EXPLORING UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ EXPERIENCES AND PERCEPTIONS OF BREAKOUT ROOMS IN SYNCHRONOUS ONLINE CLASSROOMS DURING COVID-19

C. Savvidou , K. Alexander 

University of Nicosia (CYPRUS)
The pandemic COVID-19 has created a dramatic and rapid transition to online teaching in higher education creating both new opportunities and challenges for lecturers and their students. As higher education adapts to the new realities of delivering online courses, there is need for instructors to design and teach classes that support collaborative learning and increase opportunities for student interactivity. This presentation reports on an ongoing study exploring university students’ experiences and perceptions of using breakout rooms, a technical feature of many synchronous online platforms (e.g. Zoom, Cisco WebEx, Microsoft Teams) as part of their online classes. In Fall semester 2020, lecturers at a university in Cyprus were offered online training on how to integrate BRs into their synchronous online classes. In Spring 2021, after one semester of preliminary use, the authors set out to examine the experiences and perceptions of university students regarding the use of BRs as part of their online synchronous classes. Based on survey of 127 students and semi-structured interviews with 5 students, this study describes some of the challenges, as well as the opportunities, encountered by students. Preliminary findings indicate that students’ experiences and perceptions of breakout rooms during this period were impacted in 5 key areas: (1) emotional/affective, (2) moral/ethical, (3) social, (4) pedagogical and (5) technological. These findings suggest that students’ personal feelings, attitudes to online learning, sense of connectedness to their peers, expectations of the role and presence of the lecturer and issues relating to the technology, are all considered to be significant factors in their use of BRs. This study offers initial insights for educators in higher education who wish to use, modify and/ or adapt synchronous online teaching to incorporate collaborative learning tools such as breakout rooms.