By Chris Bell (Senior Learning Technologist – Digital Practice)
Breakout rooms in Blackboard Collaborate allow a session leader, tutor or moderator to split a cohort of students up into ‘breakout groups’ so that they can work on activities such as problem solving, document creation and small group discussion. Once in a breakout room, students are automatically assigned ‘elevated presenter privileges‘, which gives them access to share audio/video, share their screen, use the whiteboard and communicate through the chat box.
Interspersing live synchronous sessions with breakout activities gives students the opportunity to discuss new concepts and ideas in smaller groups, which is something they may be reluctant to do as part of a larger cohort. Whilst working in these smaller spaces we should be encouraging students to summarise and critically reflect on their learning and to build their confidence by discussing and debating ideas with their peer group in an online environment. These social, emotional and interpersonal digital skills are increasingly important to our students’ academic development as they move through their time at Derby and into their professional lives. As such, effective use of breakout rooms should form a key part of the wider online student experience.
As noted, when used effectively and purposefully, breakout rooms can add significant value to a live taught session and greatly enhance the overall student experience. They do, however, require some pre-session planning and guided facilitation during the online session to maximise their potential. Here are some tips to help you prepare and deliver successful sessions with breakout activities:
- Ensure that you have created a document or a slide containing clear instructions or guidance on what we expect students to do as part of their breakout task; we want to empower students to quickly start work on the task in hand, rather than spend time trying to work out what it is they are meant to be doing! Once students are in their breakout rooms, we can quickly distribute the pre-prepared content to the appropriate rooms;
- If we are expecting students to use a shared document (One Drive/Teams), or Padlet to work on together, ensure that these are already set up so we can quickly send the link out to these external sites once the breakout rooms are established. If possible, create some bullet points or headings to keep students on task;
- Create an instruction slide in your ‘main room’ presentation prior to launching into the breakout task. This slide may the same one that we distribute into groups, but it should contain information about the task and how we expect students to work as a collective. For instance, do we want to assign a note taker, a group leader, or designate a member of the group who will present findings back to the main room?
During the Session:
- Ensure that all students have understood the why and how of what is expected of them during their time in a breakout room. You can do this in Blackboard Collaborate by asking the whole cohort to indicate through the status and feedback tools if they are comfortable or confused;
- Praise effective collaboration and groupwork. You can do this by dropping into live breakout rooms, or when groups return to the main room. Stress the importance to your students of being able to communicate, collaborate, debate and discuss in a live online environment;
- Be clear that all students should contribute to the group task and be present at all times during the breakout room slot;
- Ensure that you are also present during this time. Regularly drop into breakout rooms to keep students on task and respond to questions;
- Send chat messages to groups to encourage and guide. Chat is also useful to let students know how much time they have left in their breakout room. Give them some notice before you end the breakout activity and bring them back into the main room;
- Encourage students to raise their hand in their breakout rooms if they need to attract your attention, you can see all raised hands across all breakout rooms.