Using Breakout Groups To Increase Student Engagement

Using breakout groups to increase student/student engagement

Instructional Challenge

In many of the active learning activities identified for remote instruction use, there is a need for students to chat and work collaboratively on a topic. Instead of working together in physical groups, instructors will need to leverage technology to enable student interaction. This document walks you through the process of setting up and using breakout rooms in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and Zoom.

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Using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra for Breakout Rooms

Setting Up a Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Session

You must first create a Blackboard Collaborate Ultra session for your class activity. This is where students will go to work together while in the classroom. Note: Breakout groups are only available in sessions with 250 or fewer attendees. You can create up to 20 breakout rooms. There is no limit to the number of attendees you can put in each group.

  1. Select the BBCollaborate Ultra link in your Canvas course navigation bar.
  2. Select Create Session.
  3. Provide a name for the session (Example: In-Class Group Investigation Activity)
  4. Select Session Settings (Gear Icon)
    1. Since students will not easily be able to use audio or video in the classroom, due to feedback issues, consider removing these features by deselecting the Share audio and Share video permissions.
    2. Since students may want to use the whiteboard as they collaborate, make sure the Draw on whiteboard and files feature is selected.
  5. Select Create.

Managing Breakout Room Sessions

Before the class session, think about group formation. How do you want to organize the students into groups? Either create groups before class, ask for students to form their groups, or organize groups randomly. Be aware that Blackboard Collaborate Ultra does not allow you to create groups before class. This needs to be done in real-time. Follow these directions when you are in the classroom:

  1. Direct students to your Canvas course and then to the BBCollaborateUltra menu on the sidebar.
  2. Have students select the session you created (Example: In-Class Group Investigation Activity)
  3. Once students are in the room you have three options:
    1. Random Assign: This is the fastest way to create groups as it just asks how many groups you want and it automatically populated students into them. By default, you will not be assigned a group. Students will also not be able to change groups.
    2. Custom Assignment - Moderator Assigned: This option would work best if you needed specific groups formed and you already had those groups defined.
    3. Custom Assignment - Participate Assigned: If you let students create their groups spontaneously in the classroom, this option is the easiest way to form groups. Select the Allow attendees to switch groups box and identify the number of groups to create. Direct students which group to add themselves to verbally. To add themselves to a group, students should click on the box with a green arrow icon to the right of the group name.
      group formation
  4. Once all students have been added to groups, select the Start button to activate the group breakout spaces. To stop or end a breakout session, select End. Note: once you end a breakout session, all group assignments are cleared.

Using the Chat Feature

Once students are in the breakout rooms, They can communicate with one another using the Chat feature by clicking on the Chat icon found in the Collaboration Panel. In the breakout room, messages go only to group members. Users can send a message to the instructor by clicking on the Moderator button in the Chat window.

chat window

Using the Whiteboard Feature

If group members want to collaborate on a surface, they can use the group whiteboard, found under the Share Content icon in the Collaboration Panel. Select Share Blank Whiteboard.
whiteboardshare whiteboard

Using Zoom for Breakout Rooms

Setting Up a Zoom Session

You must first create a Zoom session. This is where students will go to work together while in the classroom. Note: Breakout groups are only available in sessions with 250 or fewer attendees. You can create up to 20 breakout rooms. There is no limit to the number of attendees you can put in each group.

  1. Sign into your UW-Madison Zoom account.
  2. Select Schedule a meeting.
  3. Provide a name for the session (Example: Anthro 100 Tues/Thurs 11-11:50am).
  4. Select Create.

Managing Breakout Room Sessions

Before the class session, think about group formation. How do you want to organize the students into groups for the planned activity?

Note: You can create up to 50 breakout rooms. There is no limit to the number of attendees you can put in each room.

Zoom does have a feature to pre-load breakout groups ahead of time, but that workflow may be difficult to manage as it requires students to log in with the exact email used for assignments. The pre-loading workflow also takes additional time and technical skill. Visit  Pre-loading Breakout Groups for instructions and more details. If pre-assigned groups are essential, we recommend considering the Let participants choose room workaround described below.

Follow these directions when you are in the Zoom session:

  1. Select the Breakout room button. If the button is not visible, be sure you have entered the Zoom space through your Zoom portal (i.e. do not enter the session via the same link and passcode given to students).
  2. Enter the preferred number of breakout rooms.
  3. Select one of the following breakout room options:
    • Assign Automatically: If pre-assigned groups are not essential to the activity, the quickest way to assign students to rooms in Zoom is to choose Assign Automatically.
    • Assign Manually: If pre-assigned groups are essential to the activity, use Assign Manually to manually assign students to rooms one-by-one. This option is less ideal for large class sizes.
    • Let participants choose room: If pre-assigned groups are essential, we recommend selecting "Let participants choose room" allowing students to navigate themselves to pre-assigned room numbers rather than attempting the Zoom Breakout room pre-assign tool. Here is a suggested workflow for this option:
      • Send pre-assigned breakout room lists to students ahead of time via  email,  Canvas or shared Google Doc. Room #1: Student A, Student B, etc. Room #2: Student A, Student B, etc.
      • Plan a few extra minutes the first time students are asked to navigate to their own room.
      • Select Let participants choose room to enable students to move themselves to rooms. 
  4. Select Create. This will not open the rooms yet. A window will open titled Breakout Rooms - Not Started. If you have opted to manually assign students, this is where you will drag and drop students. 
  5. Prior to selecting the Open all rooms button, Breakout Room Options can be adjusted by clicking on the gear icon. Options include managing the countdown timer, allowing participants to move to the main room at any time, etc.
  6. To open rooms, select Open all Rooms. 
    1. If you have opted to assign students automatically, students will be automatically launched into their randomly assigned room.
    2. If you opted to assign manually, you should have already dragged and dropped students prior to opening rooms.
    3. If you have opted to let students move themselves, students will receive a screen notification to join a room. The notification is only temporary. Students can click the the breakout room button on the bottom of the Zoom screen at any time to open the breakout room window. Students will either select the Join button next to the target room. Some operating systems require users to hover their cursor over the number of people in a room to make the Join button appear (it'll be a zero until other participants join the room).
  7. When breakout rooms are open, the instructor cannot reach students via chat from the main Zoom room (even though the chat says "everyone"). To make an announcement to all students in all of the rooms, select  Broadcast message to all. The broadcasted message should be brief. It will only display at the top of students' screens temporarily and quickly disappear. Consider using a shared Google Doc for classes if sharing information to small groups is a common instructional need.
  8. Instructors can visit breakout rooms by selecting the Join button next to the target room. Some operating systems require users to hover their cursor over the number of people in a room to make the Join button appear (it'll be a zero until other participants join the room).
  9. Select Close All Rooms to end the breakout room session. Note that the countdown timer will allow students time to finish their conversations. To shorten or lengthen the countdown timer, plan ahead in step 5 above.

See Also:




Keywords:breakout groups, zoom, blackboard, student engagement, breakout rooms   Doc ID:107901
Owner:Timmo D.Group:Remote Instruction
Created:2020-12-15 16:14 CSTUpdated:2021-02-18 15:20 CST
Sites:Learn@UW-Madison, Remote Instruction
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