Guidelines for Using Breakout Rooms in Zoom
A quick Google search will show you that there are a lot of guidelines for using Zoom in our courses. In addition to our Guidelines for Teaching With Zoom resource, we wanted to add a few suggestions for when you decide to use Zoom’s breakout rooms. It’s a good feature to consider, especially because it might invite relatively quiet students to participate in a relatively safe way.
IT can show you how, exactly, to use the breakout room function in their Zoom Guide. For now, though, it’s enough to say that you can divide – ahead of time or in the moment, automatically or manually – the people in the session into a maximum of 50 smaller groups.
When you do so, consider following some guidelines to make sure that effort is worth it.
Give clear instructions.
When teaching remotely, it’s key to be really clear about whatever you’re asking students to do. So, in the LMS (for example) you’ll need to write easy-to-follow, specific instructions about how to submit assignments or how to participate on discussion boards. You’ll have to spell out everything, from what they need to click to what a good post looks like.
When it comes to breakout rooms, give the following information:
- What is the task?
- What roles (e.g., reporter, recorder, contributor) do people need to play in the group?
- How much time do they have?
- What will they be responsible for when they return from the breakout room?
Consider posting all this information on a slide before people leave for their breakout rooms. You might even put it into the chat function.
If you were asking students to work in smaller groups in a face-to-face class, you’d probably walk around, checking in on the groups and seeing what questions they have. You can do the same in Zoom. You can send everyone a message; or you can join a particular group – and its members have any questions. Consider warning students ahead of time that you might be doing so.
Give the task time.
Dividing people into groups takes some effort in Zoom. So, it’s likely not to be a good use of your time for brief activities, such as turning to the person beside you to share your response for a minute or two. Give people time to adjust to the breakout room and the task at hand. There isn’t a clear formula here, but we’re suggesting a task should be at least 10 minutes (to make it worth it) and no more than 40 minutes or so (to make sure you don’t lose students).
Review the work that happened in the breakout rooms.
Before moving to the next activity, gather ideas or responses from the smaller groups. Consolidate and summarize along the way. If there are a lot of groups, solicit responses from a few. That way, the students will feel like their efforts had a purpose.
Honour the work that you’re asking the students to do.
This could be one way to show that you care about students’ learning. As you consolidate the smaller groups’ responses, compile a list (perhaps on a live slide or in a shared Google doc) to refer to throughout the class. Maybe it’ll provide a bridge to the next idea; maybe it’ll provide a resource for the students to refer to after the class ends. It’ll show that the task had a purpose and that the students’ contributions are valued. They’ll be more likely to participate the next time.
Written by: Joel Baetz
Last Updated: 1 September 2020.