Recommended Technology and Equipment for Blackboard Collaborate

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Blackboard Collaborate has a 250 attendee limit. If you wish to use Blackboard Collaborate with more than 250 attendees view our guide.

Index

Keeping it simple

To join a Collaborate session you will need the following

  • A modern computer or laptop.  You can also use a Android or iOS device.
  • Access to your Blackboard course so you can get the link.
  • Internet Access (Broadband connection highly recommended).
  • Soundcard with microphone and headphones (A USB headset with microphone/headphones is highly recommended).  If you have Bluetooth on your computer or device a set of Bluetooth headphones with a microphone should work as well.
  • Webcam (optional).
  • For the best experience, use Google Chrome.  Firefox will work as well.  Any browser that supports WebRTC should be fine, but Chrome is best.
  • Using a headset is preferred, users without headsets should be sure to be in a quiet area to prevent background noise, and should turn off their microphone when not speaking.
  • Be in a well lit area if transmitting video.

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Connection tips

  • Make sure Audio and Video are setup correctly. Go to Settings (Gear icon) > Audio and Video Settings > Setup your Camera and Microphone. Click here for a step by step guide to setting up Audio and Video.
  • If using WiFi, try to be as close to the router as possible.
  • Close streaming services such as YouTube, Netflix, P2P, Spotify, or Pandora before accessing the session.

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Equipment you may not consider

The following section is an extract from a blog post on the Blackboard Community site by Lloyd Stock.  Since the site is not publicly visible useful extracts follow:

  • If running a session on multiple campuses across timezones, e.g. Dalian, USMC, and Southampton, use Every Time Zone to pick a date for your session and see at a glance the best time to meet across timezones.  For live timings on our campuses check http://mytime.southampton.ac.uk/
  • Before your session, print this Door Hanger out on card and hang it to let people know you’re not to be disturbed. We’ve all seen the viral video of the expert who had his video link news interview interrupted by his toddler. Though in fairness, you’ll need more than a door hanger with toddlers!
  • Moderators could pre-load an Orientation slide like these ones.
  • If you’re going to run an Audio Check, don’t do it without using an Audio Check Slide.

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Equipment suggestions from the community

Here are some recommendations from Amy Eyre who runs the Blackboard Mobile / Collaborate User Group

We really like the look of Catchbox microphones and have seen them used well at conferences in the past, but they are very expensive! Introductory video to catchbox mics here [YouTube].

The following have been mentioned by the user community:

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Some technical detail about bandwidth requirements

Collaborate uses dynamic bandwidth adjusting for Chrome and Firefox users. This allows Collaborate to actively monitor a user’s network connection and adjust the download speeds before a user should experience issues.

The primary factors in bandwidth consumption for Collaborate Ultra are sharing webcam videos and sharing applications.

  • Webcam video bandwidth uses ranges from 360kbps down to 20kbps per camera, up to 4 cameras
  • Audio always uses 48kbps
  • Ability to receive application sharing and audio as low as 88kbps
  • Application sharing bandwidth uses ranges from 500kbps down to 70kbps
  • It can show 4 cameras with audio as low as 128kbps and with a max of 1488kbps.

A small amount of overhead is also required for chat, and so on.

If network conditions falter and can’t sustain the minimum bandwidth needed, Collaborate will turn off cameras and application sharing. For 1 camera and audio the trigger will be 68 kbps and for application sharing and audio 118 kbps.

When network conditions improve, the cameras and application sharing will turn back on automatically for Chrome and Firefox users.

For sessions where bandwidth is a concern, we recommend that no attendees share their webcam video unless required for the instruction. We also recommend that the moderator or presenter use file sharing and whiteboard for content instead of application sharing. Use application sharing when it is required for the instruction. With no video and application sharing, a user with 128kbps connection will be able to participate fully in the session.

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Framerate

  • Application sharing: The framerate when sharing an application depends on the bandwidth available to both the presenter and the recipient. With a reliable broadband network, and still content, attendees may see around 25 to 30 frames per second (fps). If the content is video, the frame rate is also dependent on how big the video frame is and what is happening in the video. Frame rates can fall sharply for big and busy videos on even a reliable network.
  • Video: The framerate for video has a 40 fps cap. However, video framerate depends on user bandwidth and camera limitations. On a reliable network, 30 fps is realistic.

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The technical bit if you are using Collaborate from an employer or institution that may have a stricter network

By default Collaborate with the Ultra experience will be using UDP on the port range 49152 through 65535, if your organisation has a firewall in place that is not open to this range, we will next try UDP 50000 and if that fails we will allow traffic to connect via TCP on port 443. It should be noted that TCP is a slightly slower connection protocol than UDP, but the experience should still be acceptable.

Additionally, Collaborate with the Ultra experience uses HTML5 Web Socket traffic to connect to session servers. Network traffic filters such as Cisco Firepower may have a filter added to prevent HTML5 and thus WebRTC from connecting.

Furthermore, Proxy servers need to allow HTML5 Web Socket traffic in order for Collaborate to connect to the session servers through a proxy. Proxy servers may need to be specifically configured to handle this Web Socket traffic.  Collaborate with the Ultra experience requires a HTML 5 Web Socket connection be allowed on browsers and networking appliances such as proxy servers. To test the Web Socket connection please use the same setup that is failing to connect to the Collaborate with the Ultra experience. For example if you are using a proxy server, please try this test from behind the proxy server.

  1. In a browser, go to the following link: https://www.websocket.org/echo.html
  2. Enter this text in the Location text box: wss://echo.websocket.org
  3. Click the Connect button.
  4.  Once connected, press the Send button. The output will appear in the Log section.
  5. A successful Web Socket test will show a Response in the logs for “Rock it with HTML5 WebSocket”.

Users trying to connect from networks that do not allow HTML 5 Web Socket connections will be unable to launch a Collaborate with the Ultra experience.

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Trouble from home?

This publicly available knowledge base article discusses the most common issues when connecting from a domestic connection.

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What about in China?

Blackboard Collaborate is not blocked by the Great Firewall (at least not at this time). However, using Collaborate between China and the EU 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 between China and the EU 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. For more information and suggestions about bandwidth read the some technical detail about bandwidth requirements section found above.

Blackboard has tested using the top three telecommunication carriers in China, namely China Unicom, China Mobile and China Telecom. In their experience, both China Unicom and China Mobile performed well, with only some users occasionally being disconnected/reconnected from the session.  China Telecom did not perform well, as multiple users encountered session connectivity issues throughout the session.

Common issues we have heard of so far are that when changing from sharing a file to screen-sharing students in China may lose connection, or not see the video.  Screen-sharing requires greater bandwidth which may be the cause for this.

These testing results are not exhaustive and should not be interpreted as guaranteed compatibility of Collaborate Ultra in China.  Experiences will vary depending on a number of factors, including personal Internet connection, bandwidth, network connectivity and firewall settings.

Browsers may also be a factor, Chrome is not downloadable in China (at least not easily) and not all Chinese browsers support WebRTC nor is Bb testing any Chinese browsers with Collaborate Ultra at this time.  Popular web browsers in China such as QQ, Sigou and 2345 do not support WebRTC (the technology that Collaborate and many other webinar platforms leverage to facilitate the video and audio elements of their sessions), and so they cannot be used with Collaborate currently.

Firefox seems to be downloadable at this time and supports WebRTC. The main stable channel release of Firefox is tested and certified by Bb. Please see https://help.blackboard.com/Collaborate/Ultra/Participant/Get_Started/Browser_Support for more info.

Due to the above, it is recommended that attendees in China use Mozilla Firefox web browser instead of any other.

Large Class sizes are considered to be over 25 participants when using Collaborate within China. Blackboard states:

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 larger sessions, 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.

 

Amy Eyre from the University of York has a very useful shared document with further information.

 

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