Breakout groups allow multiple linked Collaborate sessions to happen at the same time; the online equivalent of students splitting off to work in groups in a classroom. In a breakout room, students can share their screen or files as if they were a presenter.
To set up breakout groups, go to the Sharing tab at the bottom of the right-hand panel. Click on Breakout Groups at the bottom.
You can choose random or custom assignment – select the one you want from the Assign Groups dropdown.
You can choose the number of groups. How many options you have depends on the number of attendees in the session. Blackboard will distribute attendees based on there being at least two in each group, so if you have four attendees you will only have the option of two groups, with two people in each. If you have six attendees, you can have two groups of three or three groups of two.
You will see the list of people in each group at the bottom of the panel. If you don’t like the mix, you can click Shuffle to get a new distribution. If you need particular people in certain groups, for example to distribute moderators, you can drag and drop them to do some manual rearrangement. Once you click on ‘Start Breakout Groups’ everyone will be connected to a new session corresponding to their group. When you end breakout groups they will return to the main room.
Note that you cannot set the groups up in advance, because Blackboard Collaborate works with the actual attendees in the session. Random assignment allows you to set up groups quickly, particularly when you have large numbers of attendees.
Custom groups will take longer to set up because, unless you let participants switch groups, you or another moderator will need to drag and drop each participant into the required group. This may be okay for small numbers, but would take a lot of time with a large group. One way around this is enable the ‘Allow students to switch groups’ option (this option is also available in random groups) and ask students to go to the group they need to be in. For example, if each group was working on a different topic, you could rename the groups to match the topics and tell students to go to the correct one. Setting up the correct number of groups and naming them could be done just before the class starts, as long as you do not leave the session in between.
With custom assignment, students stay in the main room until they join a group. This means you could start the breakout groups early on but not direct students to them until later.
Simply click on Group 1, Group 2 etc. in your list of groups and type the new name.
Saving information and ending breakout groups
Breakout groups are temporary structures; once you end breakout groups you will lose the participant lists, the group names and anything that is being shared on screen in the group (for example, whiteboard drawings). Therefore if you want to use the same groups more than once, ask students to return to the main room without ending the breakout groups. They can then go back to them later. If you need to save a list of who was in which group, the best way may be to take a screenshot. There is unfortunately no way of downloading this information. Note also that recording does not take place within the breakout rooms; make sure anything you need to show in a final recording takes place in the main room while the recording is on.
If students need to keep annotations on a slide or whiteboard from their group, they can right-click on it and save it to their computer. To share a file from their group back in the main room, they will need to upload it under Share Files. The file will then become available in the main room in your Share Files section, within a folder for that group (these files remain after breakout groups have ended). So to share a whiteboard drawing, a student in the breakout group would need to save it to their computer and then re-upload the file (if they forget to upload a file they will either have to email it to you, or you can make them a presenter in the main room).
Information for students
Our guide for students has a section on breakout groups which includes instructions for students on how to join a custom group, share files and save their group whiteboard.
Further information for staff
For step-by-step guidance on using Blackboard Collaborate, see our previous article Contingency plan: Delivering webinars.