Teaching Continuity at Caltech  /  Tech & Tools  /  Digital Whiteboard Technologies

Digital Whiteboard Technologies

We recognize that applications and hardware to support the equivalent of whiteboard/chalkboard work in an online environment are crucial for Caltech teaching.

AMT and/or CTLO have done some preliminary tests of the following applications, equipment, and combinations thereof to create an online experience of whiteboard/chalkboard work, incorporating feedback from faculty and students (via surveys and ARC). Please note that you may need to experiment to find a combination that works best for you. Also note that, except for Zoom, the applications mentioned below are external platforms and do not have a Caltech site license; whenever using third-party applications, please be cautious, do not re-use passwords, and remind students not to re-use passwords.

Some of the equipment below is available for borrowing by Caltech instructors. Find out more here.

How to Use Digital Whiteboards for Teaching and Collaboration: Faculty and Student Perspectives

Video | Slides

Join Jenn Weaver (CTLO Associate Director for University Teaching), Justin S. Bois (Teaching Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering), Sarah E. Reisman (Professor of Chemistry; Investigator, Heritage Medical Research Institute and Executive Officer for Chemistry), Nicholas R. (Nick) Hutzler (Assistant Professor of Physics) and Arushi Gupta (Undergraduate in Mathematics, Academics and Research Committee (ARC) Chair) for this introduction to digital, collaborative whiteboard applications, ways to use them for teaching, and how to incorporate them into office hours, recitations, and student collaboration.

Planning your Approach to Digital Whiteboard Work:

  1. One common approach to digital whiteboard work is to use some type of electronic surface and stylus or digital pen device. E.g., a smartphone, a tablet such as an iPad, a computer with a touch screen such as Microsoft Surface, a desktop or laptop computer with a bluetooth or USB writing/drawing tablet, like this one (there are other varieties and models). The electronic surface and stylus are then paired with an application such as those listed below, providing the instructor and/or students with a digital drawing/writing experience, and a way to share and save their work. The view of the application on the screen can then be video recorded and/or shared in real time with students, using Zoom videoconferencing or another screen capture tool.
  2. The second approach uses a device called a document camera, which is a little bit like an overhead projector, but entirely digital, like this one (again, there are many varieties and models). With this approach, the instructor can write on a piece of paper on their desktop, and the document camera captures and transmits their writing in real time to a computer, where it can be video recorded and/or shared in real time with students, using Zoom videoconferencing or another screen capture tool. The instructor may then scan the pieces of paper they used and share them as PDFs with students.

Applications for Digital Whiteboard Work:

For any of these applications, you would most likely use an electronic surface and stylus, as described above, as the drawing input for the application. Please note that applications marked with * are not Caltech licensed or reviewed; see FERPA and Security for cautions about using such applications.

  • Zoom has a built-in whiteboard with basic functionality; possibly best for small amounts of whiteboard work, as the ability to save/share images is limited. In Zoom it is possible to allow students to collaborate and also annotate the whiteboard, or for the instructor only to use the whiteboard. Watch a tutorial of the built-in whiteboard and annotation features.
  • Office Online has several products that can be used for digital whiteboard work under the Caltech institutional license:
    • Draw on PowerPoint slides: You can also annotate powerpoint slides, either blank or with initial content, and think of them as digital whiteboards. There is no built-in sharing/collaboration functionality, so PowerPoint would be best for the instructor's use.
    • Use OneNote to write by hand, draw, or sketch, either with your finger or a stylus. Professor Nick Hutzler has kindly shared a tutorial for organizing your group meetings, office hours or lecture notes on OneNote. Caltech's ARC recommends this application for instruction, noting that they really appreciate the opportunity to see previous whiteboards and to organize their whiteboard notes.
  • *AWW, or "A Web Whiteboard,"* is a simple online whiteboard application. It gives you a large space that you can zoom in/out of, which you could break into "boards" for working on sections of problems or concepts. The free version allows downloading of pdf versions of your work with a branded watermark. AWW allows for instructor use, or to share a whiteboard with a group for real-time collaboration. Caltech's ARC recommends this application for student collaboration.
  • *Ziteboard, a contraction of "zoomable" and "whiteboard,"* is another online whiteboard application. It has similar features to AWW and you may want to try both to find out what you prefer. Ziteboard also allows for instructor use, or to share a whiteboard with a group for real-time collaboration.
  • *Miro is also an online whiteboard application that allows various levels of sharing and collaboration. Some Caltech faculty are successfully using Miro as their whiteboard application with Zoom, as well as sharing the full whiteboard with students in real time (view only) so that they can zoom in or scroll back as needed, independent of what is being shown in Zoom. Watch Getting Started with Miro tutorials.

Modes of Use for Digital Whiteboards:

1) Using Whiteboards for Teaching

  • Instructors can share their whiteboards with the class, either allowing them to contribute to the whiteboard, or locking it for instructor use only. Caltech faculty have used numerous applications, including OneNote, Notability and GoodNotes. Check out our video featuring Caltech faculty and students sharing their favorite digital whiteboard apps and see Professor Nick Hutzler's tutorial for using OneNote in your teaching.

2) Using Whiteboards for Collaboration

  • Students can share whiteboards with eachother, allowing multiple parties to write on the same whiteboard. ARC recommends *AWW, or "A Web Whiteboard," for this, where students can start a whiteboard and share the link for this whiteboard with others. Find instructions for students on "Using an iPad with Zoom for digital whiteboard collaboration" at the bottom of this webpage: http://learn.caltech.edu/tech-tools/iPad-Loaner. When sharing digital whiteboards for real-time collaboration, that screen can also be shared by a student in the Zoom lecture for others to see who aren't part of the collaboration (i.e. students can 'share screen' of their whiteboard when reporting out to the class after group work).

Tablets and Document Cameras tested with Zoom:

AMT has conducted tests of several pieces of equipment with Zoom videoconferencing. Here are recorded demonstrations:

Document Camera "Life Hack":

  • Educators and students have shared creative ways to use their phone cameras and household objects to create their own document cameras, allowing their "digital whiteboard" to be their own paper and pen/pencil.
  • Similarly, if you have a webcam that is not attached to your computer, it's possible to rig it pointing downward at your writing surface, making it into a document camera. Some webcams have a built-in standard tripod attachment, so using a regular photography tripod may work. Attaching a webcam to the adjustable arm of a desk lamp or similar item may also work.

Additional Input from Caltech Faculty:

Caltech faculty have also reported successful digital whiteboard work using the following:

  • Hardware: Microsoft Surface Pro computer/tablet (NOTE: none available for borrowing)
  • Recording software: for screen and voice recording of digital whiteboard work or other on-screen work. Please note that the applications below are not Caltech licensed or reviewed; see FERPA and Security for cautions about using such applications.
Snagit (for PC and Mac) - watch a Caltech-specific tutorialCamtasia (for PC and Mac) - watch a Caltech-specific tutorialScreenFlow (for Mac only) watch a Caltech-specific tutorial

We recognize there are a lot of potential combinations here. AMT and/or CTLO would be happy to walk through a process and try it out with you: please don't hesitate to reach out to us.