Breakout rooms: Debate

Of course, just when I was getting ready for our debate on the role of technology on learning, the school closed.  So, how do I run a debate when we are all in our own homes?

For this activity, I will be using Zoom's breakout room feature. There are other alternatives such as Microsoft Teams. In preparing for this activity, I had a lot of good advice from my friend and colleague, Anna Yakutenok from the Prague British International School.

Anna has kindly explained how to set this up using Teams.  For those instructions, please scroll to the bottom of the page.

Zoom breakout rooms

Breakout rooms are pretty easy to use.

You can see on the bottom of the Zoom screen that the icon second from the left says "breakout rooms."  (You can also see how thrilled I am to be distance teaching in this photo!).

When you click on that icon, it will give you a new screen, asking you to choose how many rooms you would like. You can either assign students randomly to a breakout room - or you can assign them manually.  You cannot, however, manually assign students to groups until they have entered the meeting.

Once the rooms are created, go to the options menu. You can make it that students are required to stay in the rooms for a fixed amount of time (I would say 20 minutes is a maximum) or they can pop back into the main session to ask questions.  If you are going to check on the rooms, then you may want to untick the "allow participants to return to the main session. If you want them to receive a warning when time is up, you can set that in the final "countdown" option.

One of the problems with breakout groups is that you cannot be in all rooms at all times - so if you want to know what they have been doing, you may want to record what is happening in the rooms.  That will be important for this activity.  However, the problem with the breakout rooms is that you can only record the meeting (or room) that you are in.  How to get around that?

To record a breakout room you are not in, a participant in that room needs recording permission. You can grant that permission during a meeting using the "manage participants" panel (the easiest, in my opinion) or ahead of time by making the participant an alternative host. The directions for setting this up before the meeting are more complex and can be found here.

The debate

For this debate, I have organized it in three steps.  For each of these steps, they have a recommended amount of time to spend on it. In our class period, they have other things to do for the session so that they do not end up with an unlimited amount of time to complete these tasks.  This is a complaint from some of our students - too much unstructured time to accomplish the work.  Giving them time restrictions, just like you would in the classroom, helps them to judge what the expectations are for their learning and task performance.

Step 1.  Choosing research

To start, I created two Google Docs for the class. One has the claim:  Technology has positive effects on cognitive processes.  The other has "negative effects."  I then share the two documents with students and ask them to fill in the following chart.  Each student in the group must add one study to the document. It is important that they put a very brief summary of the study in the study column so that we can avoid all having to read through all of the studies, but the links are important both for the team and for me. They may not include a study already posted by someone else. This activity took 20 minutes.

Step 2.  Breakout rooms for organizing the debates

For the next class, all students should have filled in the grid. The first task I give them in the breakout room is to share their findings and then to put the studies in order from strongest evidence to weakest evidence. They should reorganize the chart so that the strongest evidence is first and the weakest evidence is last. 

The next step is for them to take a deeper look at the top three pieces of evidence that they have found.  They should improve the information in the strengths and limitations column. 

This whole task took about 40 minutes - divided into two 20-minute breakout session for each task

Step 3.  The debate

To start the debate, give the students time to access the other team's top three research studies.  Give them about 20 minutes to read through the other team's research and start thinking about how to respond to their claims.

After having time to look at the research, it is time for the debates.  The next step depends on how many students you have in your class.  If your class size is small, you may want to just have them all return to the main meeting room and then have a debate about the effects of technology in cognition - more positive or more negative? This will make assessment easier as you can observe the entire debate. 

If, however, you have a larger class size (I have two classes with 21 students each), then you may want to assign them to different breakout rooms in groups of 6 - 8 students so that they can have smaller discussions, allowing everyone to then have a voice.  In that case, you will want to have a member of the group assigned as the alternative host so that they can record and then share with you their debate. Give them a fixed amount of time for the discussion. 20 minutes is a good recommendation.

Step 4.  Wrapping up

After the debate, it is important that students are able to process the debate in a way that helps them answer the IB assessment question.  There are a few approaches you may want to use.

  • Zoom has a "polling" function (see the image above with me and the fishes) in which you can write questions.  For example, do you agree that....  Would you say that ....., Did your opinion about technology change as a result of this debate?    This has limited potential to show learning, but it will give you quick feedback on the debate.
  • You could also create a Google Form.  This would allow students to have more open choice in responding.  You could ask questions like:  Which study used in this debate do you think was the most important for the argument?  Why?  Which criticism of the research did you think was the most effective? What questions remain?
  • You could also have them go back into groups and design a mind map or essay outline based on the debate which they would then share with you.  It is best to have them do this as a group so you get only two per class - rather than 42!  Remember, it is also important to manage your own workload!

Microsoft Teams

The following instructions are to assist those of you are who are using Microsoft Teams

The word "team" refers to your class. Students cannot freely move between Teams – a teacher has to assign them. You can also create a Team for an interclass debate and include students from different Teams to take part of the debate.

The process of organising a debate in Microsoft Teams is not dissimilar to the one in Zoom, but the terminology used is different. Instead of assigning students to "breakout rooms," you create a channel.

When creating a channel you have two choices. 

You can create them with the privacy set to standard.  This means that students can choose to join the meeting and the work done by the student is accessible to everyone in your course. If you choose standard, you just tell your students which channel to join.

You can also choose to make the channel private and assign students to a channel in which only the students that you assign to that channel have access to the group. Once you choose the private channel option and click ok the menu appears and you add members.

Students can use channels to prepare in their groups before joining a general meeting or you can simultaneously run several debates, which can all be recorded and shared between the groups or any other Teams in your organisation (by choosing the more actions button.  See the three dots at the bottom of the screen to the left.

Due to privacy and security issues only a teacher can start the meeting and turn on the recording. As long as there are other people in the meeting, you can leave the meeting. Make sure you are the last person to leave the meeting if you want to stop the meeting completely.

You can also add more members to a channel or change groups by using the magic three dots button.

Another relatively useful feature is live captions if you have a lot of EAL students. The quality of captions is similar to the one you get on YouTube, but this is still a helpful feature.

Polls can also be done if you add an app called Polly to your Teams.

You can add an app using the plus at the top of the page or the extension using the three dots at the bottom of the page.

And then just type Polly in the search bar and follow the instructions to add the app.

Looking at the graphic below, you can see from the symbol next to the three dots I have also added Quizlet extension, so I do not have to open an extra tab in the browser.

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