Breakout rooms in both Zoom and Collaborate allow you to create smaller subgroups within your session that are perfect for small group work, discussions, or meeting with students one-on-one before returning to the larger group. The ability to create these smaller groups gives you a lot more flexibility in how you can run your online courses and can be an invaluable tool for a wide range of online course applications. 

Whether you’re new to breakout rooms or just want to learn a bit more about how to use them, we’ll cover the basics of how to set them up and share some of the best practices for using them in your courses. 

Setting Up Breakout Rooms 

The first step to becoming a breakout room pro is learning how to set up and navigate between breakout rooms. Most instructors at COD will be using either Blackboard Collaborate Ultra or Zoom. While Learning Technologies does not support Zoom (you’ll need to contact IT for any issues), we will give an overview of setup processes here just to be thorough! 

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Setup

Collaborate will create breakout groups with randomly selected students for you, but you can also choose which students to put into each group yourself (which is preferred is entirely up to you and may depend on your goals for the breakout sessions themselves). 

Either way, you’ll go into the Share Content panel and select Breakout Groups. From there, you’ll select either Randomly Assign or Custom Assignment.  Students can move between groups on their own if you select to Allow Attendees to Switch Group. More information about both options: 

  • Random Assign: Your course will need four or more participants for random assignments to be possible. You can also assign yourself to a group with the Include Moderators option. If you don’t like the way groups have been assigned, you can choose to Reassign Attendees. You can also change the number of groups which will, in turn, change the number of participants in each group. 
  • Custom Assign: With this option, you will choose exactly which participants are placed in each group using either drag and drop or the Attendee Options menu. It may be useful to have participants selected to each group prior to class, but keeping in mind that not all students may be in attendance. Add more groups by using the Create new group menu item. 

Keep in mind that there is a limit of 20 groups per Collaborate session. Once you’ve got your groups set up in a way that works for you, you’ll select Start

Zoom Breakout Room Setup 

Before setting up your breakout rooms in Zoom, make sure they are enabled. You will find instructions on enabling breakout rooms here. Once you’re set there, go to the menu and select Breakout Rooms from the menu at the bottom.

A pop up will appear and you can select to assign participants to rooms: 

  • Automatically
  • Manually 

You will also choose how many participants will be in each room. There is a limit of 50 rooms. Once your options have been selected, choose Create Rooms. Your rooms will be created but participants will not automatically be moved into them. 

A breakout room pop up will then appear. From there, you can choose to move all participants into the rooms automatically, allow participants to return to the main room at any time, automatically close the rooms after a set period of time, and set up a countdown for participants as to when the rooms will close. You will also be able to assign participants from this pop up, create more rooms, redo the rooms, and open or close any rooms you wish. 

For additional help and support with Zoom setup, please use the link below: Reminder: LT DOES NOT provide technical support for Zoom. If you have issues or need help, you will need to contact IT. 

Supporting Students

Be mindful of student bandwidth. Web conferencing, especially with video on, can eat up a lot of bandwidth, and some instructors have found that breakout rooms can be even more greedy when it comes to eating up bandwidth. The solution? Don’t assign students with connectivity issues to a breakout room! Just let them stay in the main room and chat. 

Tell students to use the chat box for questions. That way, when you enter a breakout room, you can see the questions and address them right away. Students also won’t have time to forget their questions. 

Send a message to all rooms. Did you know that you can talk to all your breakout groups at once? This is a great way to send instructions, check in, or relay important information. 

Think about recordings. If there is important information that a student who missed a session would need to know (or that everyone else should, too), make sure to address it once everyone is back in the main room. Recordings are not made of every breakout room. 

Circulate between rooms. Make sure to pop into each session at least once to see how everyone is doing. You don’t have to say or do anything unless necessary! 

Make sure students know how to ask for help. Whatever way you want students to reach out to ask for help, make sure they know how to do it. Groups may run into issues or need more clarification and they need a set way to reach out when it happens. 

Breakout Rooms Best Practices

Setting time limits for breakout sessions.  It’s challenging to know how much time to give students in breakout rooms, as some groups may finish quickly while others are barely getting started when you bring them back into the main room. One of the ways you can address this is by creating a system to keep track of where each of your groups is with regard to your learning objectives. You can do this by tracking their work in a shared document, checking in, or some combination of those things. 

Use shared/collaborative documents. You can use any program you like! Just make sure to set them up ahead of time, enable student access, and have instructions for the work right there for students to see. 

Make sure students have a clear task to accomplish. Small group work can be hard, especially for students who may not have ever met in person. Make it a little easier by ensuring that students have a clear objective to complete in their breakout session time. 

Choose the number of students per group wisely. It’s also tricky to figure out just how many students to put in each group. Too many and some end up not contributing. Too few and the work might not get done. Experiment with figuring out what number works best for the type of work your students are doing in their breakout rooms. 

Give students a role. You can help get things going and staying on task by assigning students a role in their breakout rooms. You can delegate leadership or give someone the task of being the first to speak, someone to monitor the time, take notes, etc. 

Keep groups consistent. While it might seem useful to mix students up a different way each class session, many students report preferring to work in the same group. This can be especially important in courses that are taking place exclusively online. Students will already  be familiar with each other, and can get to work more easily. 

Make sure students can check back with instructions. If you’re not using a shared document, make sure there is a place where students can see the question or problem they’re supposed to be addressing in their breakout session. 

Teach students how to use the tech tool. Whether you’re using Collaborate or Zoom, make sure students are familiar with and know how to use the elements that they’ll need to be successful in their breakout sessions. This includes things like screen sharing, whiteboard drawing, and document sharing. 

Make sure YOU know the tech tool. It’s absolutely essential that you know how to use the breakout room features yourself. Spend some time practicing and reading up on how to get set up and troubleshoot any issues. 

Be conscious of accommodations. Whether because students have issues that make breakout rooms difficult for them or because they are simply suffering from Zoom fatigue, let students know how to reach out if they need to opt out of breakout rooms and complete their work in another alternative way.