From the first few weeks of online uni, something has reminded me of what was already going on in the classrooms, seminars and lecture theatres. 

In online Zoom meetings, the Breakout Rooms feature can be used to stimulate discussion and share ideas in smaller groups. Then, when everyone returns to the “main room”, these ideas can be shared in the big group. That’s the idea.

But does it work?

Well, that depends on whether the students are engaged and enrolled in the journey of learning.

If they’re showing up just for an attendance mark, out of obligation or boredom because they have nothing else to do, it’s unlikely that there will be much debate and many ideas. There are bored faces behind screens just as much as there were in the old lecture theatre.

This isn’t a fault of online teaching – where I see many students and teachers directing the blame. Online teaching works and in my opinion, has the potential to be better and more inclusive than old-fashioned lecturing, seminars and school classrooms. 

But only if the students are enrolled in the journey. That responsibility lies with both the the teacher and the students.

If people are not enrolled, there’s little point attending. Period. In school, it’s different because many factors influence the learning of children and teenagers. There is potential to change their minds about what they like and dislike.

At uni, the students have chosen (or their parents have – another big issue!) their course. 

Sitting in Zoom Breakout Rooms with people who aren’t enrolled in the journey and don’t want to engage is pointless. The same students end up talking, asking questions and sharing ideas. A friend of mine told me they have left a number of meetings because they can do more work on their own.

Learning together is so much better when the students are enrolled. There is collaboration, efficient team work and shared leadership. The tasks get done quickly and efficiently. Everyone wins.

Are you enrolled in the journey you’re on? How does it feel when you are, but the others aren’t?