Should I use an Online Whiteboard when conducting synchronous sessions with my students?

The purpose of a whiteboard is to visualize thoughts, concepts, and ideas. They are used to explain and teach, or they can be used to plan and create. Online whiteboards improve collaborative and creative processes when teaching online synchronously. See the suggested application to use at the bottom of this article.

What is an online whiteboard?

  • Online whiteboards are software applications or browser-based tools for collaboration and presentation. 
  • Online whiteboards can be used for the same purpose as a real whiteboard: providing groups with a whiteboard on which they can work online together.
  • Each participant logs in to the same online whiteboard space and can add their content, while all the others see what is happening in real-time, and they can interact with the content as needed.

Why use an Online Whiteboard?

When working on an physical whiteboard, it can be challenging to motivate students to write something on the whiteboard, and most of the time due to space limitations, it is complicated when more than two or three people work at the same time. In addition to removing space limitations, online whiteboards can also reduce the pressure of "performing" in front of a physical class. Since students cannot see the entire class, so they tend to experiment more on an online whiteboard than on a physical one. 

What can I do with an online whiteboard?


Presenting on a whiteboard is different than showing a PowerPoint presentation. On the whiteboard, you are free to visualize what you want to show. It is not a replacement; it is a whole new way of presenting.

example of a white board with images and sticky notes


Mind-Maps are a well-known technique to create, manage, and visualize different ideas. The advantage when doing a Mind-Map in an online whiteboard is that you can use all the whiteboard features besides the mind-map as well and your mind-maps are not only limited to text. Combine all the content on the whiteboard to a multimedia mind-map with no limitations.

example of a mind map


Creating ideas in a group with cards is very easy if all the people are in the same room. If you need to be creative over distance, then it can be more complicated. Adding your ideas on cards in an online whiteboard is an easy solution to be creative in a team with dispersed team members.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           example white board for brainstorming with sticky notes

Interactive Exercises

You can create ice breaker activities and other fun games such as crossword puzzles, hangman, and trivia to get the students involved playing in real-time.

white board with multiple images and sticky notes

Online Whiteboard Suggestions

MS Whiteboard (Microsoft)  

  • Free- Available as part of Office 365- Web based
  • Bring in PDF  or PowerPoint and annotate while presenting
  • Good sharing permissions and authentication - Sign in with UIC credentials
  • Good backgrounds
  • Limited Templates
  • Only available for PC, no Mac version (or very limited)
  • Free - Integrated in tool
  • Basic Annotation tools
  • Participants can also annotate
  • Whiteboard can be saved


  • Free Trial, Free to education, Must fill out application
  • Integrated Timer
  • Integrated Voting
  • Add images from web
  • Add links to websites and videos
  • Add multiple file types to canvas
  • Built in Frameworks and Templates
  • Numerous tutorials and instructions.


  • Free- 3 Editable boards
  • $8 a month- Unlimited boards
  • Anonymous Board viewers
  • Private Board Sharing
  • Search Google images
  • Add links to websites and videos
  • Add multiple file types to canvas
  • Pre-made and custom templates
  • Multiple integration options


  • Free Trial
  • $8 a month- Unlimited Padlets
  • Add links to websites and videos
  • Add multiple file types to canvas
  • Available on iOS, Android, and Kindle devices
  • Multiple sharing options
  • Multiple integration options
  • Available in 29 languages

Google Jamboard

  • Free - Use with UIC credentials
  • Must use Google Chrome browser
  • Integrated Google image search
  • Connects to Google Drive
  • Templates available online, none integrated

Features of an Online Whiteboard

These features are important when considering using an online whiteboard:

  • Infinite or huge canvas (this is the actual digital whiteboard)
  • Support sketching, drawing and handwriting with a digital pen
  • Sticky notes and workshops cards in various shapes and colors
  • Multimedia content like images, videos and audio recordings
  • Upload documents like PDF and other office documents
  • Connectors to create mind-maps, concept-maps and design workflows
  • Shapes, text and other tools to design content on the board
  • Voting and rating of ideas
  • Integrations with audio-and video conferencing solutions, and content sharing solutions etc.
  • Robust access and sharing capabilities to restrict actions on the board of individual members if needed


Considerations when using an Online Whiteboard

  • When you decide to start using an online whiteboard in your synchronous sessions, you need to consider that you are introducing a new way of working digitally to your class, and everyone will have a learning curve until they can use an online whiteboard to its full potential. 

  • Among the top uses of interactive whiteboard in education is to successfully accommodate the different learning styles. This is because recording tools can be utilized for audio learners, the board can be touched and manipulated by tactile learners and visual learners can easily track whatever that is happening as a lesson proceeds. 

  • One of the uses of interactive whiteboard in education that is usually taken for granted is its capability to preserve lessons, notes and discussions. Such material can easily be accessed afterwards. Saving concepts and ideas that had been extensively covered in a previous lesson means that students can easily access the content so as to refresh their knowledge.

  • Make sure that the space, where they can work on, is big enough, that many people can create content at the same time. The challenge is here to prevent students from creating chaos on the board. If you want to ensure that your class does not create disarray on your board, start with some board rules before beginning the session and create visual sections in which they are allowed to do things.

  • Another way to deal with multiple users on your board is to add and remove permission frequently, dependent on what they need to do.

How to draw on an online whiteboard

Drawing on an online whiteboard takes some practice. Usually dependent on the hardware you are using, there are some significant differences. If you are used to working with Apple’s iPad or Microsoft Surface Devices, you will see that drawing on the online whiteboard feels very natural, as the digital pen technology of these devices is excellent.

If you are using hardware that is not optimized for pen usage but offers one, you will see that there are several challenges when drawing or handwriting. Sometimes you feel a lag, or the pen is not as precise as you expected.


Article ID: 1099
Fri 1/15/21 6:28 PM
Thu 7/13/23 3:06 PM