Eye of the Editors: Breakout Rooms

Opinion: Breakout rooms exacerbate the problems that plague group work without student participation nor interaction.


“I’m going to split you guys up into breakout rooms,” has become one of the most dreaded phrases teachers can say to a class during this time of virtual learning. Zoom breakout rooms, as a means of working on projects and assignments with one’s peers, are not only ineffective but also make group work even more problematic than it’s ever been in the past.

When Diamond Bar High School had in-person learning, students working with one another were monitored in the classroom at all times. If there were group assignments, teachers would pace around the classroom, listening in on conversations and making sure everyone was working. 

Now, unless a teacher is in the breakout room, students don’t feel any pressure to help their peers, let alone speak at all. Teachers can check in to each room for a couple of minutes, but it is easy for students to pretend to work during this short amount of time and, as soon as they are alone again, return to an awkward silence. 

Unfortunately, some students refuse to contribute even their presence. With online classes, students can just mute their microphones and turn off their cameras. 

If confronted about this, or their fellow group members inform the teacher,  a multitude of excuses are offered: students can simply say their microphone is broken, their internet connection is spotty, their camera is broken. Teachers can’t argue with these excuses, so the students who are participating are forced to pick up the slack. 

It’s important to note that group work does have theoretical benefits, especially in courses such as English or history. Working with one’s peers exposes a student to different opinions and ideas, which can broaden their perspective. Another situation where group work can be beneficial is when a  student is struggling with the material or doesn’t understand an assignment, then they can ask their peers. 

Also, it is important to take into account that during this pandemic, students are essentially starved of any semblance of social interaction with their peers, so working collaboratively in smaller groups can help satisfy this need. 

However, students can only reap these benefits if everyone in the breakout room cooperates, which, more often than not, is not the case.

It is clear that breakout rooms are not functional, but teachers can’t just get rid of group work and projects entirely. There’s no perfect solution, but there are things that can be done to minimize certain problems. 

Teachers could allow students to choose their groups so they would be more comfortable talking with one another and participating. However, the diversity of opinions might be lost if students remain in the same group each time. 

Without an easy solution to the countless problems that come with breakout rooms, students will have little choice but to continue to endure group assignments that are more frustrating than ever before. 

There is not much teachers can do to solve these complications, but I implore students to make an effort to participate in groups and try to make the best of group work, especially since it’s not going away any time soon.