As we continue to work through the ongoing COVID-19 situation, many of us have now had the chance to try out at least one or two of the webinar platforms that are supported and available here at the University of York, ie:
- Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
- Google Meet (previously known as Google Hangouts Meet)
The general advice at time of writing (November 2020) is as follows: either Collaborate or Zoom are best for teaching and learning-related activities, whereas Google Meet is more appropriate for quick meetings between a few individuals that do not need to be recorded. Departments should use whichever platform best fits their needs.
This blog post aims to help you choose which platform is right for your teaching and learning endeavours, due to this we won’t touch much on Google Meet but will rather focus on Collaborate and Zoom.
What’s Different Between Platforms?
There are numerous differences between Collaborate and Zoom, but here are the main ones at a glance:
- Administration: Collaborate allows a host to run numerous sessions simultaneously if desired, Zoom allows only one live session per host
- Breakout Groups: Zoom allows breakout groups to be created and populated in advance of a session whereas Collaborate does not (groups can only be made in-session and can’t be pre-made)
- Tools: Zoom offers screen sharing and polling, but not many other interaction tools, Collaborate has more interaction options
- Video Grid: Zoom allows multiple camera streams to appear on screen at once (how many is dictated by how powerful your computer is) whereas Collaborate is currently limited to four camera streams, but with a 16-24 video grid roadmapped for early 2021
- VLE Integration: Collaborate integrates directly with both Blackboard and Canvas VLEs and Zoom does not, however Zoom sessions can be hyperlinked into a VLE site.
Want more detail on platform differences? Take a look at our webinar platform comparison table.
Which Platform Is Most Stable?
There is no firm answer to this.
All cloud systems are experiencing unusually high levels of demand and strain at the moment, globally. As such a large amount of work and education are occurring online, many systems we rely on are experiencing issues. Even Google and Microsoft have been having stability problems throughout 2020. Collaborate and Zoom are not exempt from this; neither can be guaranteed to function flawlessly, an unfortunate sympton of the times.
- Collaborate report their service issues here (scroll down to the dated section at the bottom of the page to see recent issues)
- Zoom report their service issues here (again, scroll down for details).
It is worth noting however that because Zoom can be used through a downloaded client (app) it is not limited by the same constraints as a webinar platform that has to run through a web browser (eg. Collaborate and Google Meet). This can mean that Zoom can provide improved performance/stability for some users.
What About Access From China?
What is blocked in China and what isn’t can vary day by day, and as such is hard to monitor. As far as we’re aware, both Collaborate and Zoom should be accessible from China without needing a VPN as long as students use appropriate equipment (browser/OS). China-based students are welcome to sign up to a special version of the University’s VPN, which should assist in general with access to all key University systems, and may assist them with Zoom/Collaborate stability but it doesn’t specifically target these tools.
There’s a propensity in China to use web browsers that are very rarely used anywhere else (eg. UC Browser, Baidu, Sogou, 360 Secure, QQ and others). These browser are not supported/compatible with many websites and cloud tools across the Internet generally, not just tools here at the University. Due to this, webinar platforms that run within a web browser such as Collaborate will function very poorly if a user tries to access them on an unsupported browser like the examples given above. Here’s our troubleshooting page for Collaborate, which can help users with most common issues, including which browsers to use. We also have a specific guide for staff on supporting Collaborate access from China.
Where Can I Learn More?
- Collaborate is supported by our team (the PDLT), take a look at our “Key Areas – Collaborate” page or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Google Meet is supported by IT Services, so take a look at their Google Meet page or contact email@example.com
- Zoom is supported by IT Services, so read their Zoom Wiki or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- Guidance for students on all three platforms can be accessed here: Students – Introduction to Video Conferencing Platforms.