Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Using Zoom’s Choose-You-Own-Breakout-Room Option for Teaching Brief Writing

While some courts and law schools have returned to a form of in-person proceedings, many of us are still doing our best to represent clients or help students on Zoom.  If you are struggling with Zoom, check out Briar Goldberg’s Ted Ideas on how to raise your video skills.  Briar Goldberg, Ted Ideas:  7 Zoom mistakes you might still be making, https://ideas.ted.com/7-zoom-mistakes-you-might-still-be-making-and-how-to-raise-your-video-skills/ (Feb 9, 2021).

Additionally, if your spring involves teaching students to write trial or appellate briefs in pairs, Zoom now allows your students to select breakout rooms with their partners.  See https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/115005769646.  I was hesitant to use this feature because I know students cannot always select their own room, especially students using iPads and some Chromebooks.  See Clay Gibney, Tips for Zoom Breakout Rooms - Lessons Learned, https://www.sais.org/page/zoom_breakout_rooms  (Nov. 2020).  Like many Zoom hosts, I avoided the feature, and either spent the significant time needed to pre-assign participants to breakout rooms or let Zoom randomly assign participants to rooms.  

However, if you want students to be able to meet and confer with their brief-writing partners during class, even in a larger class, you should give the choose-your-own-breakout-room option a try.  I teach writing classes without a “Zoom TA” or IT person in the class, and yet I have sent my students to self-selected breakout rooms for partner meetings.  For the best results, assign your student pairs breakout room numbers before class and ask in advance for names of students whose devices do not show the room choices.

Assigning Pair Numbers

When I assigned my students into partner pairs, I listed each pair on an Excel sheet with numbered lines, and saved the sheet to our class Google Drive.  Before our first class using the partner meeting breakout rooms, I asked each student to double check the Excel sheet and make sure they knew their pair’s number.   

Then, to make creating the rooms quick and simple during class, I did not take the time to name the breakout rooms.  I simply asked Zoom to create the same number of self-selecting breakout rooms as my number of student pairs.  In other words, for a class of 30 students, I created 15 choose-your-own-breakout rooms numbered 1 to 15. 

Dealing with iPads, Chromebooks, and Web Zoom

Early in the semester, I had the students practice choosing their own breakout rooms during a persuasive writing exercise.  We learned that about twenty percent of my students could not select their own rooms, either because of their Chromebook or iPad devices, the way they access Zoom, or both.  See generally Gibney, Tips for Zoom Breakout Rooms, https://www.sais.org/page/zoom_breakout_rooms, at 2 (explaining students using the Web version of Zoom cannot select their own rooms). 

When I let the students know they would need their pair numbers for our next class, I also asked them to notify me before class if their device did not allow them to choose their own breakout rooms.  Therefore, I had a handy list and was able to quickly send these students to the proper rooms by manually assigning them. 

Several students told me after class that they really enjoyed the time in partner breakout rooms.  As much as we wish we could teach partner pairs to write briefs together in person, Zoom’s self-selecting breakout rooms at least allow us the chance to let the students meet together during class.

Happy Zooming!

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/appellate_advocacy/2021/02/using-zooms-choose-you-own-breakout-room-option-for-teaching-brief-writing.html

Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Web/Tech | Permalink

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