Breakout Rooms: Instructor Preparation & Student Engagement

by / Sunday, 09 June 2019 / Published in Adult Learning, Blackboard, Teaching with Technology

breakoutI mentioned in a previous entry that running synchronous online classes can be more challenging for instructors than face-to-face classes and that is it often all too easy to slip into a lecture-style presentation to combat a feeling of being over-whelmed while teaching a large group online.

Baehr (2012) and Peacock et al (2012) found that instructors spent around 20% more time preparing for online classes compared to face-to-face classes and that the level of concentration needed for online teaching was also more intense. To combat the added stress to the instructor and to increase student engagement and interaction, these studies pushed for the use of break-out rooms during classes.

Kathy Chandlier from the UK Open University  published a small scale study (Chandlier (2016) of her own online classes and the use of break-out rooms in Blackboard Collaborate and her findings are useful for us when preparing for classes. Her research questions focused on the benefits and barriers of breakout rooms with synchronous online classes and in summary, she found the following – some of which are more obvious than others:


  • students are more relaxed and interact far more in breakout rooms than the main room
  • breakout rooms work better if students are given specific activities to work on such as reordering or labeling on the room’s whiteboard rather than broader discussions.
  • Time when students are in small groups can be used by the instructor to help students one-one with specific questions.
  • pairs in breakout rooms produced more work than those in the main room when asked to work on mock exam questions together.


  • the most significant barrier to using breakout rooms was the instructor’s lack of skill with Collaborate resulting in lower confidence.

With these findings in mind, in later entries of this blog, we’ll start listing specific examples of breakout room activities that can be set-up with minimal preparation in Collaborate to encourage instructor use.


Baehr, C. (2012). Incorporating user appropriation, media richness, and collaborative knowledge sharing into blended elearning training tutorial.
IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 55(2), 175184
Chandler, Kathy. (2016). Using Breakout Rooms in Synchronous Online Tutorials. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice. 4. 10.14297/jpaap.v4i3.216.
Peacock, S., Murray, S., Dean, J., Brown, D., Girdler, S., & Mastrominico, B. (2012). Exploring tutor and student experiences in online synchronous
learning environments in the performing arts. Creative Education, 3(7), 12691280


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.