Asynchronous Breakout Rooms

Before I get to this week’s tip of the week, I’d like to call your attention to two things. First, on Tuesday I’m hosting a free webinar titled Best of the Web 2021. Second, I have released a new ebook titled 50 Tech Tuesday Tips.

In the days before easy digital video messaging we used message boards for discussions in online classes. Some of us remember these in the form of listservs. You’d post messages for your whole-class discussions and post messages for small groups within the course.

What’s an asynchronous breakout room?

I use this same concept for my classes today but instead of just written messages, students post video and audio messages. Some prompts I give for whole-class discussion. Other prompts are for small group discussion.

Why use asynchronous breakout rooms?

Like many teachers, I’ve used the breakout room feature in Zoom a lot over the last two years. It’s great for giving students time to talk to each other without the whole class listening. (The same is true if you use breakout rooms in Teams or Google Meet). But I have found that some students still want more time to formulate their thoughts before talking in a breakout room. Likewise, some want to keep their conversations going after the breakout room has been closed.

To provide students with more time to formulate their thoughts before contributing to a breakout discussion and to provide more time for discussions that are really rolling along, I’ve taken to creating asynchronous breakout rooms.

Three tools for asynchronous breakout rooms.

I’ve recently started testing a new service called Volley for asynchronous audio, video, and text discussion. Volley is kind of like Flipgrid meets Slack. You can create discussion groups in which participants can reply via video, audio, or text. The thing that I like about it is that discussions can be broken out into new directions based on how group members reply to the original discussion prompt. It’s a new service, but I think it has a lot of potential for online and hybrid learning.

Flipgrid has been a go-to tool for online discussion for a few years now. The trouble that I ran into was that some kids weren’t comfortable knowing that the whole class would see their video replies to my discussion prompts. To remedy that, I created smaller subgroups that had just three to five students in them. Yes, it made a little more work for me to manage all the groups, but the benefit to students is worth it. On a related note, Flipgrid just made it a lot easier to create groups.

Spaces is a digital portfolio tool that has an asynchronous breakout room capability. You can assign students to specific group Spaces to share with each other and with you. A group Spaces space is a place where students can share their work in progress and get feedback from each other as well as from their teacher. For example, last spring some of my computer science students were working on semester-long projects. I put them into group Spaces where they shared bits of their design work and bits of their programming work. They then got feedback from their classmates as well as from me in the form of video messages.

50 Tech Tuesday Tips is my new ebook curated from more than 400 editions of this newsletter. I put it together to provide tech coaches, media specialists, and teachers who need ideas for after school or staff development day workshops.