Computer Best Practices

Here are some tips to make sure you can access your classes and important Penn State resources, no matter where you are.

Optimize Your Personal Computer for School

Install an Antivirus Program

Ensure that an up-to-date antivirus program is installed on your computer. Penn State provides Symantec Endpoint Protection free to students, staff, and faculty (select “Virus Detection/Spyware Tools”).

Install Penn State's Virtual Private Network client

If you travel or use publicly accessible networks, such as free WiFi in coffee shops, book stores, etc., you should install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) client, which creates an encrypted connection from your location to the Penn State network. Such a connection is useful when accessing library resources from a distance and required for accessing the campus wireless networks. Penn State's official secure network connection is GlobalProtect and is offered at no cost to students through Software at Penn State

For instructions on installating GlobalProtect and device-specific guides for all operating systems, review our IT Knowledge Base via GlobalProtect Remote Access VPN - Overview.

Create a Penn State Folder in Your Documents Directory

This will help you keep your class work organized. In your Penn State folder, create folders for each class to hold course assignments, handouts, and notes. If you need to make your Penn State folder available to multiple user accounts, add your Penn State folder to your Windows C: or Macintosh HD drive.

Back Up Your Files Regularly

If your computer does not automatically back up important files at least monthly, copy the contents of your Penn State folder/assignments and create a compressed zip file. Many operating systems include a basic zip utility.

  • If you use Mac OS X: in Finder, click on a file while pressing the "CTRL" key, then select "Create Archive of [filename].”  A zipped copy of the file will appear next to the original.
  • If you use Windows: right-click on a blank spot on your desktop and select "New" from the context menu, then select "Compressed (zipped) Folder."

Save the compressed zip file to alternate media such as an external hard drive or flash drive.

Tip: Pick a name for your compressed zip file that will allow you to quickly identify when you made it (e.g.“”).

Use Microsoft Office 2010 or Higher

This is what instructors typically use in courses. As a Penn State student, you can download free versions of Microsoft Office 2016, Office for Mac 2016, and Windows 10 Upgrade.

Get to Know Penn State's Online Resources and Systems

Check Your Penn State Email Regularly

It is important to check your Penn State email regularly as essential communications from Penn State will be sent through that account. You can access your Penn State email anywhere online using the Outlook application in Office 365. You will use your Penn State Access Account to log in to Outlook.

If you do not plan to check your Penn State email regularly, you can set it up to forward messages to your personal email account.

Because the Penn State Directory is publicly accessible, you may receive spam and phishing emails. Suspected phishing emails should be forwarded to [email protected]. Remember: Penn State will never ask you for your Access Account password. Learn more about how to identify phishing attempts and protect yourself.

Find Free Software Training

You can learn the technology you need to complete course assignments:

LinkedIn Learning — An extensive library of video tutorials, courses and other resources on technology programs and applications

These how-to videos are created by industry experts and are always available for you to access using your Penn State user ID and password. Log in at

Be Ready to Access Content Outside of Canvas

Some of our courses use additional content provided via a publisher-provided website that requires a code to access. This code is usually provided in a new textbook sold by our provider, Barnes and Noble College (BNC), or it may need to be purchased separately. Please review your course syllabus carefully for required course materials before ordering.