What’s happening in breakout rooms during remote learning?

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Graduate student and LS 192 Teaching Assistant Dayanni Bhagwandin analyses the correlation between student engagement and camera usage in breakout rooms. 

In the Fall quarter 2020, Bhagwandin served as the Teaching Assistant for LS 192 – Pedagogy Seminar for Learning Assistants (LAs). Her position required her to oversee the 200+ Learning Assistants as they moved between content meetings, discussion sections, and pedagogy seminars. She began to notice drastic differences in engagement and participation across discussion sections. 

“Remote learning has thrown many challenges at us educators. I know many of us want our students to learn, but teaching online greatly limits our ability to create a supportive learning community for students,” Bhagwandin explained. “Luckily enough though, Zoom allows us the ability to quickly hop between discussion sections to look for trends in student engagement.”

Working with Professor Shanna Shaked, Senior Associate Director of UCLA Center for Education Innovation and Learning in the Sciences, Bhagwandin began compiling data on camera usage and student engagement. Her idea was to sit in a breakout room for two minutes, note how many cameras were on, and if students were talking to each other. 

“My initial findings compared 14C and 14AE, classes with very different structures,” Bhagwandin explained. “What I saw was that 15% of 14AE students had their cameras off, compared to 14C where 84% of students had their cameras off.”

Bhagwandin became interested in the relationship between class structure and student engagement in a breakout room.

“I know that camera usage for remote learning can be a tough conversation – not every student has the ability to turn their camera on. But students are encouraged to turn their cameras on when more students turn their cameras on. So, I was wondering – if cameras are not required for both classes, ‘Why does 14AE have a much higher percentage of students with their cameras on?’”


Bhagwandin compiled data across three more lectures and also saw a similar trend between engagement and camera usage. Floating or leading refers to whether or not the LAs and TAs moved between breakout rooms. 

She makes the point that this data does not give us conclusive evidence about student learning in these classes but instead could indicate what the breakout room style is being implemented in a discussion section.


Bhagwandin’s data suggests that breakout rooms that had a higher percentage of students with cameras on, had students that engaged in group work with one another. Meanwhile breakout rooms that had a lower percentage of cameras on only had questions asked to the LAs or TAs.

“I think moving forward with remote learning, we have to pay close attention to our students’ sense of community. Students are always finding ways to connect in class – but with breakout rooms facilitating that interaction becomes much harder.”

Bhagwandin presented her data to faculty on December 12, 2020 to summarize her findings and discuss new ways to facilitate student engagement online. She hopes that her data can be used to create stronger online learning communities for students who have been struggling with a remote education.

About Dayanni Bhagwandin

A native of the Caribbean country Guyana, Bhagwandin moved with her parents to the U.S. (New York City and New Jersey) when she was 3 years old. She attended the High School for Math, Science, and Engineering at the City College of New York and then studied chemistry at Hunter College as a Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) and Yalow Scholar. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2017 from Hunter, Bhagwandin joined the chemistry graduate program at UCLA. Her research in Professor Yves Rubin’s group involves synthesizing novel organic materials for electronic applications such as supercapacitors and solar cells.

This year, Bhagwandin was chosen as one of 16 CCST Science Translators at the California State Capitol in Sacramento and in 2019, she was featured in UCLA’s Center for Diverse Leadership in Science (CDLS) video series highlighting diverse scientists.

A passionate science advocate and communicator, Bhagwandin is creating a 10-part video series, “Yo SciComm!”, to highlight the lack of diversity in STEM and educate the public about science research. Her project is part of the We Be Imagining Incubator, a program whose goal is to infuse academic discourse with the performance arts in order to foster critical conversations around race, gender, class, and disability. Her first video in the series can be viewed here.

For further information, contact Dayanni Bhagwandin, dayanni24@gmail.com.