Challenge – It can be difficult to monitor student activity while in break-out rooms. Moving between break-out rooms is time-consuming. Most students do not have lap-tops which makes the use of shared documents problematic. The solution presented here is to use an online ‘backchannel’ for direct communication with students.
This method is intended to work anytime you want to communicate with students who are doing groupwork in break-out rooms. In this example students were asked to complete a gap-fill in groups. The teacher monitored the progress of the task and provided feedback via an online back-channel.
Before the Lesson:
- Make sure your activity is in a format that can be shared via your preferred back-channel. For example: PDF files are easier to share via WhatsApp than Microsoft Office files, especially if your learners do not have access to personal computers.
- Introduce the activity using share/screen and concept-checking. Students will be working independently of teacher in break-out rooms so it is important that they understand the task.
- Tell students that they will need to write their answers on a piece of paper. Demonstrate by writing an example answer and showing it to your camera.
- Create the breakout rooms (do not open them yet!)
- Nominate a ‘photographer’ for each group. You can even change their name to reflect their role – e.g., Karim (Group 1 Photographer). On Zoom this can be done by clicking on ‘participants’ followed by ‘change name’. Explain that the ‘photographer’ must take a picture of his/her answers and send it to the teacher through an online backchannel on behalf of the group. This could be via WhatsApp, Google Classroom or email.
- Open the break-out rooms. If needs be, share task material with groups through back-channel or by pasting it in break-out room chat.
- Monitor and mark student work as it comes in via back-channel. Feedback can be given through same backchannel or, if a group needs particular attention, you can join their break-out room.