Revised language for "Breakouts" section of Recommendations for Teaching Carpentries Workshops Online

The Recommendations for Teaching Carpentries Workshops Online page has the current language about breakout rooms:

Breakout rooms are features of a platform where participants can be grouped together and put into private ‘rooms’. For example, a class of 20 learners could be split into 10 breakout rooms with 2 students each. Participants cannot enter or view/listen to other rooms that they are not within.

Creating breakout rooms is fairly straightforward, but nonetheless it’s good to practice with this feature in advance of the workshop. Only a meeting “host” can create breakout rooms in Zoom. If you don’t have time to practice or feel overwhelmed by the added technical management, it’s ok to wait!

For paired programming tasks

This can be a great option. It may be helpful to designate a helper or co-Instructor to take the “host” role and manage breakouts. The host can also visit rooms to check on progress, message all rooms, and can re-assign other participants (e.g. other helpers) to specific rooms.

For providing 1:1 support

This may be a bit trickier. Participants in breakout rooms are removed from the main room, so will miss ongoing instruction. Alternative support options, such as a separate chat channel (e.g. Slack) may be preferable to breakouts for handling learner-helper side conversations and debugging sessions.

For more Zoom tips, see The Carpentries Handbook.

Based on a (hopefully!) comprehensive review of the feedback we’ve received so far, I am proposing updating to the following language:

Breakout rooms are features of a platform where participants can be grouped together and put into private ‘rooms’. For example, a class of 20 learners could be split into 10 breakout rooms with 2 students each. Participants cannot enter or view/listen to other rooms that they are not assigned to.

Creating breakout rooms is fairly straightforward, but nonetheless it’s good to practice with this feature in advance of the workshop. Only a meeting “host” can create breakout rooms in Zoom. If you don’t have time to practice or feel overwhelmed by the added technical management, it’s ok to wait!

There are two main ways to use breakout rooms - to have learners co-work on exercises, and to place learners and helpers together for troubleshooting and additional help.

For co-working on exercises

We recommend this use of breakout rooms, with the following caveats:

  • Allow extra time for transitioning back and forth between breakouts and the main session. Budget about four minutes of transition time for each time you use breakouts.
  • Tell learners how much time they will have for each exercise. Be time-zone neutral (e.g. “You will have 20 minutes” instead of “You will have until 9:20).
  • Use the same room assignments for each exercise, to reduce time needed for learners to introduce themselves to each other and establish a dynamic for working together. You could also create new room assignments after each major break, if you’d like to give learners an opportunity to work with new partners.
  • Make breakout rooms small (2-3 learners), and include a helper or co-Instructor in each room if possible. If there aren’t enough helpers for each room, assign helpers to rooms with learners who need additional support.
  • Designate a helper or co-Instructor to manage breakouts. This person will need to be assigned the “host” role in Zoom. The host can also visit rooms to check on progress, message all rooms, and can re-assign other participants (e.g. other helpers) to specific rooms.
  • Once in a breakout room, learners will not be able to see any chat happening in the main room. Make sure instructions for the exercises are shared elsewhere (e.g. the Etherpad).
  • To help you decide when to close breakout rooms and return to instruction, you can either tell learners to type “done” next to their name in the Etherpad, or have learners rejoin the main room when they are done. Just be consistent in which option you use!

For additional support

We do not recommend using breakout rooms to place learners with helpers for additional support. Participants in breakout rooms are removed from the main room, so will miss ongoing instruction. Instead, we recommend addressing issues through a separate chat channel (e.g. Slack) and assigning helpers and co-Instructors to assist in individual breakout rooms during exercises as described above. For very small workshops (<10 learners), having learners share their screen and get individual help in the main room may also work.

Known technical issues

  • Participants with low bandwidth connections may be dropped from calls when attempting to join a breakout room. If this happens in your workshop, be responsive to those learners’ needs and consider not using breakouts for the rest of the session.
  • Helpers and co-Instructors who are assigned “co-Host” status in Zoom have the ability to move between breakout rooms, but sometimes this feature breaks. Having a Helper or co-Instructor assigned to manage breakout rooms will reduce the impact of this technical issue.

For more Zoom tips, see The Carpentries Handbook.

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This is great! I’d like to add a little more emphasis on our recommendation of use for group exercises, as we’ve had robust positive feedback on this from learners as well as instructor reports on their own impressions & feedback.

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