Video conferencing/Collaborative Work in Groups

In a video conferencing system, group work can be represented via breakout rooms. That means you "break out of the regular joint working environment into a collaborative group situation". In the open source video conference system BigBlueButton the members of the meeting can either choose one of the generated breakout room by the moderator. To the breakout rooms the moderator can assign different tasks or let the members split up in different rooms according to group structure defined before. The members of the meeting split up in separate video conference rooms for a fixed time and come back into the join video conference when the defined time span is over.

Group Work - Local versus Video Conference

The moderator should communicate that the jointly developed results e.g. generated with handwriting in a multimodal mode must be saved in a joint document (exported shared notes in LibreOffice Write or collected screenshots of annotated PDF documents)

Group work and group sizeEdit

It is tried to adapt the group size to the difficulty of the tasks for the group work.

  • Very difficult tasks for the learning group would be discussed with solution suggestions from the learning group in the whole plenum.
  • The more difficult the task for group work, the larger the group.

Creating breakout rooms for group workEdit

The moderator can create group work rooms (breakout rooms) and

  • (Random Assignment to Groups/Breakout Rooms) Assume we randomly assign students to working groups in breakout rooms. E.g. with 29 participants the group sizes in the breakout rooms should correspond to the difficulty of the learning task. Assuming that approximately 5 persons can do the job, then the moderator would create 6 breakout rooms and distribute the entire learning group randomly among the breakout sessions. With a random allocation new group compositions are generated, which then have to get used to each other and to different learning conditions. These communication processes for mutual support can be valuable as a learning goal, because you have to get involved with others and may have to ask for things that you would not have discussed with people you know. The disadvantage is that you may need more lead time until the students or pupils reach their goals for the actual tasks. Furthermore you cannot build on elaborated workflows of cooperation, that might be there if with group scenarios where the group members know eachother very well.
  • (Voluntary Assignment to Groups/Breakout Rooms) With a voluntary assignment, the number of breakout rooms required for the group work will be estimated according to the difficulty of the task, e.g. again with 29 participants of a suitable group size of about 5 people, 6 breakout rooms would be created. However the members of the entire learning group can distribute themselves among the available breakout rooms. With a voluntary assignment, group compositions are generated which are based on personal knowledge and/or professional expertise in the subject area. Possible decision criteria are e.g.:
    • "I have always worked with A and B in working groups, that worked pretty well, so I will join those two in their breakout room"
    • "C and D can do job, then it'll be easier for me, if I join that group"
    • "with E it's fun to tinker with problems, we help each other" or
    • "F and G never take part in group work, that does not help me at all".
The positive aspect for the members of the learning group is that they can choose groups, they are familiar with or which work well together. On the other hand, it can also create completely unproductive groups in which nobody has an idea and so the whole group has nothing to gain from collaborative working phase.

Learning Tasks for breakout roomsEdit

joint work on documents

If work orders are given orally, they cannot be reread in group work. The following options are available for this:

  • (Learning Tasks in Wikiversity) The learning tasks can be formulated directly in Wikiversity as an activity, which addresses a specific collaborative work for breakout room. The moderator/teacher can also prepare special tasks for group members who might still lack specific learning requirements, before they could join the more advanced learning tasks in other breakout rooms. The provides tasks are announced in the joint videoconferening room in BBB and they the students or meeting members assign themselves to specific tasks/breakout rooms or assigned by the moderator or teacher. Learning task in Wikiversity can be slightly modified by the teacher/moderator so that match a bit better with students profile and knowledge. Wikiversity content license allows the adaptation of learning task to the requirements of the learner. The task in Wikiversity e.g. on a topic in economy, mathematics, ... can be starting point for adaptation for the teacher/moderator. Splitting up in different breakout room allows that students can perform a task with different complexity or more complex tasks can be split up in different sub tasks that can be handled by the learners. Later in a joint session the different solutions or results are aggregated in the joint video conference session after the breakout phase is over. The general problem that weaker participants in a learning group cannot follow the learning task the breakout sessions can also be used for mutual explaination from students to eachother (peer group learning)
  • (Aggregation of Group Work Results) The results in the breakout session can be prepared by the learners as text modules and copied into BigBlueButton's shared notes during the joint video conference session after the breakout phase. The participants in the plenary session copy their session results from breakout room into the shared notes of the plenary session BigBlueButton. There, results are also collected and then, at the end of the group work, copied as a personal copy of the work results from each member of the group to their own computer, e.g. into a LibreOffice Writer document. In the course, the results can be copied back into the shared notes in the plenary session, and thus a result from all group workspaces is created as a result backup in the Plemum.
  • (Technical Learning Task) Explore in OpenSource BigBlueButton how to create breakout rooms as moderator or teacher. Make test with your collegues and discuss how you could shared collaborative learning task in your educational unit and share you technical knowledge for using the IT infrastructure successfully. Explain why sharing of technical and educational experiences will support the uptake of IT infrastructure in your educational setting. How can you use Wikiversity to build a wider community of teachers with shared learning resources for teachers to use OpenSource technology for capacity building and learning across national and international universities, colleges, schools in educational learning (see also Open Community Approach).

Use LibreOffice-Draw for sketches in group workEdit

Sometimes sketches are made in BigBlueButton during group work. For the participants of the group work who want to save these sketches for themselves personally.

  • Copy the screenshot of the sketch into a page of the LibreOffice Draw document,
  • There you can also add further annotations and scans/photos of handwritten solutions,
  • then create a PDF from the LibreOffice-Draw
  • the PDF can also be made available again to the learning group and the plenum as a shared document,

Breakout rooms before and after the courseEdit

With an online course, time for "small talk" can also be scheduled in breakout rooms. Even if it can hardly replace a personal conversation between students before and after a course or exercise, you can at least create virtual space in a breakout room with a free choice of room for it in the planning.


For a course or exercise starting at 10:15 a.m. you can open the breakout rooms for 25 minutes as early as 9:45 a.m. In the first information session via videoconference one should already explicitly point out and explain why the breakout rooms that these rooms were explicitly set up for Small Talk, for conversations between students.

  • The 30-minute breaks can thus be used for organizing lectures between students who do not know each other.
  • As a time window before the event/exercise, 25min can be set so that the individual conversations end in breakout rooms 5min before the start of the event/exercise. Similarly, 25min at the end, so that the time window of 5min at least allows the virtual switch to another BigBlueButton room for another lecture.
  • If the students have a concrete need, the breakout rooms can be opened longer after the event. It is only important to clarify the function of the breakout rooms in advance.

Breakout rooms for organizational purposesEdit

All in all, this use of the breakout rooms allows personal discussions between students before and after the start of the course. This includes individual arrangements like:

  • "How do we do this with the exercises or how do we divide it up?"
  • "When and where do we meet for a video conference with the group at the BBB?".
  • "Could you show .... again next week, didn't get it right with the lecture recording for the exercises?

Even if video conferencing options for Small Talk are also used for discussions between students, the possibility of establishing contact between students can be an important point to support collaborative work a little and especially to enable the COVID-19 restrictions to get to know each other "without technical content" in many places and especially before and after lectures and exercises to effectively give this need more "virtual" space in "breakout rooms".

See alsoEdit


Thanks to the study group on Function Theory II at the University of Koblenz-Landau for the feedback on group work in breakout rooms (SoSe2020). If you have further suggestions for improving the teaching-learning situation using breakout rooms, you are welcome to add them here, so that they others can benefit from your experience especially under learning situation of COVID-19 with limited options to meet physically on campus. Furthermore it may also be helpful for other groups of people, if they use video conferencing in teaching-learning environments or even use BBB in a different professional context with collaborative group work.