Breakout rooms generate mixed reactions for UT-Austin student learning experience

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Photo Credit: Destiny Alexander | Daily Texan Staff

Professors are using Zoom breakout rooms for online class activities and discussions, but students are divided on how productive the learning strategy is.

On Zoom, professors can create breakout rooms where students meet in small groups for class discussion and activities. Some students say breakout rooms have enhanced their learning experience, while others say they have had awkward and unproductive sessions, but they still feel they are a good option for online learning.

“(Breakout rooms are) one of the best ways to personalize a bigger class and let the students share with one another when attending online classes,” communication studies professor Keri Stephens said in an email. “But it is not as easy as we thought it would be. It takes lots of planning to help the students be successful.”

In a video produced for the Faculty Innovation Center, Stephens said she recommends professors carefully plan logistics, such as time and structure, when they use breakout rooms. Stephens said she has students complete shared worksheets during breakout rooms and she visits breakout rooms with her teaching assistants to hold groups accountable.

 

Advertising senior Cole Longanecker said he uses breakout rooms for discussions and activities in one class, but sometimes no one will say anything or turn their cameras on in the rooms. 

“There’s that little bit of anxiety when the professor’s like ‘OK, now we’re going to go to breakout rooms,’” Longanecker said. “I’m like ‘Oh god, I hope I get somebody who wants to talk and actually wants to participate.’”

Longanecker said the awkwardness in breakout rooms has improved as the semester has progressed. As someone who prefers discussion-based classes, he said he would rather share ideas in the full class, but understands that might not be feasible for all courses.

Alcess Nonot, UT Senate of College Councils president, said during fall semester planning, the Senate submitted a list of recommendations to the Online Education Task Force faculty committee to make classes more engaging, which included breakout rooms. 

“We recommended that professors acknowledge that Zoom classes are a new experience for students too and that … they break up class times (i.e instead of straight lecturing) by using breakout rooms, incorporating breaks, etc.,” Nonot said in an email.

Nonot, a human development and family science and biology senior, said breakout rooms are effective when tasked with specific activities. She said professors should ask students how they feel about class delivery and adjust class from that feedback.

Arleana Mweyola, an international relations and global studies sophomore, said breakout rooms are less effective for larger classes because she doesn’t get to know anyone in the class.

However, Mweyola said she enjoys breakout rooms in her Arabic class, which has only 10 students, because she gets to know her classmates.

“We’ll speak in Arabic and try to explain to each other what our (reading passages) are talking about and it helps better our speaking skills,” Mweyola said. “They’re usually very chill because we all know each other.”