Breaking in the breakouts

Elise Haulund’s experience with Zoom breakout rooms highlight new challenges with group projects


Illustration by Katelyn Perry

“Hello?” I say awkwardly as I join my breakout room. Unfortunately, I’m met with crickets. I try a friendly smile, but to no avail. All four of my new group-mates sit there, staring at me with not-so-enthusiastic expressions, thankful they weren’t the first ones to break the silence.

Finally, someone takes their microphone off of mute.

“Hi,” they say, before immediately fleeing back into the comfort of the mute button. 

As I sit at my desk, I ponder how I am to finish this assignment. Group projects were hard enough when I could talk directly to my group to discuss the parameters, make a game plan and occasionally nag them. Add on the ability for students to simply turn off their mic, and it’s not looking great for the future of group assignments.

In talking to my friends, I’ve noticed this is a common theme in breakout rooms—the uncomfortable moment where no one speaks, the extra effort to maintain some level of group cohesion and the “if it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny” consensus of this being our reality at the moment.

Thankfully, my group fell into a rhythm of doing our own thing and putting it all together in the end, but it kind of defeats the purpose of group work in the first place, doesn’t it?