Covid-19 Contingency Planning


BigBlueButton is the built-in virtual classroom solution for many of the world’s leading learning management systems (LMS) .

Blindside Networks provides hosting for BigBlueButton to K12, colleges, and universities (“schools”) around the world.

We are aware that many schools are doing contingency planning in the event of closure. The following document gives a summary of our statement of scalability, what information we need from you for capacity planning (if you intend to use BigBlueButton in the event of a closure), and best practices for using BigBlueButton under these circumstances.  


Updated – March 16, 2020

Q: Is there a limit on Free Tier usage?

(For a description of the Free Tier see the next question).

Due to the increased load on the Free Tier, for some customers we will soon start implementing a limit of 10 concurrent sessions.  

For Instructure customers on the Free Tier,  if you intend to use the Free Tier beyond this limit, we recommend you reach out to your Canvas rep to explore options for upgrading to the Premium Tier.  If you are over the 10 concurrent session limit, your Canvas Success Manager will proactively reach out to you as well.

Once you upgrade, you’ll get the features listed in our Premium Tier along with priority hosting that can scale to meet your needs.


Updated – March 14, 2020

Q: Is there a difference between Free Tier and Premium Tier in expected performance?

Instructure, Schoology, Jenzabar, and Moodle Partners have been offering Free Tier version of BigBlueButton for many years.  In the Free Tier, recordings automatically expire after 7 or 14 days.  Over time, some choose to upgrade to the Premium Tier for permanent recordings.  Lots of schools made use of the Free Tier for occasional use.

When you join a BigBlueButton session, if you are on the Free Tier, you will see a message notifying that recordings are automatically deleted

This BigBlueButton session is provided free of charge by Blindside Networks Inc. to <LMS> customers. Recordings are automatically deleted after <n> days. For permanent recordings and other premium features, contact your <LMS>representative.

If you are on the Free Tier, with Covid-19 causing so many schools to close, we are expecting heavy demand on the Free Tier.  if your school is planning to make heavy use of the Free Tier in the coming weeks, you may encounter performance issues.  To reduce the performance load, we have made default the lock setting to prevent students from seeing other student’s webcams.  A student will see their webcam and the instructor’s webcam.  An instructor will still see all student webcams.

If you are on the Free Tier, our LMS partners have been putting out a list of products that also work well with their platform.  We recommend to all schools using the Free Tier to explore these options as well.    

    https://www.instructure.com/canvas/blog/canvas-partners-and-distance-learning

Our goal is to enable you to host online classes for your students, regardless of which tool you use.


Updated – March 10, 2020

Q: What is the Blindside Networks’ statement of scalability?

For our Premium Tier customers, we are proactively increasing our capacity in anticipation of schools needing to hold online classes. We make heavy use of Amazon for scaling our infrastructure, and we are adding additional servers to ensure we can meet the demand.

We are prioritizing our capacity for customers in the Premium Tier over those using the Free Tier. 

All BigBlueButton recordings are stored in Amazon S3, which provides scalable storage.  Furthermore, the recordings are served via Amazon’s CDN (Cloudflare), which can support a large number of students viewing the recordings.

Q: My school is considering using BigBlueButton as part of our contingency planning- what information does Blindside Networks need?

We’ve set up a group email account: team@blindsidenetworks.com to facilitate communication.

First, if you haven’t already done so, please take a moment and let us know your expected capacity requirements if a closure occurs.  

(We’ve already spoken with many of you about getting your estimates for capacity planning.)

Specifically, take a moment to fill out this School Closure Capacity Requirements (Google Form), which asks , in the event of a school closure,

  1. How many concurrent sessions will you need?
  2. What is the average number of students per session?

We recognize these numbers are estimates only.  Still, they will help us plan for contingency should you need to make a (significant) increase use of BigBlueButton.

Second, you follow the best practices (at the end of this document) to help ensure students have a good experience.

Q: My school has decided to close – what information does Blindside Networks need?

Please e-mail us at team@blindsidenetworks.com as soon as you know your school is closing.  

If you haven’t already done so, please provide your capacity information School Closure Capacity Requirements.

We’ll respond back and work with your team on the rollout of increased usage. 

Q: Will Blindside Networks provide 1st level support to instructors and students?

Students and faculty will continue to use the School’s existing help desk. Blindside Networks provides 2nd level technical support only. 

Some of you may be on 1st support with your LMS provider.  If they are providing you BigBlueButton as a built-in capability, we are directly supporting your LMS provider to ensure issues are resolved quickly. 

Q: What additional support resources can I share?

Here are links to our support material:

Q: Will my school be charged for increased usage?

Blindside Networks charges based on the model of concurrent session.  In a normal year, this number is consistent and grows gradually over the course of the year.

We’re expecting if a school closes, there will be a significant spike in concurrent sessions.

There is no need to renegotiate your contract.  For any month where your purchased capacity is exceeded, we will bill you for the increased usage for just that month.  

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at team@blindsidenetworks.com

Best Practices for using BigBlueButton in the event of a closure

In the event of a closure, we expect many students and faculty are going to be using BigBlueButton for the first time.  

Also, students will be coming in with various levels of bandwidth.

The following is our recommendation for how to ensure faculty and students have the best experience.

1. Where possible, adopt a Flipped Classroom model where you recommend instructors record the instructional content ahead of the class (the recordings will appear in their LMS) and have students view the material before the online class.

2. Use BigBlueButton (or other tools) to record the instructional portion of the lecture ahead of class.   Some of your schools may have other products such as MediaSite, Canvas Studio, Echo 360 and, of course BigBlueButton.  Any of these tools will let you record a lecture.

3. Use BigBlueButton for live sessions that support the recorded content.  This will reduce the need for the instructor to “get through the material” in a live lecture and focus on student engagement, answering questions, and reviewing material.

Of course, instructors can give a live lecture with content as well without recording ahead of time. 

4. Upload slides as PDF and avoid, where possible, sharing screen or using webcams.  Students will be coming in with different levels of bandwidth.  When uploading and sharing PDF slides (and using the whiteboard controls for annotation), BigBlueButton uses very minimal bandwidth and only downloads the slides once to each computer.  

Furthermore, if the instructor shares only their audio, the bandwidth needed by students (aside from loading the client and the slides) is very low.  The audio bandwidth is 50 kbits/sec.

Of course, BigBlueButton can share webcams and screens, but using uploaded PDF slides where possible will reduce issues where students may have insufficient bandwidth to view the streams.

5. Use recommended browsers.  BigBlueButton works best with Chrome and FireFox (and the newest version of Edge released in January 2020).  Students on iOS devices (iOS 12.2+) can join with Safari mobile. Students on Android (6.0+) can join with Chrome mobile.

6. Use Lock settings (recommended especially for K12)

To make classroom management easier for the instructor, BigBlueButton has the ability to lock out features for viewers (students) so they cannot, for example: 

  • private chat
  • edit Shared Notes
  • share webcam
  • share microphone (they will join as Listen Only

Students can still chat, respond to polls, and raise their hands during the lecture.  These settings are recommended for K12 classes.

See Lock Settings.

7. Blindside Networks can configure any account to these lock settings as default for a K12 school (recommended).

By making the above recommended lock settings default, students can not disrupt the class by sharing audio, video, or chatting privately.  This greatly simplifies classroom management for the instructor. An instructor can individually unlock any student during the lecture if needed.

8. Keep class sizes below 100 students.  The recommended size of any conference is 100 students (or less).

Large sectional classes should be broken up so they are 100 students.  The flipped classroom model will also help with keeping the size under 100.

9. Stick to the basic features. There are advanced collaboration features – such as multi-user whiteboard, shared notes, and breakout rooms – and, if you are a seasoned BigBlueButton user, you’re probably using these features, but for short-term usage of BigBlueButton, we recommend using the basic features of public chat, emojis, and polling. 

10. Set expectations on connectivity.  An individual student may get disconnected from a session (such as when their bandwidth drops too low).  Let students know that if they get disconnected, or anything in the client doesn’t seem correct, they can refresh their browser (no need to log out and log back in again).  Refreshing will give them a new connection and, if the bandwidth drop was temporary, they should be able to reconnect within a few seconds to rejoin the lecture.

11. Share this video with your help desk.  We’ve put together a concise 23 minute video to help your help desk with supporting BigBlueButton.  It covers the BigBlueButton’s core features, best practices, and recommendations for resolving some of the common issues with BigBlueButton.  Help Desk Overview for BigBlueButton: https://youtu.be/iZdXmHEQKvs

Last updated: 2020-03-145