Breakout group allocation schedules and the social golfer problem with adjacent group sizes

Alice Miller*, Matthew Barr, William Kavanagh, Ivaylo Valkov, Helen C. Purchase

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
77 Downloads (Pure)


The current pandemic has led schools and universities to turn to online meeting software solutions such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The teaching experience can be enhanced via the use of breakout rooms for small group interaction. Over the course of a class (or over several classes), the class will be allocated to breakout groups multiple times over several rounds. It is desirable to mix the groups as much as possible, the ideal being that no two students appear in the same group in more than one round. In this paper, we discuss how the problem of scheduling balanced allocations of students to sequential breakout rooms directly corresponds to a novel variation of a well-known problem in combinatorics (the social golfer problem), which we call the social golfer problem with adjacent group sizes. We explain how solutions to this problem can be obtained using constructions from combinatorial design theory and how they can be used to obtain good, balanced breakout room allocation schedules. We present our solutions for up to 50 students and introduce an online resource that educators can access to immediately generate suitable allocation schedules.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
Issue number1
Early online date23 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Online meeting software
  • Breakout room
  • Small group teaching
  • Block design
  • Scheduling
  • Combinatorics
  • Social golfer problem


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