By Abbey Delk
I have always hated group projects. Groundbreaking, I know. Many of you probably also get the nervous sweats whenever you see the “Group Presentation” on a course syllabus. (It’s always, inevitably, worth at least 10 percent of the final grade.) Sure, group work fosters “teamwork” and “comradery,” but it also sucks the life out of you.
I don’t know if professors realize it, but their students do not want to work together. We do not want to exchange phone numbers with classmates to text about a Google Slides presentation that no one will work on until three hours before the thing is due. We do not want to interact with each other outside of class. At all. Period.
And honestly, we don’t even want to interact during class. There is nothing worse on this godforsaken earth than when a professor announces that they want the class to break into small groups for discussion. The awkward squeak and shuffle of pushing desks into dumb little clumps. The excruciating silence as you stare at each other, not knowing what to say. The disappointed look on the professor’s face when they walk by and notice that your group is basically just bullshitting until you can all escape when class ends. It’s never a good situation.
And now professors subject us to this nonsense during a global pandemic. On Zoom! Whoever invented the Zoom Breakout Room feature owes reparations to every college student in America. You do not know the damage you have done to our frayed nervous and broken spirits. We hate breakout rooms.
But our professors love them. They cherish them more than anything—more than a well-constructed thesis, closed-book exams, even more than those $300 textbooks they keep making us buy. Breakouts rooms are the answer to every problem in a Zoom class. Students didn’t understand the reading? Breakout rooms! There’s an exam next week? Breakout rooms! No one is talking because it’s an 8:30 a.m. lecture and we’re all still half-asleep? Breakout rooms! It’s like these professors are sponsored by Zoom’s worst feature.
I’m not sure what our professors think we’re doing in these mini Zoom sessions, but I think they’d be disappointed to find out. We don’t magically become more talkative and excited about Immanuel Kant or the French Impressionist Movement or differential equations when we move into breakout rooms. We sort of just…sit there. A lot of the time, we just turn off our microphones and cameras and wish for death. Without the pressure of trying to impress a professor and prove that we are semi-literate, we don’t really have a reason to participate.
See, when there’s a professor there to move the class along, it’s a lot easier to buy into the idea that Zoom school is real and that learning over video chat isn’t insane. It’s the same as those awkward icebreakers we all did at orientation. If everyone buys in and decides it’s not lame, they can actually be sort of fun. But as soon as one person bails, everyone bails. When we’re assigned randomly to groups and then sent away from the professor’s watchful eye, it becomes much harder to get over the weirdness of Zoom and actually talk to each other.
The pauses before someone breaks the deafening silence in those breakout rooms last several centuries. Hercules’s resolve would crumble and crack under the weight of trying to start a conversation in those moments. Students are presented with an impossible choice: you’re either the loser who actually tries to work on the assignment or you’re the lazy bum who refuses to participate and makes everyone uncomfortable.
And when we actually do start talking? It’s not about the homework. Dear professors, do not be offended, but we are talking about you in there. We are complaining that the class is too hard, or that your discussion question was dumb, or that you assign too many readings and are driving us crazy. It’s not because we hate you. It’s because we hate Zoom and we hate online school and you just happen to be a part of that unpleasant equation. (But you really do assign too many readings. Yes, sixty pages by Tuesday is asking a lot. We have other classes.)
So, on behalf of the entire student body, I beg you: please stop making us do group discussions. Not permanently. I know that’s too much to ask. You hold them too close to your hearts to give them up forever. But during this global health crisis, when your students sit at their desks without seeing sunlight or breathing fresh air all day, we are asking for a small crumb of mercy. Abolish Zoom breakout rooms. Believe in a better future. If you do not, it is inevitable that, sooner or later, we shall all perish.