Accessing online learning in China

Please note: This information is subject to change. DEO will update this information wherever possible. This version: 10th November 2020.

This information is primarily for academic staff to advise students currently based in mainland China. If you are a student you may also find this information useful, but you should check with your lecturer or school, and look at the guidance designed for you on our student help pages.

The overarching guidance for staff is to adhere to the general recommendations for low bandwidth and low immediacy teaching.


Internet connectivity

Poor or inconsistent internet connectivity can cause problems for students and staff based in the UK and overseas. Students in mainland China have historically been subject to intermittent connectivity issues which can make online learning difficult. Where possible staff should adopt low bandwidth, asynchronous teaching (eg reduce file sizes, reduce activities which require high levels of immediate interaction/ response by students etc).  

Taught students in mainland China may also be able to access a state-approved VPN (virtual private network) connection, provided by the University of Bristol, from 18thMay 2020. This should improve access to learning materials for our students, but students will need to request access. Research postgrads are not eligible for the Forticlient China VPN.


Access to tools and materials

Many popular platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and some parts of Google are inaccessible to students in mainland China. Staff should check teaching materials such as essential readings are available to students, and be mindful that some content may be inaccessible (for example if it is hosted on some news sites).

Digital education tools such as Blackboard Learn, Collaborate and Turnitin are currently available for use in China, however access can be withdrawn at short notice and these tools can be subject to network issues.

Hosting materials in RePlay may improve access to learning materials due to its adaptive streaming functionality, where viewers receive the video stream with the most suitable bitrate for their available bandwidth

Some tools in our digital learning environment are not available in mainland China. For example, Ally (which provides content in alternative formats) is blocked. Offering content in a range of formats can make learning more accessible and inclusive. Staff who wish to provide materials in alternative formats can use the stand-alone Ally converter. Staff should use the tools available to assess student engagement with online learning to ensure their teaching is accessible.


Browsers and mobile

Online tools often have recommended browsers which may not be available in China. Staff should be aware that students who use Chinese browsers to access online learning activities and materials may experience problems. Where possible staff should recommend appropriate alternatives either by reviewing the relevant suppliers support pages or contact for help and advice.

While students should be advised to use a wired internet connection, some may choose to access activities and information on the Blackboard mobile app, which optimises content for delivery on ‘phones and tablets. Staff should be aware that not all content is available on the Blackboard mobile app and Android device users may not be able to access the Playstore to download it.