Highlights from Engagement week #2: How do we make breakout rooms successful? 

For its second round of Engagement Week events in February, the TIPS Community’s posed this question to the teaching community at Leeds: 

How can we make breakout rooms successful: what tips and tricks are there to keep learners engaged and create a positive experience?

We focused on exploring learners’ experiences of breakout spaces and held a range of activities across the week to give colleagues an opportunity to share and learn new practice and explore associated pedagogical advice. There were different opportunities to engage with this week’s topic: an active Padlet populated with conversation prompts posted each day, one of the most popular Share, Adopt, Adapt workshops so far with over 90 people attending, and the launch of TIPS’ new ‘Give It a Go’ sessions. Altogether, these made for a week of enjoyable sharing of experience and practice. 

We followed up the week’s events by launching new Breakout Room Resources and Guides, curated by Beth Snowden, ODPL. This guide presents ideas on how to plan and manage breakout groups to support student engagement and interaction as outlined in the Student-Centered Active Learning Approach (SCALA) promoted by the University. Containing a range of information including software functionality and ‘how to’ as well as discussion of pedagogical approaches, the guide is a great new resource for anyone delivering learning. 

Share Adopt Adapt Workshop held by LITE & TIPS

This week’s workshop had two themes – each with multiple ‘lightning’ talks of about 5 minutes followed by a Q and A.  

Theme 1: ‘Going into the breakout room’ 

Alex Holloway, Language Centre,  talked about the need to create an environment where not only everyone feels they can contribute but knows how to contribute. She introduced the concept of ‘exploratory talk’, where participants are co-constructing knowledge, and introduced useful principles from theatre sports that can be used to facilitate this practice. 

Ellen Avery, Lifelong Learning Centre, talked us through how use of clearly defined roles within breakout groups and use of Padlets for feedback and interaction have made breakout groups effective with her programmes. 

Mark Thomas, Institute of Geophysics and Tectonics, focussed on how he and his colleagues had responded to initial student feedback on breakout groups to improve the student experience.  He talked about his 3 guiding principles of (1) setting clear expectations, (2) knowing how to communicate, and (3) being in two places at once – and how you can do that! 

Theme 2: ‘Student Feedback and Evaluation of Practice’ 

Catherine Bates, Lifelong Learning Centre, shared an extensive collection of feedback from mature students about their breakout room experiences.  It was interesting to hear the challenges faced, and responses to breakout rooms, from this specific group of students, and how colleagues can incorporate this to improve breakout room practice.  

Richard de Blacquiere-Clarkson, Lifelong Learning Centre, discussed some key principles in gathering systematic feedback from students and talked through tools he implements to build a culture of engagement and participation: providing dedicated time in breakout rooms for groups to agree their feedback so that whoever feeds back is reporting an agreed summary of events, removing from them the weight of responsibility for the quality of the output. He provided insightful methods for utilising polls to generate feedback after breakout groups and inform next steps in teaching.  

The full recording is available on the TIPS Stream Channel 

TIPS Engagement Week Padlet 

Recognising the vast range of expertise and experience at the University of Leeds, we invited colleagues to share their stories and learning about using breakout rooms.  

We invited responses to the following questions:

  • What is the bravest thing you and/or your students have done with respect to breakout rooms? 
  • What feedback have you had from students about breakouts? How has that changed your practice? 
  • What traditional pedagogies work in breakout rooms, what new pedagogies have we found useful in breakout rooms? 
  • Fail Fest: your worst experience: What? So what? Now what? 
  • What would you like to retain from breakouts when designing hybrid/blended learning? 

 You can see the full Padlet here for a look at ideas shared.   

Give it a Go!

We were delighted to launch our new TIPS ‘Give it a Go’ sessions during the week, with two very popular sessions.  

Felix Janeway, Lifelong Learning Centre, ran ‘Improv for Reflection on Teaching’, a lively session (which really is a lot of fun) using improvisation games to reflect on the spontaneous nature of teaching and explore what scope there is to respond to the people in front of you when teaching. This one booked up exceptionally quickly and Felix has already run a second session.   

Richard de Blacquiere-Clarkson, Lifelong Learning Centre, led a hands-on workshop on using polls in Teams, giving colleagues a chance to try out different ways of setting up polls through playful engagement and sandpit-type activities.  

Give it a Go sessions can be run by any TIPS member who would like to share their knowledge of a tool with others. Participants get to have a go at trying out something new, in a safe environment, experimenting and learning collaboratively. If you would be interested in delivering a session, contact us at academicdev@leeds.ac.uk and we’ll be happy to support you.