Abolish the Zoom Breakout Room
Today, I sat silently in a Breakout Room — Zoom’s seemingly innovative way to mirror IRL group discussion online — waiting for someone else to talk. When they inevitably didn’t, I’d toss in a few questions here and there to try to illicit a response from my peers to no avail (to be fair, the reading was dense and I’m sure none of us were prepared to discuss it at length). Unlike figuring out an assignment together in person, where you can ask your teacher a question or eavesdrop on other groups, we stared at each other, mics off, for 15 minutes. It felt like an eternity.
I get it. Zoom school is hard. You want to make sure that students feel connected with each other, engage with the material, and have a memorable discussion. That’s what school is all about! But the dreaded Zoom Breakout Room isn’t it, I promise. They only work well if a teacher/professor manages to: 1) leave guidance questions or prompts before breaking out into groups, 2) pops into each Breakout Room to help if people are stuck 3) give groups to synthesize information as an entire class in case they missed something.
Most of the time, that doesn’t happen. (I’ve only ever had one class — out of 10 — in my year of Zoom school that has done this successfully.) The lack of direction combined with the missed opportunity to tie loose threads ends up leaving students confused or lost. Either that, or you have one student doing all the work. It sucks! Please stop making us do this!