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Some professors are still using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra despite its technical problems and CUNY’s widespread use of Zoom.

When the pandemic forced classes online, some administrators doubted Blackboard could handle the traffic volume. That’s when the university acquired Zoom licenses for all the teachers, some of whom still use Collaborate Ultra despite its audio, video, screen-sharing and connectivity issues.

“I have never had a class through [Collaborate Ultra] that didn’t involve some sort of connection issue,” said Silvia Milla, a Hunter College student who used Collaborate Ultra in some fall classes. “There are constant microphone issues that waste time, and the constant connecting and disconnecting from others who have Wi-Fi problems can be really distracting.”

So why do some professors still use Collaborate Ultra?

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“Some use Blackboard Collaborate because it is available via Blackboard and it is not necessary to make other arrangements,” said Sándor John, a history professor who still uses Collaborate Ultra. “However, in my experience, it has often crashed and manifested other issues.”

There are other benefits of choosing Collaborate Ultra over Zoom.

“It boils down to convenience,” said Khristopher J. Brooks, a journalism professor who uses Collaborate Ultra. “Once the class is over the downloading of that video goes a lot quicker [with Collaborate Ultra] as opposed to Zoom.”

However, unlike Collaborate Ultra, Zoom could handle the more than 1,000 CUNY professors who moved their classes online because of the state-wide lockdown in March 2020.

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“I can’t speak on behalf of CUNY, but I know at Baruch we wanted to have a second option in addition to Blackboard Collaborate because we didn’t know if Blackboard Collaborate could handle the increased volume of traffic,” said Allison Lehr-Samuels, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Baruch College. “We were very concerned about access — what if one system goes down? It’s good to have options.”

Collaborate Ultra has many flaws. The video frequently blanks out or freezes. The audio crackles, changes volume on its own or cuts out.

Sometimes the screen goes blank during screen sharing. Other times the screen-share is on different slides for different students.

“I could not have my camera on and share my screen at the same time,” said Pamela Killimanis, a creative writing professor who switched to Zoom at the beginning of the pandemic. “I was constantly having to collaborate with students in the chat. It just kept crashing.”

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Zoom uses HD video while Collaborate Ultra’s attendee resolution is much lower at 640×360, according to Blackboard’s help website. Collaborate Ultra can only handle 20 breakout rooms. Zoom can handle 50 breakout rooms.

The Lehman College website that compares the online tools states that Zoom is easier to use than Collaborate Ultra.

However, CUNY decided to stick with Collaborate Ultra.

At the end of December, CUNY migrated its Blackboard application to a new kind of cloud platform hosted by the Blackboard company. Blackboard is now in charge of hosting the Blackboard application on their cloud servers, providing instant updates to the platform and technical support. Previously, CUNY managed technical support and updates.

The university has not announced how much space it has purchased on the cloud, or if the service level of the new provider includes 24/7 support. CUNY has secured round-the-clock technical support during the pandemic.

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