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Breaking out of the Breakout Room

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Thursday, 10 Nov 2016, 14:01

Although I have already got the more advanced eLate(D) certificate, I decided to do the three week Tutor Moderator course as well.


Picture of certificate for Tutor Moderators Module

To be honest, I didn't learn very much new, as I am already very experienced in online tutorials and forum moderation. However I got to 'chat' with colleagues about online teaching skills on forum groups, and to polish my skills so it was worth sparing time for the course.

I was particularly pleased that at last I got a firm grasp on how to set up a 'breakout room' in online tutorials. (This is where you split students up into small groups during an online tutorial. We like to do this as it means the students get the chance to talk to each other instead of just listening to our Wise Words.)

Picture of owl in mortar board standing on a pile of books.

I had an upcoming tutorial which an unusually large number of students had signed up to - ideal opportunity to practise my breakout skills cool

My colleague suggested we start by putting a couple of discussion questions to the students:

  • What have you found interesting, useful, challenging?
  • Have you been able to relate this to your own professional situation?

I did feel a slight qualm and wondered if the students might take up a lot of the time answering this in turn. However we both agreed that what we really want is for students to use this rare opportunity to hear each others' views, and I think both of us are more used to students pretending that the dog ate their microphone (really, a student did once claim that) than being willing to speak up in online tutorials so we thought not many would join in.

It was a huge success, as most of the students took the opportunity to make a considered answer. They spoke about different aspects of the reading they had been doing, showing each other that there are many ways to approach this. Having spoken up at the start, they then had the confidence to ask many other questions about their upcoming assignment, saying things like:

  • "I find the terminology difficult."
  • "Me too!"
  • "So glad you said that."

(We tutors admitted that we sometimes find the terminology difficult ourselves! after all, this is a postgraduate module.)

The students had spoken for about 35 minutes at the start of our (one hour) tutorial. It was quite hard to have the confidence to just let them go on talking, instead of leaping in and wresting back control of the tutorial so we could deliver our scripted slideshow. However I still think it did much more for the students to hear each others' thoughts than if we had lectured at them. We ran through the remaining slides at a brisk trot, and promised to answer any questions on our Tutor Group Forums.

But ... I never did get to practise my fantastic dazzling breakout room skills sad

Oh well, I am a great believer that technology should enhance, not drive, your teaching.


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