The Zoom Breakout Room Dilemma

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Illustration by Echo Dieu

Angeleen So

Contributing Writer

Online learning has been difficult for both students and instructors. Although some may dislike Zoom because of the uncomfortable silences and robotic mic glitches, the feature has made communicating with peers a lot easier in this trying time of social distancing.

For those who have somehow lucked out of being forced into one of these rooms, the breakout room feature on Zoom allows an instructor to move students into a smaller discussion group of around four to five people. The rooms were implemented to promote discussion and interaction between students, but they also have some unintended byproducts. 

While breakout rooms were created for discussion, the rooms often cultivate long, uncomfortable silences as shyer students are not used to being forced into a situation where everyone is expected to speak. There is also the time wasted being forced to introduce oneself as many professors randomize the groups rather than creating preset discussion teams. 

On the other hand, breakout rooms are giving quarantined students much needed social interactions that they may be missing due to their living conditions. The rooms also allow some students to share more easily without the feeling of every single classmate watching over them. 

“While breakout rooms were created for discussion, the rooms often cultivate long, uncomfortable silences as shyer students are unused to being forced into a situation where everyone is expected to speak.”

Many instructors like this option because peer discussion allows students to speak with others on their own level rather than feeling pressured to give a correct answer to a professor; however, some students argue that it is unnecessary, as it forces more interaction than they had even in a physical classroom setting. 

When asked about her experience with the rooms in an interview with The Bottom Line, Taylor Yung, a second-year biology major, said that breakout rooms may have some benefits.

“I actually don’t mind break[out] rooms depending on the people I’m placed with. For my MCDB 1B section, we’re placed into break rooms every week with the same five to six people and it’s good because we’ve grown used to each other and they’re very nice people,” Yung said.

Stephanie Nguyen, a second-year biology major, stated that she liked some of the discussion rooms but conceded that it can be awkward. 

“On the other hand, breakout rooms are giving quarantined students much needed social interactions that they may be missing due to their living conditions.”

“Sometimes we’ve finished discussing everything, and it’s just completely silent. Once we were in a breakout of three, and one person didn’t respond to us,” Nguyen explained. 

There are definitely students that can sympathize. Virtual rooms create a social environment where people can remove themselves from the situation by turning off their webcam and microphones if they don’t feel like talking for the day. This leads to many breakout rooms filled with discomforting silence and blank screens. 

While breakout rooms have both positive and negative aspects, it all seems to boil down to the type of person someone is. If a student is sociable and feels comfortable talking in a close-knit setting, of course they’d feel inclined to say they like the feature; on the other hand, more introverted students may find the room intrusive or anxiety-inducing. 

Almost every student has been through an awkward situation where they were forced to introduce themselves to everyone in class. With the incorporation of the breakout room feature, many students are forced to experience this on a smaller scale during every section, so is it any surprise that many dislike it and wish that it wasn’t becoming more common?

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