Encourage participation and collaboration in Zoom

October 13, 2020 | WKU (Scott D'Amico), Claudia Stanny (ed.)

Encourage participation and collaboration in Zoom

Using Zoom as a virtual classroom environment can preset a number of challenges specifically as it pertains to student engagement. However, Zoom also provides tools that can be used creatively to help encourage in-class participation and collaboration among groups. Breakout rooms in Zoom sessions enable instructors to use several teaching strategies that engage students:

  • Breakout rooms create a space in which students can interact with one another about course content and skills.
  • Instructors can “drop in” on breakout rooms to engage with students in small groups.
  • Instructors can hold students accountable for on-tasks behaviors by documenting the discussions if students save collaborative Google docs, save the collaborative whiteboard, or save the breakout room chat transcript.

Use whiteboards and shared Google docs to enable collaboration for a group activity in a breakout room and document the collaboration

Students can use whiteboards within breakout rooms to draw diagrams of complex concepts or for working on mathematical computations. These activities are especially useful for STEM disciplines, but they can be just as useful in other disciplines. For example, whiteboards work well for group mind mapping activities where students visually diagram complex information like a historical figure’s motivations or a literary character’s emotions. It can also be used to allow students to brainstorm about a particular topic. 

  • Whiteboard. Students use the annotations tool to collaborate on the whiteboard. Each student’s contribution will be notated on the whiteboard itself in the annotations, so instructors can determine who contributed what. Whiteboard content can be saved within a breakout room and shared with the rest of the class.
  • Google doc. A shared Google doc is useful for collaborations that rely on text more than diagrams or mathematical computations. Students collaboratively edit a shared Google doc. Like a whiteboard, the document will identify which student contributed specific changes to the document. At the end of the activity, the document can be saved and shared with the instructor or the class. 

Whiteboards and shared Google docs facilitate breakout room activities because they

  • Allow multiple students to annotate on the whiteboard or document simultaneously.
  • Can record and document individual student contributions.
  • Can be saved for instructor review or sharing with the larger class.

Breakout rooms as virtual meeting spaces
Schedule a recurring Zoom meeting for small groups of students to meet and discuss an assignment, project, or class activity. Ask students to record the meeting to give the instructor a record of the meeting and student contributions. These meetings can be useful if you want students to engage in discussions outside of class about course content or if you have assigned group projects. For example, in a political science course, you may assign a group of students to discuss a particular policy issue in a podcast format. 

Breakout sessions outside of class time create virtual meeting spaces that:

  • Provide a flexible space where student can meet at an agreed upon time.
  • Can be setup so that recordings are automatic and sent to the cloud for instructor review.

Create breakout rooms for simulations and role-play activities
ourses that rely on role play or simulations as learning activities can facilitate these with a breakout room. If a simulation requires students to work in independent teams, breakout rooms allow teams to work simultaneously and independently. Breakout rooms can be set to close after a fixed time (e.g., 10 minutes to engage in a specific role play). Instructors can move between breakout rooms to monitor group progress and offer feedback. In addition, students in the breakout room can use the chat box to interact. The instructor can comment on the activity when visiting the room, minimizing interruptions for comments such as a correction of inaccurate information or answering questions that arise during a simulation.

In sum, Zoom can help instructors facilitate simulations because it:

  • Provides breakout rooms that can be timed.
  • Allows the host to move from breakout room to breakout room.
  • Contains chat functionality that allows for instructors to correct factually inaccurate information, provide additional details to participants, or steer the simulation back on track with minimum interruptions.



Enabling breakout rooms. (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2020, from https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/206476093-Enabling-breakout-rooms

Sharing a whiteboard. (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2020, from https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/205677665-Sharing-a-whiteboard

Shaw, C. M., & Rosen, A. (2010). Designing and Using Simulations and Games. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190846626.013.66

Using annotation tools on a shared screen or whiteboard. (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2020, from https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/115005706806-Using-annotation-tools-on-a-shared-screen-or-whiteboard


This tip is based on “Encouraging Participation and Collaboration in Zoom” submitted by Scott D’Amico, Faculty Development Specialist, Political Science, Alamo Colleges District to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium used under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/), which permits non-commercial reuse, adaptation, and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly attributed to the author.

“Encourage participation and collaboration in Zoom,” modified by Claudia J. Stanny is Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by Claudia J. Stanny.

Creative Commons language from UWK Teaching Issues Writing Consortium (November 28, 2016).

10/13/2020 ajc