Elevating Student Engagement in Breakout Rooms

Students want to interact with each other. In fact, they learn better when they do. In a national survey of undergraduate students during the COVID-19 pandemic, 65% of participants identified the opportunity to collaborate with other students as one of the aspects of their learning that suffered from the shift to remote instruction. How can we remedy this going forward?

The breakout room feature in Zoom presents an adaptation of the small-group discussion environment in the physical classroom. As such, it provides an opportunity to attain the affordances of collaborative learning and student-to-student interaction in the remote modality. However, one of the lessons learned from the spring pivot to remote teaching centered on a recurring question from faculty: How do I get my students to engage productively in meaningful discussions of learning material in breakout rooms (Izenberg, 2020)?

This question, often faced in face-to-face settings as well, underscores the need to apply evidence-based pedagogical practices to support student learning in the remote modality (DeRosa, 2020). One thing is clear, putting students into groups and giving them a learning task to complete does not automatically translate into student engagement (Orlando, 2020). Invariably, the outcome is student passivity and disengagement.

Yet, discussion in breakout room groups is a great active learning strategy for helping students to practice and apply the learning material, and to interact productively with each other during a live Zoom class. Going forward with remote teaching 2.0 in the fall, it is critical for faculty to facilitate greater student learning in breakout room discussions.

In this infographic, I present three step-by-step strategies for maximizing student engagement in breakout rooms. The first step delineates the components of intentional pre-planning of breakout room discussions. The second step addresses best practices for scaffolding student learning in breakout rooms. In the third step, the instructor invites students to complete a feedback survey after the discussion assignment. The survey accomplishes two purposes. First, students self-reflect on what they learned and how they interacted with their peers. Second, the instructor collects just-in-time information to improve subsequent discussions.


DeRosa, R. (2020). Values-centered instructional planning. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/views/2020/05/13/consistent-mission-aligned-instructional-framework-fall-and-beyond

Izenberg, I. (2020). Using Breakout Rooms with Less Stress and Better Results. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/using-breakout-rooms-with-less-stress-and-better-results/

Orlando, J. (2020). A framework for video discussions. Retrieved from https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/online-learning/a-framework-for-video-discussions/

Funmi Amobi is an Instructional Consultant and College Liaison in Oregon State University’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Funmi provides consultations to faculty in individual and small group settings to support teaching excellence and student success.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Leave a Reply