Online Whiteboards for Breakout Rooms

When I started teaching online in 2020, I tried my best to continue Modeling Instruction with my students. I used Zoom breakout rooms for my small groups, but never found a satisfactory whiteboard solution. Recently I spent some time working on how to create breakout rooms in Google Meet. I have since realized that some of the same infrastructure that makes that possible can also be used to make whiteboard collaboration and sharing both easy and fast.

The basic idea is quite simple: create a bunch of whiteboards yourself, and share the links with your students. This allows whiteboard work to start quickly, permits you to "drop in" on each board to monitor progress, and puts you—if you choose—in charge of sharing the boards (to keep things moving along). But it requires that the boards be "permanent" or you wind up having to endlessly repeat some fairly tedious operations.

In the past I've used the free version of awwapp.com, but the free boards are temporary. To get permanent boards you need the paid version ($9/mo/teacher, or a negotiated contract for the whole shool). If you can get the funding, it may be worth it. Very recently I learned about witeboard.com which seems to offer the required functionality for free. There are quirks, however, which I detail below. The boards from whiteboardfox.com are free, but only valid for 30 days, so you would have to recreate all your boards every month.

Spreadsheet for Link Sharing

(If you've looked at my page on creating breakout rooms in Zoom, you already know how this goes.) The picture at right shows a section of a Google Sheet I've made. You can't see everything, but I typically need 8 groups, and the sheet just continues in an obvious way. The dummy list of students will be replaced by my actual class roster, which I randomize on a weekly basis. The Sheet will be shared with my class, probably on Google Classroom, but other ways would work fine. Each cell labeled "Whiteboard 1" etc. will become a link to a board that I create on whatever app I choose. Then all three students in a group can just click their link and they will immediately be working at the same board. When I want to visit, I could also click the link in the Sheet, but probably I will create a set of bookmarks I can open all at once so I can visit a board just by jumping to its tab in my browser. See my post on breakout rooms for an example of how to do that.

Go to whatever website you've settled on for whiteboard sharing, create a board, and copy the URL for sharing. On awwapp.com, you do this through the Invite button. On witeboard.com, you just copy the URL directly from the browser address bar. Now go to the Sheet, click in the cell where you want the link, and hit ctrl-k. That opens a dialog where you can paste in the URL, turning that cell into a clickable link to the board. Repeat this N times for your N whiteboards, and you're done.

You can use the same set of whiteboards for all your classes, or you can have a separate set for each class. It's just a question of making and linking more boards. You will probably want to establish the norm that each group erases their board at the end of class.

Quirks

If you are using the free app, there are some quirks. First, the app is free and has no ads. How are they keeping the lights on? That gives me some pause.

The app does recognize stylus input for pen drawing, but the pen tool does not work well with handwriting. It is not just painting the pixels, but doing some kind of spline fit as you go along, so that writing text by hand is difficult to impossible. Text will have to come from the typing tool. On the other hand, if you use the pen to draw a circle or a rectangle, witeboard will auto-replace it with, for example, an actually circular circle.

Things that you put on the board are permanently there where you put them. There is no way to select and move drawing elements.

You can give a board a title, but there doesn't seem to be a way to search the boards you've created. If you lose the URL for a board, you many never find it again. I can go back through my browser history to find old boards, but there is no organizational system for naming, saving, and searching.

Contact

If you find a good whiteboard app that should be included here, drop me a line: doc at this website (noragulfa.com).

Back to noragulfa