The following is adapted from a Blackboard Support article from February 2020, but is still applicable.
DTS advice for students studying in China and staff based in China
Collaborate Ultra Capabilities in China
We have had many clients inquire about Collaborate Ultra capabilities in China as institutions take precautions and increase their online teaching presence via Collaborate in response to Novel Coronavirus. We want to address some of the common questions in this article, particularly around the Chinese government firewall and connectivity from within China.
Collaborate Ultra is not currently blocked by the firewall. However, using Collaborate in China has generally had results with varying degrees of success, ranging from a completely acceptable experience to calls dropping video and audio quality or frequently dropping and reconnecting, to not being able to connect at all.
The biggest issue with regards to using Collaborate from China has been the historically poor / inconsistent quality (high latency & lack of bandwidth) internet connection in China.
Please be sure students and instructors in China are using a hardwired Ethernet LAN connection. Using WiFi will only contribute to the latency/bandwidth issues. Generally we always recommend a hardwired connection over WiFi just due to the nature of WiFi.
Browsers may also be a factor.
Google Chrome is not downloadable in China and not all Chinese browsers support WebRTC [the web technology required for full Collaborate functionality] nor is Blackboard testing any Chinese browsers with Collaborate Ultra at this time.
Firefox is usually downloadable and supports WebRTC. The main stable channel release of Firefox is tested and certified by Blackboard.
The testing tools at https://test.webrtc.org/ can be used by students in China to determine if their browser / device supports Web RTC.
Please see the Blackboard Browser Support page for more information.
The links below provide details about how Collaborate manages network bandwidth and the indicators that users will see.
- how to see participants’ connection status
- Best practices for using Collaborate when bandwidth might be an issue.
Blackboard report variations in quality between the main internet providers in China
Among the top three telecommunication carriers in China, users with China Unicom have the best performance with Collaborate, and then China Mobile. Users with China Telecom can experience problems accessing and/or reconnecting issues.
Connection issues – what can users do?
I can connect to a session, but it keeps telling me I have low bandwidth or I keep reconnecting. What can I do?
Firstly, users should check their wi-fi strength is good and internet appears to be functioning correctly.
Shut down tabs and open a tab to access your University’s website or a website outside of China.
If you had accessed your University’s LMS, try accessing that again.
Access the Collaborate room again. If the issue re occurs, try closing all other open applications on your computer.
As real time communications such as audio, video and streaming function differently than general website browsing, there could be another application that is using your network connection heavily.
How can I reduce the bandwidth of my Collaborate session?
For sessions where bandwidth is a concern, Blackboard recommends that no users share their webcam video unless required for the instruction.
We also recommend that the moderator/presenter use file sharing and whiteboard for content instead of application sharing unless required for the instruction. Under this scenario, a user with 128kbps connection will be able to participate fully in the session.
Please also keep in mind that bandwidth is not only a concern regarding the network. Other factors, such as latency, jitter and packet loss can all affect the quality of the session. If a specific session is experiencing considerable issues, by the moderator or end users, they can use the “Report an issue” link in the left hand navigation to report an issue.
Moderators can also copy the Session information to provide to University TEL support teams for further discussion with Blackboard support.
The maximum size of a Collaborate Ultra session is 250 users. You can set up a Collaborate session with more than 250 users but in fact Blackboard advise against this:
large sessions are generally not recommended when a high volume of users are located within China. We recommend that you have small sessions ( less than 25 users) with your students in China.
For large sessions, under 250 users, we recommend adopting the following strategies similar to large sessions
- Disable video for participants.
- Ensure the session is recorded as to provide any participants with connection issues the ability to review the content afterwards.
- Refer users to the Dial-in capability as applicable.