Teaching with a digital whiteboard

The whiteboard has been a timeless and invaluable tool for collaboration, announcements, demonstrations, and more. Found in nearly every office space, lecture hall, and even the odd kitchen fridge, the whiteboard excels because of the flexibility in use that it offers.

With such a large scope of what can be achieved with a regular whiteboard, it’s hard to imagine how to elevate it further beyond its standard format. But with the constant development and evolution of technologies, we’ve been able to transform some of our oldest tools into a new light. The whiteboard then received its own evolution through the digitization of its process, allowing people to use the board in its intuitive nature while also introducing new capabilities that can only be done on a virtual platform.

With the proliferation of remote learning and working, there is now a surging demand for tools that can better accommodate individual training developments regardless of where they might be (and even what timezone they might be in). This is where teaching and training with a digital whiteboard can come in handy.

Digital Whiteboards: A Traditional Tool in a New Age

While the whiteboard in its standard state is likely how most students and workers know it, it may surprise some to learn that the whiteboard has been evolving for years. It was in the 1990s when Xerox developed their own take on an interactive whiteboard that can combine different emerging technologies in an activity that seems natural to many. The first iteration of this was known as the Xerox PARC, which had some limited applications in small group discussions and collaborative meetings. In 1991, SMART technologies followed up Xerox with their own version of an interactive board, which was titled similarly “SMART Board”.

The technologies with whiteboards kept evolving over the years, utilizing different technologies and sensors that allowed students and lecturer’s alike to combine different media functions, recording systems, and collaborative add-ons. Alongside this development was the evolution of virtual platforms, commonly seen in the different Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products in the market today.

With easy access to fully-fledged software systems that are hosted and sustained within their own ecosystems, it became easier for teams and trainers to access tools that once required full development to use with your current program structure. Included in many of these software services are integrated digital whiteboards that bring the thinking of standard whiteboards and the interactivity of SMART Boards towards a fully virtual medium.

Benefits of Digital Whiteboards

While the physical whiteboard is as intuitive as sketching or scribbling down notes that occur during meeting discussions or brainstorming sessions, the digital whiteboard is at times overlooked as they are perceived as not as straightforward to use. With some platforms offering digital whiteboards that end up being clunky and difficult to use, it can be easy to dismiss the tool as another temporary trend of the larger remote working phenomenon.

But digital whiteboards provide the facilitator and the participating team so much more in terms of interactivity, engagement, and general capabilities than standard meeting room boards. With technology consistently moving along, it can now be easy to mimic the experience of traditional whiteboard use in a fully virtual space. More than that, digital whiteboards carry with them auxiliary benefits that can elevate your meeting and training sessions further.

Multimedia Capabilities

Similar to SMARTBoards, one of the greatest benefits of using digital whiteboards is the ability to use different media materials as part of your general whiteboard use. You’re no longer limited to drawings and sticky notes as you can easily copy and paste photos, videos, and even sound clips towards your whiteboard to help bolster engagement and buy-in from your team during any particular whiteboard session.

But it’s not just the tacking of additional media that makes digital whiteboards so valuable but the ability to enrich current media in different ways. Collaborators on a document can live edit documents and ideas on whiteboards, while training facilitators can even annotate videos as they play on whiteboards to better illustrate salient points.

Essentially, the digital whiteboard has become a multimedia powerhouse in training, collaborating, and any other general use you would have done on a standard whiteboard. This gives you more opportunity to be creative in how you approach your meetings and gives your team more opportunities to contribute in more ways than one.

Flexible and Remote-Enabled

A downside of the traditional whiteboard is a fairly obvious one at that: it is largely immobile. Your office or classroom whiteboard is likely bolted down and overside for much larger writing space and to allow everyone in the room to see it. This worked well during times when we expected a regular cadence of people coming in and out of these facilities, but today’s growing hybrid work practices have changed the dynamic of how we use our offices (and even when exactly we will be in the office at all).

This is where digital whiteboards really show their strength as their use is largely virtual by nature. Anyone with an internet-connected device, be it a cellular phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop, can access the digital whiteboard in whatever virtual platform your company is using. No longer are your collaborative efforts geographically locked to your offices, now you can bring in the power of team thinking regardless of where anyone might be.

Digital whiteboards also have that useful feature of flexibility that allows them to be accessed and used in many different ways. As we mentioned, you can likely access the whiteboard through many different devices, but you can also set one up on the fly whenever you decide you might need one. New digital whiteboards are as easy as a click away, so a unefficient 15-minute catch-up call can quickly become an extra-effective workshopping session with a properly enabled digital whiteboard.

Cleaner Editing and Shareability

When you’re working with many different stakeholders on a digital whiteboard, things are bound to get a little messy. Good brainstorming and workshop sessions often lead to a ton of ideas being thrown at the board, but this also made it a bit difficult to clearly identify which discussion points were key to your meeting’s objective and which ones can be tabled for another date. You’ve probably seen this with meeting scribes frantically noting down and erasing items on a whiteboard in the conference room as they try to keep up with the discussion.

Like most things digital, the virtual whiteboard is not limited by the difficulties of editing. Copy, paste, undo, redo, readjust, and other standard editing functions have become a mainstay in almost every drafting software, so it was only natural for them to be present with digital whiteboards as well. You can easily reorganize entries on a whiteboard by dragging it around, you can undo and redo certain actions taken, and you can even easily adjust the design of the whiteboard in a snap.

Things are admittedly much easier with a digital whiteboard not just in the usage front but in its shareability. We touched briefly on the flexibility of the tool across different scenarios regardless of location, but digital whiteboards can easily be exported to a variety of formats so you can share the material how you see fit. This is incredibly useful for those who may not have been part of the meeting but want to see what you all discussed. You can easily just clean up the file with some light editing and directly share it with others so that they can have access to what was discussed. It’s quick to fix up and even quicker to share around with students right after a classroom session, for example.

Good Practices for Teaching with Digital Whiteboards

While we’ve talked about the different benefits of using digital whiteboards, some of you who might be more comfortable with the classic whiteboard set-up might balk at all of it and still be unconvinced of how useful this is for teaching and general discussions. But there are ways to elevate the way you approach the use of digital whiteboards that might resonate with those you are teaching in a hybrid or fully remote set-up.

Collaborate and Engage

One of the first things you can do when using digital whiteboards for teaching is to always try to find a way to make it a collaborative effort and seek engagement from the students. One-way lectures are a relic of a bygone era in education, and the standard today has indicated that student engagement is a key positive aspect to consider that can keep students involved in their own educational process.

Teachers can utilize different digital whiteboard resources as part of larger activities to get students working on a particular problem set, brainstorm ideas regarding a topic, or even have them present on a topic themselves through a whiteboard demonstration. Washington State University has noted that regardless of the activity conducted, the fostering of an engaging and collaborative environment can help increase students’ critical-level thinking and further reinforce their attention and focus on the subject.

Keep Records and Session Notes

With most classes, you’re likely going to be covering many different topics given the scope and breadth of the course. The good thing about working with digital whiteboards is you can leverage its virtual nature by looking for ways to improve your teaching or by your students who are looking to understand a topic better with a rewatch.

You can even fully record a class for asynchronous teaching so that students can learn auxiliary topics that might not need to take up live teaching time but you believe can help support certain topics that will need a little more context and instruction. Brown College even sees this tactic as practicing more inclusive teaching methods, understanding that every student has different ways of learning and contexts that might hinder their ability to participate in a live-learning capacity.

Be Focused While Creative

When you use digital whiteboards, you might be easily overwhelmed by the plethora of options available to you. Narrow down your scope by ensuring that the teaching facilitator sets up the whiteboard with an agenda, meeting goals, or brainstorming guidelines. Choose from templates for things like class projects, concept reviews, and learning activities. Design your board from backgrounds like grids, lines, solid colors, or even photos that you believe can help your students better engage with the material being taught.

For more brainstorming types of teaching sessions, it’s important to create an inviting place for ideas, whether you’re working with new students to determine their top interests in terms of learning outcomes or simply trying to see where their understanding is currently at with a specific topic. Start with a blank slate or a few images for inspiration, then write down suggestions. Since it’s a virtual whiteboard, you’ll never run out of room.

What’s more is that if you truly are stuck in a creative rut as a learning facilitator, you can always leverage the expertise of others through many different templates found online. Digital whiteboards are easily shareable, and that has caused an entire space for people to begin sharing what they believe can be good templates for you to use when tackling specific topics. You can then edit these templates how you see fit so that it works better within your specific context. 

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