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Online students located outside of the U.S. are subject to their residential country’s regulations on access to websites and online tools. Additionally, students in some regions may only have access to low-speed internet connections, which can affect page loading and uploads/downloads. Your choice of learning tools and course design can impact students’ ability to effectively learn and participate in your course. Below is information to guide you in supporting these students.

Affected Sites and Students

Some governments in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Asia, especially mainland China, prohibit the use of certain websites and applications. Commonly blocked site types include social media, collaboration platforms, western news outlets, collaborative content engines (e.g., Wikipedia), and media streaming services. 

Even when accessing non-blocked sites, students located in these countries may experience:

  • Longer page load times, especially with media-rich content.
  • Parts of pages not loading correctly or allowing full functionality.
  • Inability to access blocked elements, such as a YouTube video embedded in a Canvas page.
  • Limited collaborative features in productivity tools such as Google Docs, Microsoft365, or Slack.

Some restrictions can be bypassed by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). However, VPNs are illegal, restricted, or difficult to obtain in certain countries, including China. Please advise students to consult local laws and regulations before connecting to a VPN to access course materials.

Known Availability Issues

Penn-supported technologies that are banned or restricted by one or more foreign governments:

This list is updated as we learn of new issues. If you are aware of restrictions on a Penn-supported tool not listed here, please email CETLI.

Keep in mind that course material from some online sources may not be accessible in certain countries, even if you have linked or embedded it in Canvas. To avoid access issues for students, consider downloading the content and adding the files directly to Canvas or Panopto.

Course Design Recommendations

Inform students of technical requirements. Provide information to students about required technologies used in the course and who to contact with questions. Some online programs, such as LPS and MHCI, also provide this information to prospective students along with other program policies.

Host all materials in Canvas. There are no known international access restrictions on learning management systems. Canvas is PennKey-protected and students can securely access course content. However, some international users may still experience long page load times, time-out errors, or certain elements not loading correctly.

Store video content in Panopto. Panopto is a private alternative to video hosting platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo, which are blocked in several countries. It also integrates directly into Canvas sites via the Class Recordings menu item.

Avoid posting files that require downloading. Students living in regions with low-speed connectivity may not be able to download and open large files, such as PowerPoint presentations. Consider embedding content to display in Canvas or converting files to PDF, which can be viewed directly within a browser or more easily downloaded.

Recommend that students use desktop apps. Some applications, such as Microsoft365 suite, can be accessed online or downloaded to a desktop. Students whose internet connection is unreliable or highly restricted may wish to download the desktop versions to avoid losing their work due to connection interruptions.

Create spaces for collaboration. Many collaboration-focused web tools are among those prohibited in certain countries. Consider using communication tools within Canvas, such as whole- or small-group Discussions, Announcements, or Inbox, to provide accessible spaces for students to collaborate on projects and participate in the course community. 

Get Help

If you have questions about supporting students who are facing barriers to technology access, please email CETLI for assistance.

For support with Penn technology tools, please contact your local support provider.

Michigan State University provides a list of technologies with potential availability issues by country. For a comprehensive list of known technology limitations in China, see University of Washington or search for a list of blocked sites using Comparitech.