Being able to demonstrate a topic or understanding using a virtual whiteboard is not a new concept. In the mid-2000’s, districts and schools invested millions of dollars purchasing expensive IWB’s (Interactive White Boards) for teachers to use as presumably a more interactive method of teaching than the traditional chalkboard.
As schools moved to mobile devices, those same concepts went from the classroom wall to students’ fingertips. The market began to increase first with the proliferation of apps for the iPad and then later online versions for the Chromebook. With the pivot to remote and hybrid learning, teachers needed a way to share their screen when instructing, but also for students to do the same while demonstrating understanding. This list, while not completely comprehensive of all whiteboard and annotation tools on the market place, represent a variety of tools and how to best utilize them in a remote setting.
Video Conference tools
First, a word about video conference platforms with embedded whiteboards. Many of the video conference platforms had built in functionality to either annotate on a screen or use a whiteboard to share with your students. Zoom had both features installed a couple of years ago and other companies utilized open source tools like Big Blue Button to have a collaborative brainstorming space. As every school has their preferred platform of choice, I won’t go into any further details into these and will focus on web-based tools that teachers and students can use.
I used this tool as a replacement for proprietary IWB software when those companies started charging yearly subscription fees. ClassroomScreen.com is a great, basic free tool that you can use in either in-person or remote settings simply by sharing your browser window. Some of the nice added features besides the whiteboard tool in the program are a random name picker, a text box tool, the ability to change and upload backgrounds, and a classroom timer. The tool is very much a teacher-centered tool, meant to lead and moderate classroom discussion and instruction. The pro version offers the ability to generate polls, save your screen, make collections and save name lists for the random picker.
This free tool was recommended by subscriber Lisa R. from Wisconsin. Like other whiteboard tools it has multiple pens and colors for students to use. One feature that I will highlight is the ability to view all students screens on any device. Their screens appear as tiles where you can actual monitor in real-time how the students are interacting on their individual tiles. While they feature the ability to connect up to 100 users to individual boards, you can also add users to a single board for brainstorming. Some other stand out features include the ability to do an embedded video chat in the collaborative board. Students can join via a class code and you can poll them or add special characters (great for math teachers). The tool is free, but they ask for support via $5 donations to help support their cloud storage.
This tool began as an iPad-only app several years ago and has evolved into quite a power house of a white-boarding app. Using floatable objects like videos and images can enhance your whiteboard space and the ability to record and edit right within the platform makes uploading explainer videos a snap. You also have the ability to share and collaborate on multiple pages (like slides) and students can join either with a log-in or join code. The free model offers up to 3 projects with some limited functionality, but to truly utilize the collaborative features like shared folders, pooled storage and advanced reporting, you have to purchase the EDU group price which is $8.99 per user per year. As Explain Everything has been in the whiteboard space for longer than most, it’s worth a look with all of it’s added integrations and stability of platform.
Bursting onto the scene originally as an alternative for legacy whiteboard products like SMART and Promethean, Google’s Jamboard creates a simple collaborative space for students to brainstorm and share ideas. As it’s integrated with the GoogleEDU system, if your students or staff are already using Google as your main platform, it makes getting kids into the program extremely easy. You can either share a link or invite them to each “Jam”. While this is a free tool with all the usual features (variety of pen colors, sticky notes, photo uploads, etc), it does have some limitations. Users report that while the limit is 50 editors allowed, it’s closer to 25 before you find some glitches. Also, there is a limit of 20 boards per Jam, which means if you have a large class, you’ll need two Jams to support a board for each student.
This spin-off company of the quizzing platform Kahoot! brings many features of the previously mentioned whiteboarding apps to the table. Whiteboard.fi runs very similarly to a Kahoot game in that you have a lobby for users to join and you have the ability to lock the room so others can’t join. The platform includes all the usual whiteboard tools but also has some extra expressions useful for math (Whiteboard.fi used to be Ma.fi – an online math textbook) and a large catalog of emojis for kids to enjoy. Like Kahoot, the majority of the platform is free, but does come with ads. To avoid these, the basic paid version ($4.99/mo) eliminates ads and gives you the ability to upload PDFs and add a co-teacher. The premium version ($12.99) lets you keep your own permanent personalized room URL, a library to save and reuse whiteboards, polling features and student-led whiteboard sessions.
Miro (formerly Awwapp)
The tool formerly known as Awwapp is now Miro. This whiteboard app allows you to use a variety of templates to brainstorm with a group. Embedded video functions mean you don’t have to use a video conference platform in addition to your whiteboard tool. As it’s designed primarily for corporate, you’ll see some great add-ons as you pay for the monthly tool (between $8-$16 per member) like Single sign-on (SSO), day passes for occasional collaborators, remote meeting tool kit and more. The free version does allow you to have 3 editable boards at a time and you get access to the pre-made templates like mind and concept mapping which is what really separates this tool from the rest on the list.
Billed as a “Digital Makerspace” this tool known as Sketchpad adds a photoshop like element to the whiteboard space. The free version allows you access to your own personal whiteboard space where you can add from a large library of resizable clipart and shapes. Layering features allow users to create more in-depth designs than the typical whiteboard space. As it is web-based it can be used on any platform and the individual ($4.99) or enterprise ($59-$399) version allows you to share templates, add users, and integrate with Google Classroom
This iPad-only app probably belongs in a different category than just a “whiteboard app” as it really takes art to the next level. My oldest daughter asked me to purchase the Procreate app for her iPad and Apple pencil and I agreed to the $9.99 charge on one condition: She write a review for me. So here it is:
“I like it because you can have multiple layers and filters. This allows you to draw over a layer and then delete the original image so you can remix it however you want. I also like that there are a TON of brushes and brush types. It also allows you to create your own brush, which is pretty unique. What I really love about it is that you can make your drawings come to life and make them into animated Gifs so they actually move.” (below is a sample of her art)
Other Apps with Embedded Whiteboards
Sometimes, you don’t need to look too far to find a whiteboard tool. Many companies are creating these as part of their larger platform and allow you to annotate or draw for a variety of different purposes. While you can use all of these as a teacher, the real power comes from handing the canvas off to your students for them to demonstrate their understanding. Here are a few of my favorite tools that come with a built-in whiteboard:
FlipGrid – Rather than record yourself, you can record your voice over a whiteboard as you draw. There’s even a blackboard feature!
Nearpod – One of the first platforms to offer drawing as a response choice when doing formative assessment. Recent update allows you to see drawing in real-time.
Pear Deck – If Nearpod is Coke, Pear Deck is Pepsi. This tool is especially powerful when integrated with Google Slides and allows you to “feature” different students’ drawings.
Google Draw – Embedded in the Google Suite of education tools is the Google Draw tool. This can be utilized with Google docs and slides as well.
While there are a bevy of tools and apps that you can use with your students as a digital whiteboard, like anything else, pick one that aligns with your instructional purpose the most. Sometimes price and integration plays a factor, so weigh that as well when you make your selection.
If you enjoyed these and my post on 25 Strategies to Engage Students on Your Next Zoom Meeting post and my post on 17 Bell Ringers for Your Remote Classroom. Also, be sure to check out my course “The Remote Learning Coach” where I list these strategies in greater detail and much, much more!