Breakout Rooms: Productive or Pointless?


Madison Dingee

Breakout Rooms. Let’s talk about them. They’ve hardly ever actually worked for me considering most of the Breakout Rooms I’ve been put into, consist of lots of black screens and muted microphones. I don’t have a problem with people not wanting to turn their Zoom camera on -as I know lots of anxiety comes with doing so-, I do however wonder if Breakout Rooms are even necessary if my classmates and I are just using the chat box rather than talking to one another. Ultimately, I would like to talk about some of the issues I have -and probably lots of other students participating in online schooling do as well have- with Zoom Breakout Sessions.

Does it exist in Breakout Rooms? The only times I have successfully completed an assignment in a Breakout Room is if; a. I had gotten lucky and was placed into a room with a close friend or b. if the assignment was due within the Zoom session and I had no other choice. Oftentimes, I’ll join my randomized Breakout Room and say “Hello!” and literal “crickets” will be my response. I’m super curious to know if this is because we’re all just introverts or no one knows what to do. The problem with not knowing what to do is that they never unmute their mic to ask or press the “Ask For Help” button Zoom gives you.
Oddly enough, one of my teachers recently ran a poll after a Breakout Room session asking how the said session went for us, and pretty much half of the class selected the option, “I didn’t know what to do.” I have a lot of respect for my teachers right now because I know having your kids socialize in an online classroom isn’t easy by any means. However, I don’t believe Breakout Rooms are the best option to go about that problem considering most of the time there’s little-to-no teamwork productivity involved.

Has your heartbeat ever increased and your body started shaking after maybe saying just one word or phrase in a Breakout Room? Because that’s happened to me on multiple occasions. Whether it’s the fact that I’m introverted and most of the time complete assignments without the help of others, talking to practical strangers on a laptop, computer, tablet, or phone isn’t a simple task for me. They could have the sweetest, most welcoming voice and have their camera turned on and I would still leave that Zoom session with my foot rapidly tapping or my heart “beating out of my chest”. The strange thing comes with the fact that this doesn’t happen to me when I meet new people physically at school, only when I’m talking to someone I haven’t met in real life before. Also, I never know the right thing to say when speaking in a Breakout Room like if I say this certain thing will the other kids think I’m weird and trying too hard to fit in? Yes, this could just be my overthinking brain putting negative thoughts where there aren’t any, but it isn’t always easy to ignore those thoughts that are constantly spiraling in my head. Some would say that there isn’t “the perfect thing to say” and “to just be you” but that isn’t super simple for kids who feel anxious a lot of the time.

Now that you’ve heard me overthink and become incredibly anxious about this topic, I want to know, genuinely, if there are other alternatives for communicating with our classmates rather than using Breakout Rooms. I know that in time I’ll get used to Breakout Rooms and probably have fun conversations with other kids in my class but that time doesn’t look like it’s in the near future -or ever for some students. Breakout Rooms are tough -trust me I know- so for right now (if you’re feeling as I am about these sessions) I would recommend talking to your teachers or adults you feel comfortable with about how these just aren’t working for you and/or helping your anxiety.