Active Learning on Zoom: Whiteboards

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Most of us are familiar with using whiteboards in classrooms to explain a topic, highlight key ideas, or to allow students to contribute collaboratively; much of this can also be achieved using the whiteboard feature on Zoom. In this short video, we’ll see an example of how Nasreen invites students to work together and exchange and share ideas using the whiteboard during a synchronous online class.   

What did the faculty (Nasreen) do effectively here?

Here are practices that worked well for Nasreen. She:  

  • Opened the activity with an open-ended “higher order thinking” question and offered students time to reflect individually before inviting them to share their ideas in small groups.  
  • Provided clear instructions for students before putting them into breakout groups (instructions were shared verbally and pasted in the chat).
  • Requested that each group take note of their ideas on the whiteboard; save the work, and select one group member to be the spokesperson before returning to the larger group meeting. (Letting students know in advance that they would be asked to present key aspects of their breakout group discussions helps students stay on task.)  
  • Visited each breakout group while students were working to see if they had questions or needed additional support.  
  • Made it clear to group members that even if they were not the official spokesperson for the group, they were welcome to speak up and share ideas to contribute to the discussion as well. 

What could go wrong? How can faculty manage such occurrences?

  • If it’s the first time a faculty member invites students to use this feature on Zoom, they may struggle to figure out how to use the whiteboard feature and/ or share their screen with the wider group. The faculty member will likely first want to walk students through the process, demonstrating where and how to access the whiteboard while all are still in the main meeting room together.  
  • Though Naseen shared the Breakout Room instructions in written form on the slide, in the chat, and verbally, often when students enter breakout rooms, they no longer have access to the full group chat. For this reason, faculty may also want to use Zoom’s relatively new feature and “share” the slide with instructions to the breakout rooms as well.  

Other Variations to Consider:

  • Rather than put students in breakout groups, faculty members may also use the whiteboard feature themselves and ask students to contribute in a larger-group setting. This may help minimize some stress for students who may be unsure about how to save their work and share their screens.  
  • Zoom allows users to “save” whiteboards used during meetings. Faculty members may want to consider doing this for each group that shares and then post photos of these whiteboards to the course shell after class so that when it comes time for students to study and review content, ideas offered up by their peers are available to them. 

Lauren Spring

Lauren Spring, PhD, has been a post-secondary educator since 2012. Before joining Conestoga as a Teaching and Learning Consultant, Lauren taught at Wilfrid Laurier, Brock, Ryerson, York, and the University of Toronto where she also completed her PhD in Adult Education and Community Development. She has also led workshops for students and faculty at colleges and universities across the country. Lauren holds an MA in International Development and has expertise in critical disability and mad studies, trauma work, research-based theatre, role-play simulations, and feminist and arts-based approaches to adult education and community engagement. Lauren has also worked as an educator at the Art Gallery of Ontario since 2008 where she designs and delivers art tours and workshops for elementary and high school students and diverse groups of adult learners.

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