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This paper describes a small-scale, practitioner-led study of the use of breakout rooms for small group work in synchronous online tutorials using the Blackboard Collaborate tool. The project draws on the writer’s own experience of using breakout rooms in online tutorials over a period of 10 months, both as a tutor of two health and social care undergraduate modules and as a student of modules in a different faculty. It also draws on the experience of tutor colleagues.
The project identifies three main benefits of using breakout rooms. Firstly, they are a useful tool for facilitating collaborative learning and interaction. Interaction takes on particular significance in online tutorials. In a face-to-face session the tutor can see if a student’s attention has wandered and gauge their response to the session. In contrast, a student can log into an online tutorial room and appear to be fully engaged with a lecture style session, whilst actually doing many other things and learning little. Interaction in an online tutorial also provides students learning at a distance with a rare opportunity for peer-to-peer contact, which can be invaluable in building relationships and confidence. Further benefits are identified in terms of empowering students to contribute to the session plan and content and also giving the tutor a break from presenting.
Perceived barriers to breakout room use are identified around technical difficulties, small numbers of students and in terms of student skill and confidence. The only significant actual barrier to breakout room use identified relates to tutor skill and confidence.
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