Break out rooms are the actual worst part of being a student in 2020

i’M gOiNg tO pUt YoU iN BrEaKouT roOmS NoW


It is a fact of life that there has never been a sentence more fear-inducing than “I’m going to put you into breakout rooms”.

The mere mention of it will make your palms go clammy, the colour drain from your face, and your stomach go queasy. They are the bane of every Zoom University student’s existence.

I don’t know about you, but after months of isolation and my only contact being through the weekly Zoom quiz, I have lost all ability to function socially. It was so bad that when I saw my housemates again for the first time, it took me a good few hours to say anything intelligible. So naturally, Breakout Rooms are a no from me when the pressure of having to speak in one brings me back to that sorry state.

So yes, Breakout Rooms are the worst thing to happen on our computer screens. And if you’re doubtful – which most sane humans won’t be, but there are those strange few – here’s some hard evidence:

It encourages a kind of intimacy that we’re just not ready for

Let’s face it, Breakout Rooms are essentially blind dates no one signed up for. You’re 1-on-1 with someone you’ve never met in your life and you’re holding onto loose threads to keep the conversation going. The chat is poor, you wish you were quite literally anywhere else, and you don’t even have food or wine to cut the sickeningly palpable tension. My worst experience in a Breakout Room was with someone who’d Super Liked me on Tinder. To make matters worse, I had no clue what was going on, he had to explain everything to me, and then told me to come better prepared next time. I wanted the ground to swallow me up and my Wi-Fi to cut out. Neither happened and it somehow ended up more awkward for me than the guy I’d rejected. Horrendous.

It’s a cop-out for the lecturer

I’m not sure about you, but I pay my nine grand a year to be taught by an actual lecturer – not to sit in silence for the best part of an hour. Yes, they might have prepared question sheets or conversation starters, but they’d be about as useful if they were written in hieroglyphs. I’ve never once gotten beyond the first task on a resource sheet without someone saying they’d rather not do the rest, and if someone does want to talk, it’s very much a one-sided conversation that no one else benefits from. We’re there to hear what the lecturer has to say about their subject, not the odd keeno beano who dominates the Breakout Room discussion.

The timer giving a 60-second warning can do one

There is nothing more passive-aggressive than the timer counting down the seconds until it kicks you out of the Breakout Room, and it defines the two types of people in this world. The first are the ones who patiently wait until the time is up, finish any conversation that may be taking place, jovially nod goodbye to one another, and then graciously allow Zoom to bring them back to the main group. The second and scarier type are those who click to go back immediately. It’s just not normal. Imagine not having the courtesy to sit out that minute, which is even more rude when you’re mid-conversation. All the speedy reaction gets you is an awkward minute face-to-face with the lecturer and the other miserable people who did the same. A PSA to those Type Twos out there: get some help.

No work can possibly get done

No one knows what’s going on or really cares. Most people haven’t even done the prep for the lecture. Why even bother? In these Breakout Rooms, the only conversation will be small talk about that week’s Bake Off or something else equally mundane, like the weather. Fun.

They’re a faff to coordinate

Breakout Rooms are hard to coordinate for even the most computer literate people, so I have real sympathy for the lecturers who struggle using technology at the best of times. The groups need to be input manually and the whole process is completely unenjoyable for anyone. I could bake a loaf of homemade sourdough in the time it takes to assemble everyone into Breakout Rooms. I could, but I won’t.

They’re just begging for technical difficulties

There is no way you can divvy up that many people into multiple groups and not have an issue. Like Pooja says, “you’re asking for it, you’re dying for it”. Countless people will be put in the wrong rooms, or get kicked out of rooms in a technical glitch. It’s now common courtesy to wait a moment for something bad to happen before anyone starts speaking. Over the summer I worked on a virtual kid’s camp that used Zoom, and the worst part was when kids showed up late and would be alone in the main room for ages when everyone else was already in groups and the admin wouldn’t know. The same has happened to me at uni twice this week alone, woe is me.

Lecturers love being social butterflies

Their ability to hop between rooms should honestly be an Olympic sport. You never know when they could be eavesdropping on a conversation, so it’s important to do your best Boris impression and “stay alert”. One of my lecturers never has their camera on, and every time their voice pops up in a Breakout Room without warning, I nearly have a heart attack. You can hear the disappointment in their voice when they realise you’ve discussed nothing relevant, and then do their best primary school teacher impression to encourage you to interact. I almost expect them to whip out the Talking Stick.

The people that are muted and have their video off just radiate awful vibes

It may now be spooky season, but you’ve put your costume on a few weeks too early – no one needs a ghost in their Breakout Room. Yes, it may be acceptable to do this in the main group, but now, you’re not fooling anyone. We know you’re there. Please speak.

It can be genuinely anxiety-inducing

If you’ve not done the prep work, then it’s all on you, but for those people who find it genuinely nerve-wracking to be confronted with complete strangers, Breakout Rooms are horrible. If you hate public speaking and don’t know anyone else, it can completely detract from anything positive you’ve learned in the lecture. The fight or flight kicks in and it can be difficult to function, and you’ve lost focus for the rest of the session. Not ideal at all.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Here are the 15 types of people you’ll encounter during your Zoom seminar this term

• It’s time someone said it: Zoom group calls are exhausting and we should be done with them

• This is how to get out of all those Zoom calls without hurting anyone’s feelings