Prof. Dr. Debora Weber-Wulff  Teaching Ideas

Breakout rooms in BigBlueButton

9 April 2020

Okay, I'm game. I like to play with technology, especially eLearning technology. I was a bit skittish about BigBlueButton as my attempt to use it two days ago was a disaster, but that could also have been because my Internet connection died just a few minutes into the session.

So today 19 students and I attempted to do group work using the breakout rooms in BigBlueButton.

For some reason, I managed to enter in listening mode only, although I was sure I had clicked on the microphone button. Why ask this all the time? The moderator should be able to choose mute on entry, end of story. I logged out and came back, now it worked. There was one student already there who had used BBB in the previous course in the morning, but now her microphone was not working. I had her log out and back in again, that seemed to work. Kind of like kicking the tires on a car that won't start. It works sometimes!

My MacBookPro was running hot, the ventilators were churned up to high speed as I prepared for class. For some reason I seemed to have to "unlock" every student in the room, some of them multiple times as they left and returned. I began to get angry at the voice telling me my mike was on or off, why can't I turn this off?

I tried a screen share, and nothing happened. I tried it again, and now after quite some time, two arrows turning in a circle appeared. And turned. And turned. And turned. Luckily I had the material open online as a backup, so I threw the URL in the chat and had everyone turn to the page.

I explained our plan B rules before setting up the breakout rooms. The breakout room organizing screen replaced my screen instead of being a new floating window, that was kind of irritating. I set up the 6 rooms, I had to give the exact number of minutes they were to be in the room, and it did distribute everyone except me to the rooms. So I pushed the button and held my breath. Indeed, soon all the students were gone and I had a new menu item, the breakout rooms. My plan was to hop through in order to check that everyone was okay, and then settle down to just watch the Moodle chat room I had open as a back channel.

There were links to join the rooms either as video or audio only. I clicked on "join" for the first room, and nothing happened (apparently, I found out later that the first click generates the link). I clicked again, and a new tab opened with the room - except that I had to go through the audio test again. Click on permit to use, decide how to join, do the echo test. But it worked, very cool! The first group was fine, so I looked to leave, but there was nothing I could find to leave, except a "logout" in the menu in the upper right hand corner. I don't want to logout, I want to visit the next room! So I just closed the extra tab.

And I was back in the main conference and had to do the microphone dance again. This was getting irritating. When trying to enter the second room, I saw the quick statement under the join link saying: Link generated. Okay klick on it again, and I now have to do the microphone thing AGAIN. This time I try logout, and it says to me that I will be returned to my main room. Except I wasn't, I was dumped into some window to log onto BBB at my school. Luckily, this was in a new tab, so the main room was still there, except that I had to DO THE MICROPHONE THING AGAIN.

Group 3 had a problem. One student could not use her mike. My kicking-the-tires routine was to have her log out and back in again, and I would put her back in the room. She logged out and came back into the main room, and I wanted to put her in Group 3. But there was no way I could find to put her back. I clicked all around, I could see that she was unassigned in the breakout room assignment window, but I couldn't find any way to put her in any group. The groups were all listed as being empty. I tried dragging her name to Group 3, no such luck. So I set up a quick Zoom room, gave her the link, went back to the students left in Group 3 (did the microphone thing AGAIN) and gave them the link.

The rest were okay, so I sat and stared at the screen. An occasional comment floated up in the Moodle chat, and one woman arrived very late. No chance to add her to a room, she will have to do the exercise alone. There didn't seem to be any way for me to send a message to all of the groups. And when in one of the rooms (that was playing with making recursive pictures of their screens) I looked around for some way for them to reach me for help, like in Zoom. I didn't see anything. One nice thing, though, was that the time left was counting down at the top of each breakout room, and I had a countdown in the main room, too.

Everyone was brought back at the end of the breakout time, and we discussed the experience. One student noted that Chrome might have been better for this experiment, and that is true, I was using Firefox. The general opinion was: well, it worked, but we want Zoom next week, please.

And so it shall be! It may be that my school's installation of BBB needs fine tuning. Like I hate this microphone test repeat, and the tinny voice telling me that I have switched off my mike after I just clicked on the button to turn it off. Oh, maybe it is trying to sneakily store a cookie without asking me. Could be my ad-blocker then. Nope. Just tried it with Chrome and ad-blocker off. Still get asked for permission to use the mike every single time I switch rooms.

Next week I'll be back at Zoom. I see that they have updated the systems. We held the following lecture in Zoom, and people participated very enthusiastically via the chat room!