College Breakout Rooms Might Break Me!

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Sophie Coffey
Sophie Coffey
A self-confessed shopaholic with a severe bookshop obsession.

Starting college has definitely been an adjustment. And one that has left me with many new phenomena. These have included; an increased desire to see people face-to- face, a screen time figure that is obnoxiously high each week, and more importantly a vast appreciation for the playback speed button!

Beyond each of these elements, it has provided a much tighter affiliation with breakout rooms than my front camera will ever be comfortable with!

There is no question that introductions are a lot easier when everyone’s names are displayed in the corner of their screens! On the other hand, I have been asked on so many occasions to provide a fun fact during a breakout call that I have reached the conclusion that no amount of querying this will make me “fun”.

Last year the term “breakout rooms” wasn’t even in my vocabulary. This year it might be the phrase that breaks me! In fairness “let’s turn our cameras on” will be awarded an undeniable close second.

Here are some of the highlights of my breakout room experiences thus far!

The forceful ejection!

I am incredibly lucky to have reliable Wi-Fi (I better not have jinxed it now!). However, despite this I have still experienced the odd moment of unceremonious ejection from a zoom room. Of course these all seem to coincide with periods when I am supposed to be speaking, presenting or doing just about anything that necessitates my Wi-Fi to work. On each occasion I can promise you that my internet is far from the only unstable element in the equation!

The silent discussion!

Problematic Wi-Fi is definitely an issue but there are some suspicious situations too! Occasionally someone will join a breakout room with their microphone and camera turned off and provide no response. In this case the debate between intermittent Wi-Fi and intermittent attendance arrives!

On other occasions we all sit there in such silence that I cannot decide if my screen has frozen or the students have. Sometimes a couple of brave participants attempt to start the discussion (we will forever be grateful to these saviors) and a decent conversation will commence. This is unfailingly interrupted when someone asks who will report back to the main group. Suddenly you could hear a pin drop. Or you could if it wasn’t for the peculiar fact that all of our mics have abruptly been muted so you actually wouldn’t be any the wiser if half of Dublin Zoo dropped into my room mid-call.

The talk-over!

Considering the regular awkward silences within breakout rooms this is both an impressive and ironic feat. On the rare occasion that more than one person speaks at the same time, an incredibly polite result ensues where both “guilty” parties proceed to insist “no, you go first” for so long that by the time a consensus as been reached the rest of us can only just about remember the question.

I should clarify that this is not to say that every one of my breakout rooms is disastrous! The truth is far from it and in fact most of them have been brilliant and offered room for incredibly interesting conversations. As a fresher I would definitely say that on many occasions the smaller breakout rooms have encouraged us to chat much more easily with one another.

This time last year I might not have been able to predict what my college experience would entail!  But I definitely didn’t expect it to involve discussing 16th century literature over Zoom!

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