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Posts Tagged ‘rooms

On Wednesday I said I would try out Zoom’s latest feature, Breakout Rooms.

Unlike the randomised groups that an instructor can already create in Zoom, Breakout Rooms allows an instructor to create and name “rooms” or “spaces” that students enter on their own. The easiest way to think about this is stations in a classroom that students choose to visit.

I tried this tool out and here are my thoughts and critiques.

Issue 1
I had to be the host of the meeting to do this. The host has the administrative capacity in a Zoom classroom and is the only one who can see the Breakout Rooms function. That is, if an even higher authority, the systems administrator, enables Breakout Rooms in their dashboard.

I saw this function during my trial run because a systems administrator already made me host of a session. But I did not see this when I was co-host on the actual day I needed to use it. The systems administrator had to make me the host before I could see the Breakout Rooms function appear on my tool bar.

Why is this important? Depending on an institution’s setup, the instructor might not be a host. This might be an unusual circumstance, but it does happen, particularly with folks who are new to the game or less trusting of their users.

In any case, my purpose for using Breakout Rooms was to allow students to more choose rooms to enter based on assigned topics. In other words, I was using homogenous grouping as a strategy. If I had used the random assignment function, I would have created heterogeneous groups and students would not be empowered to make a choice.

Issue 2
When I created Breakout Rooms for the first online activity, Zoom remembered these rooms even after I had closed them. This meant that I had to manually delete them one by one. This is not the case with randomised groups.

Later when I needed to assign students randomly to different groups, the requirement to delete the existing rooms first was a hassle that created a delay. Only after every room was gone was I able to activate the random assignment.

For me, this was an example of Zoom struggling to enable basic classroom strategies. It made something intuitive and seamless in class become clunky and undesirable online.

Issue 3
Here is another example of poor user interface and interaction design.

Students drop out of the online sessions all the time and attempt to come back in. They might drop out due to bad connections, frozen video, or a host of other reasons. Most system administrators require students to enter a waiting room first, so they are stuck in limbo before an instructor lets them into the the online classroom manually.

Zoom provides alerts of waiting students as audio pings, but the notifications are not brought to the frontmost layer. As a result, students might wait a long time because they are get lost in the layers of windows open on a desktop. This is like a student knocking on a locked classroom door wishing to be let in, but there are all sorts of barriers like boards, bookshelves, desks, and people in the way.

When something unexpected happens, I do not panic and I tend to troubleshoot quickly. I am the type of person that people throw laptops and phones at when they do not work. I am also a student and teacher of user interfaces and experiences, so when I say that Zoom is a woeful classroom replacement if you want to do anything more than talk, take me seriously.

Zoom announced a new feature, Breakout Rooms, in August this year for rollout last month [link]. In early September, I blogged that this might finally simulate station-based learning.

I will be trying this feature out in an evening class tomorrow. But as in my modus operandi, I tested it first with a class last evening.

I asked a several students to volunteer to stay after Zoom class to help with my experiment. I created one room for each student and so that they could choose the room to enter instead of having me assign them to rooms. This is faster than manually assigning them one by one because they make the choice and move.

But only one student was able to see the breakout room option. Why? The rest had not updated their Zoom clients to at least version 5.30. This Zoom support article makes this requirement clear. An administrator must also enable this function in the first place.

I have reflected on such a practice before and I will say it again: Always do your homework (Is the feature ‘live’? How do I ensure that it works? What are some problems with it?) and conduct dry runs with it yourself.

Learning is not a spectator sport. -- Chickering and Ehrmann

Over the weekend, I read an article in The Atlantic about educational escape rooms.

The central idea of these is that students must uncover content-based clues to unlock a box in order to resolve a situation. I learnt that these in turn were based on recreational escape rooms designed by the Japanese in 2007.

The article was intriguing in itself, but I liked even more a quote from a paper that it linked to.

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.

The paper was by Chickering and Ehrmann* in 1996. This was a message from 20 years ago and is still relevant now. So much of what we still do with “educational” technology is about answering instead about questioning, consuming instead of creating, and rushing instead of reflecting.

Each and every learner should not just be engaged with technology. Trying to engage is a function of teaching. Learners need to be empowered to participate because learning is not done from the sidelines. Learners must be involved, take ownership, and be intrinsically motivated.

*Chickering, Arthur and Stephen C. Ehrmann (1996), “Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever,” AAHE Bulletin, October, pp.  3-6.


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