Discover the power of whiteboards apps for in-school, online or hybrid learning

Do you have an iPad? A stylus? So ditch that marker and start writing on your device with these apps instead of using the physical whiteboard on your class:

Why?

Written notes are awesome and colourful but I guess you probably have a limited range of two or three colours if you use a physical whiteboard whereas you’ll have a merely infinite range of colours on the aforementioned apps. Moreover, on note-taking apps such as Notability or GoodNotes, you can add rich content like images, sounds, shapes… Even a web page!

And, last but not least, when you are online, you can share your whiteboard easily. This is an important feature when your students learn remotely but also when you have to deal with hybrid learning and you want to show what you are writing to both students who attend in person and online.

Plus

By using your iPad (or any tablet by the way),

  • You won’t turn your back to your students anymore.
  • You’ll be able to write while walking through your class (be careful though).
  • You’ll never have to erase at the end of the class your lesson (and think of it: why would we have to erase all the work we’ve done?)
  • You can send it to a missing student (simply export your board to PDF or image).
  • Students can review the lesson at their own pace (if you recorded the lesson).

How to do that?

As a start, I mentioned some great iPad apps, but here are some of the apps I use as a whiteboard and this is how I share my lesson with students.

Whiteboard apps

How to share with online students

Most of the time, when remote learning occurs, we can use the Zoom built-in whiteboard. But, as you will see down below, you can find more and more powerful whiteboard apps.

Whatever your choice will be, in Zoom, go to Share Content > Whiteboard or Screen (if you prefer apps such as Notability or JamBoard).

In my view, we must understand that we need both a conference and a whiteboard app. As one can read in this Medium post:

With the academic year getting started, various challenges with distanced learning are starting to emerge. Conferencing tools address the audio and video needs to some extent. The free form instructional aspects of a classroom, such as writing a problem on a whiteboard and watching students work on it, taking notes as a teacher writes on a whiteboard, walking up to the whiteboard to participate are sorely missed.

Therefore, we do need a videoconferencing app such as Zoom or Meet but we also need a whiteboard app. According to your need, some of the apps we’ve mentioned will best suit you.

What I like in these apps

GoodNotes and Notability are great note-taking apps (and with a projector, you have a really nice whiteboard to share with all your students). And if you want to get a glimpse on the possibilities of the latter, please have a look at Tips for Online Learning Using Notability. But whatever are the qualities of these apps, they are not very good when it comes to collaboration (even the new GoodNotes features are quite limited).

So you’d better look for apps like those from Microsoft or Google: Whiteboard & Jamboard. Microsoft and Google are good about sharing. Notability is a very powerful app. I use it all the time as a whiteboard but if I want students to intervene, to write an answer, an app like Jamboard if far more convincing.

But you may also have a look at some free powerful web apps such as Peer.school, WhiteBoard.fi, Whiteboard Chat, etc. All these apps allow you to write and collaborate with students.

Peer.school

I do like Peer.school. It’s a free and open-source project. In addition to that, you can find the code on GitHub.

It’s a very simple app. Indeed, there’s nothing much you can do apart from writing. But all you need is a browser. No registration needed. And I really appreciate that students see the teacher’s camera video while he or she writes on the board.

WhiteBoard.fi

WhiteBoard.fi is a lot more elaborate. It’s free and they have a very nice privacy statement as well. Here’s an excerpt:

No registration is required to use the service. No username, e-mail or password is required.

No personal information is stored or collected. The participants are asked their names when they enter a room (in order for the teacher to identify them), but nicknames or aliases can be used.

All information is deleted when a room is closed (or after 2 hours of inactivity).

No information is shared with third parties.

No tracking ads are displayed on the service.

Moreover, the website is frequently updated and it would take too long to list all the features, but I like the possibility a teacher has to control who enters your room (your session) or to lock it after your class has started.

I also do like the ease with which you can insert math symbols, expressions or equations. Indeed, there is a math editor and you can even insert LaTeX code. More on that on this YouTube video How to use the math tool.

Whiteboard Chat

Whiteboard Chat is probably the most fascinating iteration of this kind of app since it introduces the fusion of a full collaborative whiteboard with a conferencing video app. Moreover, it’s free. It’s possible to use it without logging in, so it’s quick and handy. And there is a ton of nice features such as creating a poll, set a timer, insert math or music symbols, invite people, etc.

You also have a nice grid view allowing you to see every page of the whiteboard (provided that you chose the Start teaching option at the beginning). Handy when your students are working on different pages.

However, to save your whiteboard you will have to log in to your Google or Facebook account.

Ziteboard

This one is not free (at least not completely: see the pricing on this page). In the free plan, you can create 3 whiteboards.

It reminds me a little bit of the iPad app Concepts which presents some kind of infinite canvas. It means that you can write something and instead of erasing it or even create another kind of slides like in Jamboard, you can scroll wherever you want and keep writing again and again. Actually, the name “Ziteboard” come from merging zoomable and whiteboard!

Of course, you can invite people to work on your board. You have nice features like importing an image, a PDF or an mp3. I do like the possibility to insert a PDF whether it is your own document you want to share or a student’s work you want to display.

But, again, the app is not completely free.

Tableau noir

Don’t like whiteboards? Do you prefer a blackboard? We have that too. Go to Tableaunoir, an online blackboard.

You can hide the toolbar so everyone can focus on the board. It’s nice and neat.

Here are the main features:

Of course, you can draw and erase, with your mouse or a graphic tablet.

You can also use kind of predefined fridge magnets that you can move on the board, to make animation e.g. for illustrating sorting algorithms, graphs algorithms etc (and even playing Go!).

Create your own customized “fridge magnets” for interactive courses, by importing any image.

Color palette for chalk (c, 7 colors black/white, yellow, orange, blue, red, pink, green),

Change the color of magnets’ background,

Load/Save the current board,

Add texts (Enter and type), and move texts. Supports LaTeX (using MathJax)!

Switch to a whiteboard instead of a blackboard,

Collaborate and edit the same board at the same time (need a server for that),

Change from right-handed (default) to left-handed cursor,

Add as many new half-board as you need, going right with → and then left/right with ←/→ keyboard arrows,

You can watch a video on YouTube (in French) explaining how to use it. And you can download the source code as well on GitHub!

There’s more

We mentioned at the beginning of this article that we needed two apps: a videoconferencing app and a whiteboard app as well. But there is two more use of whiteboards I’d like to mention.

Explain anything to a student

This time, we are going to use a whiteboard not for the all class, but for one student only. And to do that, we are going to use a screen recording app such as Loom when we want to explain something specific which requires more than a few lines in a mail. In fact, to be able to display the work of a student and to explain the mistakes that have been made is simply extraordinary. This is something quite easy to do in a brick-and-mortar school when everyone is physically present but if you are online, this comes handy.

So, every time a student sends a message and says “I don’t understand this and that”, I choose to display the student’s work in one of the aforementioned apps and I record my explanations, all the things I’m writing on the board with Loom whether it is on my iPad or my Mac.

Record your lesson in a brief video

In class, when we are running out of time and that I don’t want to take more time to make the students write the lesson because I want to move on and work on the next activity, I choose, when I go home, to record a brief video explaining quickly what is the gist of our work so that they know what they have to learn and remember.

Of course, if you don’t have or don’t want to take the time to do it (but keep in mind this is not time-consuming because apps like Loom or Screencastify make this very easy and quick), you can simply record your lesson right during your class. Therefore, you simply record what you say and what you show on the projector using a whiteboard app.

Teacher and Director of Academic Research & Innovation @ Lycée International de Londres Winston Churchill