UPDATE 19th January 2021 – Mike Tholfsen has created a great video showing how to use the new breakout room functionality in Microsoft Teams, which you can see below. My original method (further down) still works great, but Mike’s video is also super helpful:
UPDATE 21st December 2020 – Microsoft has officially added native Breakout Room functionality to Microsoft Teams. Whilst my ‘work around’ below is still very valuable, you may be interested to learn how the new functionality works:
- Announcement of new Breakout Rooms blog post
- Education specific support documentation focusing on the teacher/student experience in Breakout Rooms
UPDATE 9th April 2020 – people have pointed out some schools block students creating Meet Now meetings in channels – how can this be resolved? See below.
It’s been fascinating to observe the feedback from educators globally as they’ve been forced to transition to remote teaching due to the #COVID19 pandemic that has shut schools across the globe. I read a statistic today that 91% of students globally have been affected by school closures in some way, shape or form!
Proving just how adaptive and incredible educators are, I’ve heard many reflect on what has worked successfully, as well as what has been a “false start” in their remote teaching experiences.
One consistent theme from educators has been a tendency to “over teach” – using the allocated lesson time for the equivalent of the “full attention” state, not leaving students appropriate time to process, think critically and complete exercises in a traditional “working state”.
It’s perhaps understandable this has occurred. Teachers are keen to ensure “on task” behaviour in these virtual classrooms and also be seen to have prepared sufficient content to be delivered. However, the reality is students need that processing time to critically evaluate what they’re learning and being able to discuss this with their peers is part of this formative state of knowledge development.
Breakout Rooms Help!
To that end, allowing students to form small groups to discuss what they’ve learnt whilst easily providing the teacher visibility of who is meeting with whom, “pop in” to listen in to each breakout room, ask questions of the small groups to prompt deeper thinking as well as give reminders about when to return to the main virtual lesson is a vital tool in the remote teaching toolbox!
Fortunately, it’s easy to achieve in Microsoft Teams as I demonstrate below:
I liken these breakout rooms to the “call waiting” function of a phone – you can easily keep the main classroom lesson call “on hold” whilst popping into other breakout groups that students are using (a single user can be on up to five calls at once).
Pro Tip: Don’t “hang up” your main meeting call to join a Breakout Room in a channel – rather simply join the Meet Now in the channel and it will put your main call on hold. You can have up to four calls on hold at once and circle back through any of them by clicking the “resume” button for the appropriate call in the top left of Teams.
One piece of feedback I received is if there is a lot of chatter in the channel where the “Meet Now” breakout room has been created, the “Join” button can sometimes scroll up and off the screen, not making it obvious how a late comer might enter the breakout room. This can easily be resolved by using the drop down menu in the top right indicating all current calls happening in that channel:
Here are two more close ups shots of that, the first with the meetings running in a single channel collapsed, the second with the meetings expanded:
What If My School Blocks Students Creating Meet Now?
The great thing about Microsoft Teams is there are very granular policies that control what users (Students and Teachers) can and can not do inside of Teams. We have even created pre-packaged policies for education and the different year levels. For example, this primary school aged policy package has a default setting of blocking Meet Now:
This is explained in more detail in this documentation:
Allow Meet now in channels
This is a per-user policy and applies before a meeting starts. This setting controls whether a user can start an ad hoc meeting in a Teams channel. If you turn this on, when a user posts a message in a Teams channel, the user can click Meet now under the compose box to start an ad hoc meeting in the channel.
A school could, if they chose, override the default setting in this policy package however an alternative way is for the teacher to simply create the breakout meetings in the respective channels. Provided at least one student is in the Meet Now, the teacher can safely “hang up” the meeting and leave the students to it if they wanted to. Here’s a screenshot of a more structured channel approach to breakouts with a single Meet Now running in each channel:
There is a lot more that could be added here, but the general principle of using Breakout Rooms is something many educators may choose to add to their remote teaching skill sets. Invariably, being resourceful, teachers will take this, adapt it and enable students to be empowered in their learning through promoting critical thinking and engagement in small group discussion.
If you’ve got ideas on how you’d use Breakout Rooms in Teams then add them to the comments below.