Using Breakout Rooms for Collaborative Work in Synchronous Sessions

Editor’s Note: The following post is an assignment from the La Salle faculty training course Collaboration Online Plus. In this assignment, course participants are tasked with redesigning an face-to-face lesson for the online environment. Please show support to your fellow Lasallians by leaving your feedback on their ideas in the comments section below this post.

The assignment from “Tips, Techniques, and Ready-to-Use Activities for the Virtual Classroom, ” by Jennifer Hoffman that I could see myself using in a synchronous environment would be similar to the idea behind the “Group Scavenger Hunt.” In this technique, students are broken into smaller groups in a breakout session and are asked to work together to come up with answers to a certain assignment.


I can see two different ways that I would be able to use this technique in my course. Although this is not something I currently do in my face to face classes, I think it would be beneficial to the students to assign a series of theoretical questions about the material in an upcoming chapter. As I would be teaching chemistry, these questions would relate to whatever chapter was coming up next. The students could then work together to figure out the answers to these questions. The number of questions assigned would dictate the amount of time I would give the students to perform this activity. What I like about the synchronous environment is that as an instructor, I will be able to check into their breakout rooms and check to make sure the students are drawing the correct conclusions. As this would be our introduction to the chapter, I wouldn’t expect the students to come into this session having done any preparatory work. After the assignment is over, I would have each individual student submit a summary of their understanding of the answers to the questions so that I could assess whether each student understood.


One thing that I currently do in my face to face classes is to give out problem sets for the students to work through with their classmates in class. I think this could be converted very well into the above assignment, as students could talk about the ways to attack a problem and come up with a solution. I would be able to check in with each of the groups to make sure that they understand the problems, and could also go over any areas of confusion in groups right away. To prepare for this session, I would ask that the students have studied the material that we have already gone over in class.

5 replies on “Using Breakout Rooms for Collaborative Work in Synchronous Sessions”

  1. I like the problem-set assignment. One asynchronous strategy that I have seen work well is to have students do a narrated screencast of themselves working through a problem. They can take a video of them talking about what’s going on on there screen and then post it to the course for the instructor and their classmates to provide feedback on.

    1. That’s a great idea and one that I hadn’t considered before. That might be a good idea to assign if we don’t have class time to dedicate to the problem sets or to give as an option if students want to help each other. Thanks for the great idea!

  2. Laura:

    I read your post last, but you answered a question I had about break out rooms & the instructor’s role. I wonder how checking on group progress looks (similar to walking around and checking in on small groups in the classroom)? Do student’s return to the main room to raise their hand if you are needed?


  3. Hi Matthew,

    I’m not entirely sure of the answer to your question. I would imagine they would be able to access the professor in some way if they need help during a break out session. I don’t see why they wouldn’t be able to return to the main room. The article made it sound as though the professor can enter the breakout rooms to check on the students as well, though.


    1. Laura is correct here. The students could also send a chat to the instructor if they needed help. Ideally, the instructor would be checking in on the breakout rooms periodically.

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