Monitoring Virtual BreakOut Rooms

Our goal is to give teachers eyes and ears into virtual breakout rooms.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of teachers and students into distance-learning, but technologies such as Google Meet or Zoom lack opportunities for student-teacher engagement that comes with face-to-face physical classrooms. For instance, teachers are used to subtly monitoring student group-work in the classroom to observe progress. Zoom has a "Breakout Room" capability where student groups can work together, but it is impossible to monitor multiple breakout rooms at the same time, or monitor individual breakout rooms without the teacher interfering with the group’s progress. For example, when Dr. Heffernan joins his own Zoom classes at WPI, conversations cease as soon the students notice his presence. When teachers join their students’ breakout rooms, they immediately draw attention to themselves.

We propose to overcome the “monitoring” challenge in a couple of ways:

  1. The first solution is to provide teachers transcripts from each breakout group that are generated using spoken language-to-text technology. At the moment, existing capability of voice to text is not perfect, but nonetheless, it's still valuable.

  2. Random rooms, let kids choose their own rooms, or have the teachers manually assign (which is laborious and wastes valuable time). Let ASSISTments assign kids into the right rooms. Have the kids do a problem, they type in their answer, then kids who don't agree are placed together so they can discuss.

  3. Nudge to a Student: We are also exploring Zoom and Google Meet integrations to enable teachers to listen into the various rooms. Each room could contain a bot-like "Virtual ASSISTant" that stands in place of the teacher. By having a stand-in for the teacher (in the form of this bot) in every room, students won't know who the teacher is listening to. Before the teacher intervenes, the VA-Bot can "nudge" students in real time. For example, it can chat: "I noticed that not everyone has had a chance to contribute. If you haven't spoken yet, would you like to do so now? And if it becomes clear a group is getting out of hand, the VA-Bot can alert the teacher to visit the room in person.

  4. Nudge to Teacher: We would also build a tool to automatically summarize the transcripts and give teachers nudges to alert the teachers to which groups of students (rooms) they need to pay attention to. We use the term "nudges" for brief support to teachers like "John said nothing during Breakout room 4; do you want to prompt him?" If the teacher acknowledges, the system then suggests a few options on how the teacher may respond to the student or the group.

  5. Similar to Google’s Smart Reply which uses AI to scan received emails and suggest responses, the system may provide several response options for teachers to choose from, based on analysis of the transcripts, such as 1) "I see you did not participate. Can you try to participate next time?", 2) "Are you ok? I see you did not participate?" or 3) "I see you did not participate in the breakout discussion. Was it caused by who you were with? Let me know and we can talk".

We are currently funded by the Louisiana Department of Education to support the development of new software to help teachers and tutors better monitor students' online behavior, but they have not funded this particular idea.

Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School in Massachusetts has expressed interest in partnering to test this breakout room software were it to be funded.