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Group Online Whiteboard Use for Student Engagement and Active Learning

  • 5 Min Read

Engage and motivate students with group activities using the virtual whiteboard.


Active learning has struck a chord with tutors because tasks that involve and engage students are much more effective and enjoyable. The online whiteboard has been a go-to method to interact with learners and get them to participate in the educational process. This powerful tool allows everyone in the virtual classroom to express, collectively analyze and reformulate their ideas.

Unfortunately, research shows that one-third of instructors who try active teaching eventually end up with passive classes. Perhaps a key reason is that some fail to exploit the full potential of web conferencing tools to overcome passivity. This article will suggest ideas for group activities with the virtual whiteboard that can be used to influence student motivation levels.

Five Group Online Whiteboard Activities

1. Brainstorming
Brainstorming is an active learning strategy that encourages pupils to focus and share ideas. As a rule of thumb, brainstorming sessions are a safe space. Everyone is invited to participate, while criticism and mocking are no-nos. Teachers can begin a lesson by posing a problem and then using the virtual whiteboard for simple word lists or word mapping. Perhaps the most useful outcome is not the actual generation of ideas. Rather, brainstorming is an icebreaker that engages students from the start. Learners share that they benefit from discussions on interesting topics (81%), have more fun in the classroom (about 80%), are more confident (76%) and make connections.

2. Drawing activities
The online whiteboard can easily become a shared whiteboard by simply allowing students to write on and edit it. Having a few participants work together on designing graphs, charts or drawings can appeal to visual learners. Microsoft research scholars found that we tend to think in node-link diagrams (Figure 1), which appeared in almost 60% of the whiteboards they studied. Natural and familiar to many, these trees and graphs will work well for many active learning activities. Interestingly, the study showed that people love the messiness and forgiving nature of whiteboards, as well the ease with which people can sketch on them. Drawings may not be crisp and tidy, but this is exactly what encourages discussion. The medium of virtual whiteboards has a forgiving nature, and users do not feel obligated to get things right.

Figure 1
Figure 1

3. Gamification
Practitioners have observed that gamification encourages diligence, determination and drive. When techniques from games are used in online courses, participants have fun and are more engaged. Data proves this: Gamification brings enjoyment to almost 70% of students and boosts motivation by 50%, which in turn results in enhanced overall learning outcomes.

To benefit from group gamification, try to create a quiz show. You can use the classroom material or throw your students a curveball by asking personal questions. If you want to promote collaboration, try dividing the class into teams instead of having a one-on-one competition. In both situations, quizzes are those emotional triggers that will combat fatigue and a lack of interest.


4. Solving problems
Problem-based learning takes gamification in the classroom to the next level. By considering student age and interests, you can pose a real-life problem (e.g., a community issue) or a fictional one (e.g., a murder mystery). Ideally, the scenario provided on the online whiteboard will be rooted in knowledge previously acquired in the classroom. Students may work in small groups or independently to gather information, test hypotheses and suggest solutions. The instructor’s role is to guide and supervise the investigation. Voila! There is a positive impact on satisfaction, engagement, socialization and critical thinking skills.

5. Shared documents
A less popular yet very engaging team exercise is annotating. This collaborative work on shared documents is valuable when trying to learn new material. The tangible result is a condensed version of bulky information. The process is more important, though. Annotating helps with cognitive overload to improve comprehension, memorization and learning. Working on the virtual whiteboard also involves social interaction as feedback from peers and educators is received.

Five motivation triggers

Active learning is a cognitively demanding environment. Thus, some students may be reluctant to take part. Educators should help them get on board by explaining the advantages and by trying to spark their interest.

1. Self-improvement and development
The fact remains that people learn less in passive lectures, and instructors should make this known. Harvard University researchers proved that a few words on the benefits of a course will help 75% of students feel more favorably about active learning and make the best of it.

2. Group acknowledgment
It is hard not to compare yourself with others in the virtual classroom. Group acknowledgment is important for motivation and positive reinforcement. By placing visible tokens such as badges or morphing trophies on the whiteboard, social comparisons are activated. Thus, constructive competition is stimulated.

3. Self-expression
In traditional classroom settings, shy people don’t express their opinions easily, even if they want to. However, self-expression is critical in achieving learning outcomes. A virtual classroom that utilizes relevant group tasks is an effective tool to help students overcome their shyness. Drawing activities and games are a great way to turn students into content creators who creatively express themselves.


4. A Sense of belonging
According to social identity theory, people gain a sense of worth from the groups they belong to. Group cohesion contributes to improved productivity, lower anxiety and higher self-confidence. When students work together in teams to solve a mystery or draw a graph, they will get used to their peers. Over time, group identity and attachment will grow.

5. Fun
When active learning takes place in the virtual classroom, it opens up a whole new world of experimentation, self-expression and enjoyment. Students comment on how interactive tasks are more interesting and enjoyable. “It’s both fun and enlightening to hear different opinions and to form your own,” they say.

Setting up an active learning environment takes a bit more time, but a powerful virtual learning environment will make it easy to integrate group tasks into your teaching strategy. It will not take long for the results to show. Teachers will benefit from a lighter workload during web conferencing. Not only will students learn more, but with an easy-to-use online whiteboard like VEDAMO’s, they will be more creative, have more fun and form bonds within the group.

D2L believes learning is the foundation upon which all progress and achievement rests. Working closely with organizations globally, D2L has transformed the way millions of people learn online and in the classroom. Learn more in our blog “Four Strategies to Inspire Active Learning”.

Resources used

  1. “Measuring Actual Learning Versus Feeling of Learning in Response to Being Actively Engaged in the Classroom“ – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
  2. “Use of Research-Based Instructional Strategies in Introductory Physics: Where Do Faculty Leave the Innovation-Decision Process?” – American Physical Society
  3. “Brainstorming as a Way to Approach Student-Centered Learning in the ESL Classroom” – Norseha Unin and Polin Bearing
  4. “Visual Thinking In Action: Visualizations As Used On Whiteboards” – Jagoda Walny, Sheelagh Carpendale, Nathalie Henry Riche, Gina Venolia, and Philip Fawcett
  5. “Online Learning Environments Can Change Behaviour: Gamification In Practice” – Alan Hiddleston
  6. “Learning and Engagement in a Gamified Course: Investigating the Effects of Student Characteristics” – K. Davis, H. Sridharan, L. Koepke, S. Singh, R. Boiko
  7. “Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics” – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
  8. “Measuring Actual Learning Versus Feeling of Learning in Response to Being Actively Engaged in the Classroom” – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
  9. “Student Perceptions of Active Learning” – Angela Lumpkin, Rebecca M. Achen, Regan K. Dodd

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Table of Contents
  1. Five Group Online Whiteboard Activities
  2. Five motivation triggers