The Lost Art of Using the Whiteboard

Almost every instructor I know uses only PowerPoint in class.  It’s unfortunate that the whiteboard is often underused; in fact I often carry a couple of markers and an eraser with me, as sometimes the classrooms aren’t even equipped with them.

Like most teachers, I rely on PowerPoint to illustrate the main points of a lecture, but I also use the whiteboard to augment the topics of the day and help students to interact with each other.

At the beginning of the course I decide how I’m going to use a whiteboard.  Is it for support material presented on the PowerPoint or will I use it as my main visual?  Either can work well, but I’ll stick to one way of presenting material so that students know how important the information is.  For an instructor who rarely uses a whiteboard, students may see the information on the whiteboard as ultra important.

I always give students time to copy down what I’ve written.  I don’t pull the PowerPoint screen over the board or erase it until all the students have had time to copy down the material.  I even ask them if they need more time.  If I don’t give them enough time they will soon regard the information as not important because I’m not spending time on it.

I sometimes roll up the screen and leave the PowerPoint projected on the whiteboard.  This allows me to add to the PowerPoint information, much like on writing on an overhead.

I find the whiteboard especially useful for drawing rough diagrams.  For example, explaining the inverted pyramid style of writing is much easier when I draw a pyramid and then dissect it, then it so say to students, “Imagine a pyramid with about seven or eight lines through it.”

I know one history teacher who attempted to draw the map or France on the whiteboard.  It was quite entertaining as she made fun of her artistic ability.  It gave everyone a good laugh while she illustrated her point.  Don’t be shy to try something new.  It can be fun for everyone.

I highlight the important or key points after I explain what I’ve written.  Sometimes I’ll underline or circle major points in a different colour.  This provides students with visual points to remember other than a jumble of words that are easy to forget.

I’m horrible at writing on a whiteboard, and I tell this to the students before I start writing.  I ask the students for help.  Is my writing too sloppy, to small or doesn’t make sense.  Every now and then, I’ll stand back and evaluate my writing.  BUT I never erase what I’ve written to correct it.  This will frustrate students who are copying down the information.  Students would rather have sloppy information than have a teacher constantly erasing and revising what is on the board.

I try not to talk into the whiteboard as I write.  The students won’t be able to hear me very well unless I’m facing them.  I state my point, turn and write it on the whiteboard and then turn back to the class and elaborate.

Finally, when I have a class activity, I sometimes have the student write on the whiteboard as part of the their presentation.  This gives them the chance to get up and teach, lead the class, and learn that PowerPoint isn’t the only presentation tool available to them.

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