computer skills that are required for success in online courses. If you are unfamiliar with how to do any of the tasks below, we recommend that you find someone who can provide you with assistance. You can also check your local library to see if they provide access to free software courses. You should be able to...

  • Use a word processor program to create documents with headings, bullets, and tables;
  • Use the "save as" option to save these word processor documents in different formats (for example, .rtf format);
  • View and create PowerPoint presentations;
  • Use email, including attaching and downloading files;
  • Find information on the internet using an internet search engine (Google, Bing, etc.);
  • Download and install software on your computer;
  • Read, save, and print PDF documents.

Technical Tips

  • Allow pop-ups from the Canvas and Ursa websites
  • Word processing, spreadsheet and media player software will be needed for most courses.
  • You may be asked to download the most current versions of Java or Shockwave to support various course or research tasks.
  • Anti-virus software: There is no additional risk of viruses specifically due to attending courses online, but anyone interacting on the internet should strongly consider installing active anti-virus and anti-malware protection. There are many good programs available (for purchase or for free). You will want to choose the right solution for your needs.

When Taking Tests or Engaging in Live Video Sessions

  • We recommend that you use a wired internet connection (especially if your course requires proctored exams).
  • A desktop or laptop computer will function better than a tablet or hybrid device.

Minimum Computer Equipment and Software

If your computer is close to these minimums, we strongly recommend you edit and save your work on your computer (rather than live in the course) before submitting it to prevent losing any work. This is good advice for all users for any in-depth activities! The minimums:

  • A computer (no more than 5 years old if possible) will be needed for at least some course elements. Tablets work for some tasks, but not all.
  • 1GB of RAM *
  • 2 GHz processor
  • A reliable internet connection: 512 kbps minimum, but a high-speed connection is recommended.
  • Adobe Reader/Acrobat or another PDF reader application
  • Javascript must be enabled to run Canvas
  • Word Processor: Microsoft Word 2003 or newer recommended **
  • Sound card and speakers
  • Recommended: camera/microphone and headphones

* If you have minimal RAM, you may want to avoid having many other programs open at the same time you are using Canvas.

** If you are not using Microsoft Word, we recommend saving documents as .rtf files for compatibility.


Operating system: any version that can support the latest compatible web browsers.

Browser (Canvas supports the current and most recent previous release for the following browsers):

  • Chrome
  • Edge
  • Firefox (Extended Releases not supported)
  • Respondus Lockdown
  • Note: Safari for Windows is not supported


Operating system: any version that can support the latest compatible web browsers.

Browser (Canvas supports the current and most recent previous release for the following browsers):

  • Chrome
  • Firefox (Extended Releases not supported)
  • Respondus Lockdown
  • Safari
  • Note: Edge is not supported for Mac

Note: Linux ChromeOS is also supported.

Mobile Device Requirements and Tips

You can access Canvas from most browsers on Android/iOS devices. However, Canvas is currently optimized for desktop devices and offers limited support for mobile browsers on smartphones and tablets. Some features may not function as expected compared to viewing Canvas in a fully supported desktop browser. On mobile devices, Canvas is designed to be used within the Canvas mobile applications.

Mobile Applications

Canvas by Instructure (for iOS and Android). Search for the application in your App Store / Play Store. The applications provide access to Canvas for both instructors and students while on the go. Depending on your device, not all Canvas features may be available on the app at this time. View Canvas mobile features by version and device.

Instructure, who develops Canvas, is actively updating their native mobile applications to support as many Canvas features as possible. Please note that mobile applications are only supported in English at this time.