Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) has hosted more than our share of webinars, conferences, and online meetings over the last 13 years using tools like Meet, Hangout, and Skype. We began our online conferencing years ago using Elluminate (which is now Blackboard Collaborate) and for many set the course for engaging online events. But more recently, our webinar tool of choice is Zoom. It meets the need we have for the work we do from coaching to courses and to our premiere Connected Learning Experience. (We are accepting applications for teams now for the 20-21 school year.)
Very recently, we have been facilitating learning with the University of Guam and the Guam Department of Education. PLP had the need to facilitate 200-250 member breakout sessions. We kept looking for a way to allow the participants in the web-conferences to self-select their breakout room of choice and move again, if needed, during the two hour learning sessions.
The only help we found in Zoom’s documents required everyone to preregister before the conference or a couple other labor intensive workarounds that just didn’t make sense for what we wanted to do.
Necessity the Mother of Invention
Last month, PLP launched an online 3 Day conference called the Make and Think Micro-Conference. The archives are for sale if you missed it. We had five session (breakouts), repeated 2x each day. Amazing content. Top name speakers.
The structure of the conference required folks to log in to Zoom and then choose which breakout (session) they would attend and after 50 minutes choose their second session. After the conference everyone was sent the archives, tips and tricks sheets, and other resources for all the sessions. It was seamless.
How? We found a work around for participants to self select!
How We Did It
Everyone logged in to Zoom on Day 1. Prior to their arrival we created six breakout rooms, one for each of the presenters and one called “The Park”. Once everyone arrived we did some trust building, house keeping and then explained the process.
- We made everyone a co-host. Now at first, I was concerned about that. I mean what if someone caused a ruckus? However, as I thought it through I realized a couple things. First, we had everyone register for the conference. We knew who was to attend. Everyone had to use a password. As we were getting started, the PLP Team checked the roll and made sure we knew who was there. No surprises. We wagered that our attendees would be fine as co-hosts. At PLP, we believe in empowered learning. Everyone can always share their screens, share files, use their mic, and video etc. in our sessions- so no big change.
- We created a common space we named “The Park”. When it was time for the first breakout, we moved everyone in one swoop to the park. We decided to call it the park because we all were social distancing and knew folks would be able to relate to a virtual stroll outside at the park. Once there, each participant could see all of the breakouts. They simply used the Zoom menu to choose where to go. It was wildly intuitive and very few learners had an issue, but for the few that did we supported them with a two-pronged process:
1) The host went to the park and manually moved people who couldn’t quite “get it” on how to get where they wanted to go.
2) We kept one of our staff in the main room in case anyone was kicked off during the session and needed to get back into their chosen breakout. We would ask individuals where they wanted to go and move them right back in. Super smooth.
- What did we do when it was time to switch rooms? When Session 1 was over we moved everyone back to main and took a 15 minute bio break. When it was time to start back, we reminded everyone of the various sessions (most presenters repeated their content a second time) and then moved everyone to the park again. We used the same support process.
- Wrap Up. When Session 2 was over we simply brought everyone back to main and did a group reflection and some prize drawings and then waved goodbye.
Super easy. No issues. And we did it for all three days of the conference.
If you have any questions just reply below. I am happy to answer and help you think through the issues for your upcoming meeting, conference or event.
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Brilliant! Back on LinkedIn after a hiatus, but I learned so much from PLP back in the day!. Returning to the professional learning arena after a University gig and I know I will profit by continuing to follow PLP.
Excellent idea! This sounds like a solution to a problem we have with virtual meetings for our students: we can bring in a panel of great speakers and include Q& A and even breakout rooms for discussion, but what is always missing is that lively buzz after a real panel when the students can go up to a speaker they are interested in for follow-up conversation — often what they find most valuable! Now that we have an idea how, we may try setting up post-event breakout rooms for these follow-up discussions.
Hi there! Thank you for the insight. I have a really big webinar coming up and I want to have two concurrent breakout sessions. I know you cannot execute breakout rooms in Zoom Webinars but I was thinking of having one central meeting where folks started and then two different links in chat where they could join the breakouts. I cannot figure out how to get them back into the main room, but perhaps the hosts could do that when it was time. What flaws do you see in my logic?
Hi Kristy, thank you for your comment. While we haven’t tried a work around for Zoom Webinars, my recommendation was going to be to have the host in each of the “breakout” rooms reshare the link to the main room, just like you mentioned.