A online whiteboard is a learning space where both teachers and students can write and interact with students in real time via the internet.
Whiteboards (traditional, digital and web) are found in almost every classroom because it makes it easy for teachers to explain and explore ideas with students. Let’s not overlook the three key amazing qualities a whiteboard has. You can wipe it quickly, it’s highly visible (even to little Johnny in the back row) and it focuses student attention.
A web whiteboard is not a ‘digital whiteboard’
Digital whiteboards (the big touch screens placed at the front of a classroom) are slowly replacing traditional whiteboards as the tool of the future. They allow the same experience as a traditional whiteboard but they are also connected to the internet and digitise the content written on the online board.
This means teachers can access instantly any online material on YouTube videos; any learning resource; any online learning activity. Anything written on the board can be digitised, saved onto the cloud and reviewed later.
Sounds great, so why aren’t digital whiteboards revolutionising the classroom?
It’s been almost 27 years since the first digital whiteboards were introduced but far too many teachers still use a digital whiteboard like a tech version of their old whiteboard. This what I would call a "dumb board".
Digital whiteboards can weigh as much as they cost ($3000 - $30,000) so if a teacher isn’t trained on how to think differently about the equipment, it can be a wasted opportunity. Even if the equipment lasted 3 - 5 years, that’s $1,000 - $10,000 tied up in hardware each year. With 10 classrooms, that’s $10,000 - $100,000 per year plus financing. How many schools can afford that kind of investment?
The web whiteboard of the future
A web whiteboard allows a teacher and student(s) to interact on the same online whiteboard web page at the same time…from anywhere.
Firstly, they can be accessed by any device (e.g. the teacher’s laptop or the student’s tablet). This means there are some obvious applications for distance learning and using a web whiteboard with Skype.
Secondly, they can be displayed in a physical classroom with a simple projector. Of course it would be nice if every classroom had a massive touch screen at the front of the class, but many schools will not be able to afford one. However, they could afford $10 - $30 per month for web whiteboard software. There’s no cost for updates and means that more schools can use web whiteboards and improve the effectiveness of their teaching.
Thirdly, they can be used even without a projector in a physical school. Almost every student has a smartphone, many have tablets, most schools have fast internet, a digital pen costs less than $5 and almost every learning resource is online...If every student can access a screen, Why put the material up the front when you could put the learning material in the hands of students?
Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you’re a teacher that wants to explain a concept and wants all students to be able to see it.
Rather than writing with a whiteboard marker on a physical whiteboard, a teacher could writes on the online whiteboard from their computer or turns their mobile phone into a mouse pad with a cheap stylus.
This speeds up the class. With a physical whiteboard, you used to invite the student up and get them to write on the board. The student (often painfully slowly) would work up the courage to get out of their seat, waddle up to the front of the class and fills out the exercise (well done Jimmy!…everyone claps wildly until you spot the extra apostrophe ;)
An online web whiteboard is hosted on a private page on the internet that enables a teacher to control who joins the class, what’s goes on the whiteboard and which students can participate at a time (it’s the next best thing to a mute button…hopefully that’s not far off though).
When a teacher or student writes on the whiteboard, both sides can see it. The lesson materials, video, audio can be displayed and used inside the whiteboard (with the teacher setting the pace of the class) and notes from the class are digitised, can be save with one click and shared with all students after the class.
The best online whiteboards of the future will come loaded with instantly accessible and curated content, special whiteboard features for subjects like teaching English as a second language or Maths, professional lesson templates, track data for comparative reporting, automatically identify errors, allow you to create blank version of the same interactive materials to enable peer work and so much more.
This ease of use opens the door to a different way of teaching by combining the good parts of both cloud technology and modern pedagogy to encourage teachers to act more like ‘facilitators’ of learning rather than a knowledge-transfer service.
But the really exciting news for educators, especially in developing countries, is that this technology enables a teacher to teach students in a poor country or even in a war-torn country where students may not feel safe making their way to a physical school. Global initiatives like Project Loon (Balloon-powered internet) and Facebook free internet gives hope that anyone can access the internet and a web whiteboard, so anyone can teach or learn.