ISP Troubleshooting Suggestions

We often are called on to solve strange problems that students have with Blackboard, and I see these discussions on some of the lists all the time. A year or so ago, I pulled together a list of things to check and it has served us well.

Some are them are obvious to seasoned users, but some really are not (checking the time zone settings for example). Read on for the full list of suggestions:

This is a comprehensive list of troubleshooting suggestions for students with connectivity problems.

The symptoms vary, but students may be seeing a blank screen, or are unable to get past a login screen or get cookie-related errors.

The first step is to get some core information from the student:


There are ISPs which cause known problems, most commonly AOL. For AOL users, the standard recommendation is to log on, but then minimize the AOL browser window and switch to using a standard browser like Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox.

Browser and version

If the browser is not up to date, it should be patched and upgraded.

Operating system

Although we support older operating systems, they will be more vulnerable to viruses and spyware, and attention should be paid to those issues particularly. For older versions of Windows, which may not support the most up-to-date version of Internet Explorer, an alternative browser is recommended, such as Mozilla Firefox. On alternative operating systems, Firefox is also reccommended, as is Safari on Mac OSX. Internet Explorer is no longer supported by Microsoft on Mac operating systems. On Mac OS 9, Mozilla 1.2.1 is a good choice:

The following instructions assume that the user is using a recent version of Windows and Internet Explorer, but the instructions can be applied to other browsers and operating systems.

  1. Password and account verification

    Reset a user’s password or have the user change their password and verify that they are using the correct account information

  2. Check that the user is using the correct url. Sometimes users bookmark an incorrect url that has subsequently expired.
  3. Check the clock time on the user’s system and the time zone setting. This affects how cookies are treated and expired on their machine. The easiest way to do this in Windows is double-click the displayed time on the start bar.
  4. Cache
    • Check the cache settings – Tools->Internet Options->Settings… and the Check for newer versions of stored pages options. Make sure either Automatically or Every visit to the page are checked
    • Clear the cache – Tools->Internet Options->Delete Files…
    • Close browser windows and restart the browser – this should be done after any applied fix
  5. Cookies
    • Check the security and privacy levels (each has a tab under Tools->Internet Options) and make sure they are not too high, or specifically allow sites as trusted sites.
    • Delete cookies and restart the browser
    • Check for privacy and firewall services, e.g. McAfee Personal Privacy service, Zone Alarm Suite, Norton, etc. – these typically filter cookies as well, and can be configured to allow a particular domain’s cookies for example.
    • User reports behavior of a system “flashes between two urls and never displays anything”. – cookies are disabled, look for some kind of security setting, or third party firewall/security tool. If they have a security suite, try disabling the Web Filter portion temporarily.
  6. Check for web accelerators and disable or uninstall them, or if possible, disable them for this site. A web accelerator (such as those offered by Netscape and Netzero) works by pre-downloading pages and compressing them through a proxy. In general proxies can cause problems for sites that use cookies.
  7. Install and run AdAware ( and/or Spybot S&D ( Many times a user’s machine is infected with adware or spyware that may even be running a web proxy.
  8. Check that the computer is up to date, i.e. run Windows Update
  9. Consider installing an alternative browser such as Firefox. This is usually a good permanent fix for problems.

If none of these fixes resolves a problem, one option is to schedule a screen-sharing session with the user using Microsoft NetMeeting, VNC, Remote desktop connection, or a system like Macromedia Breeze. This will enable us to look over a user’s shoulder while they are trying to use a system.

Our last resort resolution will involve scheduling a screen-sharing session, watching our internal logs, and installing iehttpheaders on Internet Explorer – or livehttpheaders on Firefox –, so that we can watch and record the user’s http traffic.

Leave a Reply