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An Ode To Zoom Breakout Rooms

There’s something about Zoom breakout rooms that make us apprehensive, giddy, and attentive all in one.

You quite literally never know what you’re going to get. It’s awesome.

When you’re scrolling on Twitter 40 minutes into the Zoom lecture and you hear your Math 141 professor announce, “OK, class. I’m going to split you into breakout rooms for 15 minutes,” it’s as if the world suddenly stopped spinning.

First, there’s panic.

“Oh, shit. Does my hair look okay? Am I wearing a shirt? Are there any empty beer bottles in my background?”

You have 30 seconds to get your entire life together or make the conscious decision that your messy hair is good enough for the famous Penn State TikTokers to see.

Once you make it into the breakout room, everyone’s cameras are off and there’s nothing but silence. This is where it gets interesting. Is someone going to speak? Are people going to turn their cameras on? Hello?!

It’s thrilling to see if there is a bold soul who is willing to say something or at the very least throw a “Hey” into the chat. Zoom breakout rooms can be awkward and forced, yet it’s always humorous.

Time and time again, a Penn State student will lead with the classic, “How is everyone doing today?” only to get ignored. Sometimes the silence will last the duration of the fifteen minutes, but other times it will lead to a meaningful discussion. The uncertainty is fascinating.

Despite the risk of a failed breakout room, they have the potential to be really effective, and it helps Zoom classes feel a lot less isolating.

One by one as the cameras come on and the group starts talking, Penn State students have the opportunity to talk not only about biology, but about lingering questions, other professors, and whether or not the new Yallah is worth the hype (it is).

The best part? Professors have no idea what a Zoom breakout room is really like. Most of them wholeheartedly believe that the discussions are strictly academic with complete participation. To students, they’re a quarantine meme.

Perhaps I am in the minority, but Zoom breakout rooms are undoubtedly one of the best parts of remote learning at Penn State. If you’re not lucky enough to get placed into a straightforward, productive group, the alternative is silence and awkwardness which is just as rewarding — and hilarious.

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About the Author

Colleen Nersten

Colleen is a senior biology major from York, Pa and is one of Onward State's associate editors. She overuses the ~tilde~ and aspires to be no other than the great Guy Fieri. You can find Colleen filling up her gas tank at Rutter’s, the ~superior~ Pennsylvania gas station. Please direct any questions or concerns to [email protected] For the hijinks, always.

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