One of the biggest “real life” equivalents often missing from online learning is the ability to easily split students into smaller groups. Non-online teachers have traditionally used breakout rooms, meaning that they physically divided their students into groups. It inspires creativity and facilitated peer-to-peer participation, or even peer-to-peer tutoring and mentoring. The process can also give the instructor a chance to teach a concept to a smaller group first before bringing it to the entire classroom.
One of my favourite parts about working in a classroom was splitting the attendees into small groups. They all seem to be united in the excitement. Some like putting their heads together to get creative, some like the opportunity to mentor other students, and some like being able to just ask me a question but otherwise try to figure out something themselves. I suspect some also like the break from routine.
As an instructor who has long been interested in exploring the potential of online learning, I thought the group experience would be lost if I went digital. Asking people to break up into small groups and then bring everyone back to the main group definitely seemed a technical challenge. So when I realized Tangent Training already had the functionality and practicality of online breakout rooms, I was thrilled to test them out. They work exactly like physical groups in offline settings. ’Breakout rooms’ allows groups of students to be assigned to a separate room for a certain project, and then everyone reports back. These ‘breakout sessions’ also offer online classroom tools, such as a virtual whiteboard to jot down notes that everyone in the room can see, plus the ability for every member to interact, talk and text each other.
So these are a few of the activities our teachers use in Tangent’s virtual classrooms:
Break the ice with breakout rooms
The start of a new class can be exciting in a traditional classroom, not just from the new knowledge heading your way, but the opportunity to interact with fellow students. Until the instructor did that loud “teacher” whistle to begin the day’s lesson, it was fun just chatting, But with the advent of online education, social interactions seemed to minimize as teachers began to focus squarely on the instruction. But with breakout rooms, social aspects can still be a part of overall cohesion and the learning experience with icebreakers in the breakout sessions.
Break out of the box with breakout rooms
Imagine an unlimited size classroom – what teacher wouldn’t like that? Desks can be easily configured in many combinations. Remember, how large spaces can help students learn in different ways. But it’s not only possible during online sessions, it’s actually better. In fact, you can now think beyond a one-size-fits-all approach. Since no classroom or student is the same, breakout rooms can assist all sorts of student needs and wants. Maybe a group of bright students could work on related problems while the instructor spends additional time with students who may need extra attention. This keeps the former group challenged and not bored or impatient waiting for everyone to catch up. In addition:
Break monotony and promote self-direction
Traditional or newer teachers may prefer the basic model of being in front of the class and sharing knowledge, even in online settings. But more advanced educators or those who may want to experiment can consider using breakout rooms for breaking the monotony and promote self-direction. Easy innovations can include:
Break from instructor-learner hierarchy
Instead of being just a one-way instructor, we use the breakout rooms to make sure everyone figures out the required information. By splitting up the class with giving shared tasks, we can inspire attendees to dig deeper and push harder within themselves. Remember the “Dead Poet’s Society”? A 1989 movie. Robin Williams portraying an English teacher, John Keating, at a stuffy prep school, who applied unusual teaching methods to connect and inspire students. Rather than sharing the same old dull curriculum that every other teacher did, Keating focused on making sure his students could channel their inner discipline and creative drive to become strong leaders. Willing and eager to seize the day – and help each other along the way.
Search for multiple answers and multiple roles
Even if every group is given the same problem or exercise, attendees can still brainstorm different solutions. As an instructor, the exercise is a good way to observe group dynamics and how well all students followed the activity and tested language knowledge, not necessarily if they all came up with similar answers. This effort can also incorporate role playing. I can give different personas related to the current lessons to the different groups. Students can focus on learning more about these personas in their lessons.
So there you have a few ideas that we have come up with for ‘breakout rooms’. Now it’s your turn to book a course or even try one of our ‘taster’ classes and have fun with Tangent in our virtual classrooms.
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