Delivering teaching remotely to overseas students – advice on technology applications and learning resources & material.
This paper offers guidance to academics and course designers who are building and running courses in countries with compromised access to materials, web sites and applications.
Delivering teaching remotely overseas can be a challenge. Some of your students may have poor bandwidth, the connectivity or latency from their country to the UK may be poor, or they may be in a country that is in a time zone that makes live lectures and interaction difficult.
Some countries block access to some materials, websites or software applications. China, Iran, Turkey etc. Detail specifically on the PRC (China) can be found later in this document.
Copyright/IP/Digital rights management
We encourage you to check with the Library if you are using any digital resources to double check that access and copyrights do not prohibit that learning resources from being accessed or used overseas. IN the first instance you should contact you School assigned academic or subject Librarian.
In addition all contracts should be checked for locally used teaching application to ensure that the license allows use of the application overseas and in the countries where your students are located. For School purchase software, contact your local IT staff for centrally provided software please contact ISG or make a query through your learning technologist.
Delivering remote or online teaching to the PRC (China) and access to teaching materials and resources.
Please be aware that the Chinese government restricts access within China to some websites. We have also seen a degraded or poor performance with some of our Teaching applications. Detail below:
In general access for any online service can be poor at times. Our experience from online degrees is that where broadband is flaky/non-existent then the solution with the online degrees is to design out reliance on synchronous methods and to ensure you have content available to learners in different asynchronous ways e.g. lecture recording + downloadable slides, PDFs and transcripts as per the University accessibility recommendations. A link to advice can be found here: www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/help-consultancy/accessibility/creating-materials. As always we advise you look at the file sizes of the teaching material your remote students are required to download to keep this to a manageable size.
Access within China to any external service is generally throttled by the authorities and will be normally be at a lower speed than you would experience in other countries, especially for high bandwidth or live on line services.
Use of VPN is banned in China
Our general advice to use VPN where possible as a secure method to access University services. A link to how to use the VPN is provide here: www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/computing/desktop-personal/vpn
Availability and performance of our teaching and student applications within the PRC:
Media Hopper Create and Replay (Good access).
Noteable (Good access) is internally hosted and isn’t blocking access.
Turnitin (Good access) have stated there shouldn’t be any issues and cite that International campuses in China use Turnitin without issue.
Office 365 and MS Teams (Good Access). A few issues with One Drive access reported. MS Teams live video can have poor connectivity in China.
Learn (Reasonable access) has had some issues with files being hosted on (Amazon Web Services) AWS (Amazon Web Services) however access is ok.
Collaborate: (Poor and inconsistent access/performance) issues with using Collaborate in China, are likely bandwidth related and not the firewall. Collaborate is web based and does not require a client on your machine like Zoom and Teams do. Sometimes that is a plus, other times not. The biggest problem experienced by our pre-sessional teachers using Collaborate to work digitally with students in China was connectivity. Collaborate has lots of good teaching tools (e.g. quick to set up breakout rooms) but students had frequent connection problems. Very few used/were able to use their video. Other Unis are reporting issues with each. Teachers can be pragmatic and move between Collaborate, MS Teams and Zoom, but only Collaborate is currently integrated with the Learn Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).
Zoom: (intermittent) – Zoom is currently allowed in China, however the Chinese authorities have blocked Zoom in the past. Also, like all live video platforms it is affected by constrained bandwidth and connectivity issues.
TopHat (Poor access) has issues delivering into China, likely because it uses AWS. Their ‘official’ advice is to use VPN but it is unclear how heavily it’ll be used in hybrid teaching.
Box of Broadcasts (no Access Box of Broadcasts can only be used in the United Kingdom. The terms and conditions of the ERA licence do not allow for use overseas. Geolocation software is used to block access outside the UK)
Unibuddy (Access available in China)
EventsAir: (access available in China, but streaming can be affected by bandwidth) Note: Zoom Webinar is our chosen plug-in for live transmission, so this may cause a problem. There aren’t any alternatives at present.
Internet resources accessed from within the PRC:
A number of key and common internet resources sometime used by academics in teaching are blocked in China such as Google, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Mendeley, SlideShare, … Please be aware your students located in China will not be able to access these.
- Many social media sites like Instagram, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Vimeo, Flickr and Twitter are also blocked
- Many news channels (like: BBC, The New York Times, Le Monde, France 24, The Epoch TImes, The Japan Times, Al Jazeera English, The Globe and Mail, The Washington Post, HuffPost, Wall Street Journal, Time, The Economist, …) are blocked.
- Also some whole research facilities website are blocks (such as the NASA JPL)
You can find a complete list here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_websites_blocked_in_mainland_China
Please check to ensure that the App or website you plan on using for your students is not blocked in China. Also be aware the Chinese authorities often make changes to this list without any warning or consultation.
In general we advise for students in China that a course emphasising asynchronicity and low bandwidth materials may be appropriate.
Current trials to enhance experience of students in the PRC:
ISG is currently testing a solution with Fortinet and Alibaba that will potentially allow students within the PRC to tunnel a VPN successfully to the University. This will greatly expand the number of University learning resources that the student can access and it also should provide better connectivity and prevention of dropouts.
The trials are being conducted next week with some current UoE students in the PRC. The service is costed by capacity, with 100Mbs link costing ~$7.5k per month, and 200Mbs costing $15k per month (ex-VAT). The size of the pipe needed will be determine by the concurrent usage by our Chinese students. The capacity is fixed by our price-band – so we have cost control, but experience may be poor if the pipe is congested. We can increase capacity if required. Once through trial we can discuss how to approach costs.
We will keep you informed about developments in this area. Tony Weir in ISG email@example.com is the lead on this project.
Other emerging best practice and advice:
This is a fast moving area. Bristol has some good clear advice on this, focused on practical mitigation advice www.bristol.ac.uk/digital-education/guides/low-bandwidth/
Author: Gavin McLachlan