Zooming with Zara: Breaking down breakout rooms


Student Zara Denison is the only member of her breakout room with her camera on. (all students consented to the photo)

To turn your camera on or to not turn your camera on, this has been the question of the school year. Well, for some of us it’s been a question. For others, well, we have yet to see your faces all of the first quarter.

While some teachers prompt students to turn their cameras on, others do not. For example, during my psychology class, only three students have their cameras on. This environment feels weird, but when it is only the teacher who is talking, it’s easier to accept the anonymity of the class. But what about in a smaller environment where you’re expected to speak? Hail; the breakout room.

Breakout rooms are a feature on Zoom where teachers put students into groups to talk and do work together. Unlike real-life collaboration where students are forced to interact with each other, breakout rooms can be a breeding ground for awkward encounters, amazing conversations with friends unheard from since March, or painful silence.

It’s so awkward. So, I think maybe nobody heard me, right?

— Rozhin Fadae

Senior Rozhin Fadae recalls one of her not-so-pleasant breakout sessions. “For Honors nutrition class, we go into breakout rooms pretty often to do work so I will go into the room and say hi with my camera on and nobody responds. It’s so awkward. So, I think maybe nobody heard me, right? I say hello to everyone again, and still everyone just keeps their camera off and sounds off,” Fadae said.

Breakout rooms can be a nice way to reconnect with friends…or not. A junior recalls a time in her AP Lang class where she was accidentally put in a breakout room by herself. “I was so confused because this was kind of in the beginning of the school year and I didn’t really know what was going on with Zoom. I just sat there for 10 minutes by myself before the teacher came in and found me all by myself. It was so embarrassing,” the junior said.

Despite possible challenges that can be faced with breakout rooms and breaking through to other classmates, it’s crucial to be as direct as possible.

One day during school, a friend of mine came over so that we could do school together. While I was in one of my more laidback classes, she sat with me and would chat while I was doing my work. During that class, I was in a small group of fewer than 15 people, and my friend was chatting away about everything under the sun. I think to myself, “Hm, why is the Zoom so quiet?”, only for me to discover —I was unmuted the whole time.

After the humiliation of being completely exposed to a room where everyone else was silently listening set in, there was nothing left for me to do but turn off my camera and go back into hiding.

The appeal of being able to lay in bed unbothered during class sounds like a dream, but realistically, Calculus is not meant for the bedroom and that should be common sense. It is so easy to sit and hide behind a black screen, but we must think about the teachers on the other side. Zoom times are troubling times, so be with your teachers as best you can. Turn on your cameras and open your hearts kids, because Zoom is here to stay.