This guide is for moderators running taught sessions in Collaborate Ultra, and offers advice about some of the problems you might encounter.
What if it all goes wrong?
What if you can’t join a session or it ends abruptly because a Blackboard server fails, you lose your broadband connection or your PC freezes? Is this any worse than missing a lecture due to grid-locked traffic or a campus fire-alarm?
Think ahead and plan. Be clear with information for students. What should they do if they are unable to attend a session or experience technical problems joining or during it? What should they do if you are missing from the session? Who should they contact? Where can they look for an update? How will they catch up on the lost learning?
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Managing student concerns
Students may have concerns about technical issues that could affect their learning, such as being unable to join a session, dropping out of a session or poor-quality audio/video. The online help will minimise the risk of all these by providing them with guidance on supported browsers and how to maximise Wi-Fi signal strength.
Make information available to your students ahead of, and again during the session, about what to do if they experience any connectivity issues and what will happen if there are more significant problems. You should reassure them that occasional connection problems are expected, that it will take time for them to develop confidence with learning online, and that they will be able to use session recordings to catch up on anything they missed. The advice is don’t panic, and try to re-join the session.
Let them know that if your connection drops and you ‘disappear’ they should remain in the session for five to ten minutes to give you time to reconnect. They can get on with other work, check their emails or chat while they wait.
You can also tell them that if there is a major problem with the Collaborate Ultra system, affected sessions will be rescheduled or delivered in a different way e.g. as Aston Replay recordings.
Minimising the risk of connection problems
A slow or poor quality connection to the internet will adversely affect your use of Collaborate Ultra. If your connection seems slow, try these:
- Turn off your webcam and just use audio.
- Ask students to turn off their webcams.
- Close other internet applications e.g. Teams, social media, email.
- Are other people using your connection with other devices? Can you ask them not to watch videos or play games while you are teaching?
- If connecting via Wi-Fi can you get closer to the router to improve the signal?
- If that isn’t possible, can you use a Wi-Fi signal booster?
- Can you get a wired (LAN) connection to the router?
See this article from PC Mag about 10 ways to boost your WiFi signal.
One of the things that can really affect your connection speed is the automatic download of system updates by Windows and macOS. It can also make your PC slow to respond. Turn on your PC at least an hour before you need to start teaching so it can complete those downloads first. If your PC asks to restart to install those updates, try to postpone that until after your teaching.
Your connection fails
It happens. Home broadband sometimes drops your connection for a minute or so, and that will make Collaborate Ultra unresponsive and may eject you from the session. This time our advice is don’t panic, be patient and, after a minute or two, try to re-join the session.
Wait a minute to see if your connection returns. If it doesn’t, close the Collaborate Ultra browser tab, access the Blackboard module and click to join the session again.
If it doesn’t re-connect, possible solutions include:
- Close your browser and start again.
- Restart your PC and try again.
- Use your phone and its 3G/4G signal to connect to Blackboard, access the Collaborate Ultra session and let the students know what the situation is.
You may want to install and configure the Blackboard Instructor app (Android and iOS) on your phone in advance so you can access your modules, post an announcement or join Collaborate Ultra sessions in just a few clicks.
You might tell your students to check their email and/or announcements in the Blackboard module area if session is inaccessible or fails part-way through. Use the check-box to email your announcement to the whole cohort.
Supporting students who have problems joining the session
You will be too busy teaching to support students who are unable to join the meeting, and can’t do more than provide basic technical advice in any case. Students in a panic may email you directly asking for help.
It is therefore a good idea to set your email to ‘out of office’ while you are teaching, and to set the automatic message to provide that basic technical advice to your students. Here is some text you can use:
I am teaching and therefore unable to help if are having problems joining my session in Collaborate Ultra. Please see the online help for possible solutions, and note that additional information will be provided so you will be able to catch up later.
You might ask your students to email you if they have trouble joining or during a session so you can monitor the number of issues and perhaps see if some students need additional technical advice from Digital Services.
Slow response when starting breakout groups
Collaborate Ultra is a cloud-hosted service, and Blackboard works hard to ensure it always has the technical capacity to run all of Aston’s sessions. There may be occasions on which very high demand leads to a slower than usual response, in which case our advice is don’t panic, be patient and don’t click to refresh your browser.
A slow-down is most likely to happen when you split your students into breakout groups. This normally takes about 10 seconds, but rarely some groups may take up to a minute to activate. Students will see purple “busy” indicators around their microphone and webcam controls while they wait, and need to be patient.
Use Microsoft Teams
if other options are not available, you could create a Microsoft Teams meeting.
- Open Outlook, or login on the web at outlook.office.com
- Go to your calendar, and create a meeting
- Don’t add anybody to the invite
Click Teams Meeting. In Outlook on Windows and macOS, this is in the toolbar. In Outlook on the web, there is a toggle switch in the form.
- Cut the Join Microsoft Teams Meeting link at the bottom of the Outlook meeting, and distribute it via a Blackboard announcement sent as an email.
Recipients will join as presenters
Everyone who joins the Teams meeting will have the Presenter role. If you want them to join as Attendees, you can change this via the Meeting Options link which has been added to the event in your calendar. See Microsoft’s site for more information.