By Liz Tate & Nate Furman

Zoom: Self-Select Breakout Rooms & Co-hosts Can Manage Breakout Rooms

Moving to online education can be a challenge for even the most tech-savvy and seasoned instructor.  Zoom has been the answer for most instructors when it comes to delivering content and interacting with students.  Sadly, this risks a “teacher” centered way of instruction, which would be fairly one-sided with students all muted staring at the instructor presentation or at a sea of students. Organic conversations and interactions are a challenge due to the pandemic.  But, new features in Zoom are making the use of breakout rooms easier, which is enormously helpful in revitalizing class conversation.

Self-selecting breakout rooms are available for hosts using the software version 5.3.0 or higher in Zoom.  Unfortunately, if any participant is running an older version, then the host will need to manually assign the participant to a breakout room.  Therefore, if a host plans to use this feature, it would be beneficial for them to be sure that all of their participants have upgraded their software to take full advantage of this feature, which allows participants to choose a breakout room once the host has opened the rooms. 

Tip: Instructors might even want to create an assignment that has students submit a screenshot of their upgraded software version as evidence.

As an instructor, utilizing self-selecting breakout rooms allows for students to more actively engage in their learning.  The self-select breakout room option opens up a number of possibilities for the online classroom that may not have been feasible previously.  This can be an opportunity for the classroom to “mimic” more of the experiences that happen in a face-to-face classroom.  Think outside the box!

Self-selecting breakout rooms are ideal for student autonomy, however, “with great power comes great responsibility”.  In a virtual environment, students can easily choose to not engage in class when using self-selecting breakout rooms.  Be sure to set the expectations for the effective use of breakout rooms in your Zoom classroom.  The responsibility falls upon the student to move where they are instructed to and/or appropriately engage within a breakout room as the instructor does not have the ability to monitor the rooms.  During a transition to and from the breakout rooms and the main session, students should be careful to not leave the meeting (accidentally or on purpose!).  Click for further information on participating in breakout rooms.

Another recently released feature allows co-hosts to manage breakout rooms, in addition to the host.  Previously, only the host could manage breakout rooms, which made it difficult when there were a large number of participants that needed to be manually assigned within the meeting. These two new features join Pre-Assigned Breakout rooms and enhance the possibilities of what can be done in the virtual Zoom classroom.  If you are an instructor planning on using Pre-Assigned Breakout rooms please refer to the Pre-assigning Participants to Breakout Rooms documentation on the Faculty Technology Resources course module on Zoom.  If you need further assistance on implementing these tools in your classroom, please contact

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