Although getting students to work in breakout groups is standard practice in many areas, the experience of online breakout groups can be challenging for some students. This is particularly the case for those students who are newer to LJMU and haven’t had a chance to get to know one another. The following tips may help you to manage and make best use of break out rooms to support teaching and learning, as well as encouraging interaction between students and with staff.
- Keep it short. Students may struggle to maintain engagement in a long breakout session. It is better to have a short (generally no longer than 15 minutes) session with a very clear emphasis. This will allow students to focus on a short and manageable task. Exceptions may be for group tasks for level six students or post-graduates who may require time for lengthier discussion.
- Be clear what you want. Tell students exactly what you expect them to do. Break down any overall expectations into a series of short and relatively straightforward tasks. Ideally, this should include some outcome that they can bring back into the larger group. If the full class is too large to facilitate every group feeding back, then you can forewarn them that you will randomly select a couple of groups.
- Ask students to screen grab or take a photo of your instructions before going into breakout rooms.
- Assign roles. Students can easily get side-tracked with long discussions about who should do what. Worse still, if they don’t know each other very well, the lack of clear roles may paralyse them into doing nothing. You can avoid this by nominating people to take a specific role. Possibly the most obvious of these is who will feed back. However, timekeepers, note-takers and facilitators are also important.
- Drop-in. If you can, visit each of the groups to check that they are on track.
- Assign co-hosts. If you are working with a colleague, an online teaching assistant or want students to help support their peers, make them co-hosts before you open the breakout rooms. That means that they can visit any of the rooms.
- Encourage students to use cameras. Many students will keep their cameras off in large groups and that will follow through into breakout groups. This will constrain interaction. Getting students to switch on cameras can help them to feel more involved with the group
- Cameras. Include a request to have cameras on in your instructions
- Group Sizes. Build up the size of break-out rooms from a pair/few participants to larger groups. Consider how different group sizes may be used in a single session – perhaps equivalent to asking students in a classroom to ‘turn to a neighbour’ and then ‘work in small groups’ on the next task
- Backgrounds. Remind students that they can use a background if they’d rather not have their study environment on screen.
- Pre-assign groups. Zoom offers various options for group set up. Random allocation is fine but does mean that students won’t necessarily know each other. Pre-assigning groups will effectively set up small study groups so that students can become familiar and more comfortable with each other. This also allows you to coordinate Zoom Breakout rooms with Canvas groups so that students can blend synchronous activity in Zoom sessions with asynchronous group work
- Provide additional activities to promote motivation and interaction. Using quizzes or discussion boards alongside the breakout rooms can help to capture topics discussed or to test knowledge. These can then be made available after the session to develop learning outside of the session.
If I send attendees into a ‘breakout room’ by random assignment, will these groups remain throughout the session if I want to use groups more than once?
Yes, they will stay in the same groups.
This is also the case if you pre-assign them to breakout rooms i.e. once you close and re-open the rooms, they will be placed into the same rooms.
Whether you pre-assign or not, you always have the ability within the session to ‘recreate’ the breakout rooms with a new set of groupings.
Also, a nice function of the pre-assigning method is that when in the live session, you can always ‘reset’ back to the pre-assigned rooms. So, you can switch between preassigned and randomly assigned groups if you want to mix things up a little.
Is the host the only person who can assign groups?
Yes – there can only ever be one ‘host’ who will be able to generate groups. You can make someone else the host if necessary. You can also create co-hosts. Having co-hosts can be valuable to assist with facilitating break-out rooms and activities.
Who can drop in and out of breakout rooms?
Students will stay in their assigned room but hosts and co-hosts can drop in and out of breakout rooms. Co-hosts will only be able to view the breakout room controls after joining their first Break-out room. Once in a room they can move to another room.