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Blackboard Collaborate Ultra - Continuity of Service
As campuses prepare continuity of instruction plans in the face of emergencies, the University of Wisconsin System (UWS) Digital Learning Environment (DLE) provides the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra web conference platform for live, interactive, online meetings.
Deploying Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
Tips for Using Blackboard Collaborate During a School Closure
- Internet connectivity is going to be a problem for some of your students. When possible, deliver mandatory course content asynchronously, through Canvas Pages or Discussions, or though pre-recorded Kaltura videos.
- Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is great for optional course components that focus on answering student questions, like study sessions and office hours. During an emergency, students will have more questions than ever.
- If you can't imagine how to teach certain topics asynchronously through Canvas or Kaltura, use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra for live online class sessions. Be aware of common pitfalls to avoid, such as "holding synchronous online sessions during a time in which the class doesn’t normally meet" and "extending class time or time commitments beyond what the class would typically require."
- If you do use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra to deliver new course content, make sure to record your session and provide the recording link for your students. Even better, download your Blackboard Collaborate recording and upload it into Kaltura, which will allow your students to watch the video at various levels of quality depending on their bandwidth.
- If you expect more than 250 simultaneous attendees in a single session, consider recording a video with Kaltura Capture instead. If live web conference for more than 250 concurrent users is the only way to go, users can now Create a Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Large Session directly, without contacting Blackboard Collaborate Support.
- Software installation and configuration
- Product features and functionality
- Hardware requirements
- Session access information
Continuity of Operations
We have dedicated additional resources from our engineering and development operations teams to this situation and will continue to evaluate the best options available given this evolving situation.Through our partnership with clients in affected regions and beyond, we are continuously improving our own processes and readiness. Our cloud-based technologies, including Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Collaborate, allow us to scale in times of heavy usage to the maximum extent possible. We are working with our technology and hosting partners and internal engineering teams to make sure we have solid plans in place for continuity of service.
On 03/13/2020, Blackboard made the following statement :We have been carefully monitoring Collaborate as more schools and organizations increase their use, and we have already taken specific measures in an effort to optimize its reliability. In the coming weeks, we are projecting an unprecedented increase in the use of Collaborate in different regions around the world. Out of an abundance of caution, and in order to maintain the highest continuity of service possible, we have made the decision to disable certain non-essential features that can impact overall system stability. These features are:• Timer (a countdown timer that helps with classroom time management)• Chat typing indicator (a visual indicator that someone is typing but have not yet completed their thought. The chat feature itself will still be available.)• Netstats indicator (a visual indicator of connection quality next to each user)We believe that the removal of these features will not significantly impact the overall Collaborate user experience, which will still include video, screen sharing, chat, a virtual whiteboard, and other favorite features. While some users may miss these features, we believe that disabling them is in the best interest of our global client community. Consistent, reliable service is our top priority. We expect to reinstate these features once we have more information about how the system is performing and we continue to make improvements.On 03/18/2020, Blackboard added two more features to the list of features it's disabling in order to adapt to increased demand:
User-facing functionality: "Reducing the number of video thumbnails from 4 to 2 (this is the maximum number of thumbnails visible in the grid view)"Administrator-level functionality: "Recording transcoding (this includes generating several renditions of a recording file, which is not necessary for the playback of a Collaborate recording)."
On October 27, 2020, Blackboard released a statement indicating that these features would be disabled until at least 2021:
We have done further investigation to determine what would be needed to reactivate the existing features. Unfortunately, this work revealed that the third party component that's powering those features can't be made scalable at all to the level of user concurrency we're seeing (90 times pre-covid levels). As a result, we will have to rebuild the features from the ground up, without using a third party component. This new project is getting added to the 2021 roadmap and its targeted date will depend on priorities for other 2021 features too.
On 3/14/2020 Blackboard worked with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to successfully test and deploy additional infrastructure capacity, and the company continues to work with AWS to provision additional capacity. As Blackboard announced yesterday Netstats, Timer and the Chat Typing Indicator were disabled. In addition, Blackboard is evaluating other Collaborate functionality that may be reduced or disabled to improve the stability of the system.Blackboard also launched a website dedicated to providing resources for Collaborate, among other Blackboard services not available in the DLE, to compliment your efforts as you work with Faculty to sustain the continuity of instruction. "Preparing to Scale Teaching and Learning Online" resources are available for Blackboard Collaborate at this website: https://www.blackboard.com/go/scale-teaching-and-learning-onlineOn 03/16/2020, Blackboard made the following additional statement urging the few users who hadn't already transitioned from Blackboard Collaborate Classic to to Blackboard Collaborate Ultra to make that transition:On 03/23 and 03/24/2020, Blackboard posted notices suggesting capacity issues with their telephony services, and recommending that users use VOIP audio:Blackboard Collaborate Original was architected for marginal increases in demand. While it has many features that some institutions still rely upon, it does not have the capability to scale to meet the unprecedented demand we are seeing. Over the past week, however, we have expanded the capacity of Collaborate Ultra, our newer cloud-based technology, to meet the current global demand. In fact, in some regions we have increased that capacity by 40x in the past days. Because of this, and to help lower the risk of disruption to remote instruction using Collaborate Original, we strongly recommend and encourage you to transition to Collaborate Ultra as soon as possible. In recent days, we have helped other clients like you make a seamless transition to Collaborate Ultra.
Collaborate customers using the telephone option may get a message stating the call cannot be completed as dialed or a busy signal. Our operations team is actively investigating the issue. Please use a browser on your computer or mobile phone to use VoIP for audio in the Collaborate session.
Late on 03/24/2020, Blackboard posted an update regarding telephony:
Our existing telephony provider has a limitation in their inventory of phone ports and has therefore provisioned us with just a few hundred ports, which are shared across our entire North America region (for Collab Ultra and Original).To allocate this allowance across this geography, we have implemented a per-session dial-in limit of 25 dial-ins per session. However, when the total number of ports in the geography have been occupied, attendees will not be able to dial into their session. We are in the process of transitioning to a new telephony provider, which will allow us to increase our total number of phone ports in the region. We are anticipating this to be available in April.In the meantime, please use the web version of Collaborate on your computer and your mobile device. Do not use the dial-in numbers, as this will free up those spots for users with internet issues.
See Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Status for updates on product outages.
Click on the + to see the service status for the Americas, then scroll to see the status of Collaborate Ultra - AWS (US). Scheduled Maintenance updates and Past Incidents are listed below the collection of status bars.