Hello lecture hall, bye bye whiteboards?

At my university, the University of the Fraser Valley, most of our classes have a maximum enrollment of 36. We teach our intro sections in a room with tables that seat 3 and I do a lot of whiteboarding activities. And once the students are used to using them I find that they also use them for discussing their answers during clicker questions. I never have “board meetings” meaning that I don’t ask groups to take the rest of the class through a solution that is on their whiteboards. I use the whiteboards more as a collaborative space.

Next fall I am tentatively scheduled to teach a slightly larger section (somewhere between 54 and 90 students) in our lecture hall. I don’t mind converting most of my whiteboarding activities to clicker questions since I have been recording their results and diagrams and such in previous sections. So I don’t “need” the whiteboards.

Lecture halls are less than ideal for facilitating collaborative group-work, but lots of people make it work and I am curious to try it out for myself. Clicker question discussion groups form all over the room and that part should be fine. What I am not looking forward to is the potential loss of whiteboards as a collaborative space for students when working on clicker or other questions. I suppose I could chop up some whiteboards to make ones that are an appropriate size to use on those tiny little arm-rest tables that are found with lecture hall seats. But I doubt that they would be able to be large enough to allow for a decent collaborative space.

Does anybody have experience trying to use whiteboards in a lecture hall environment? How did it go? How large were the boards? Any other suggestions other than to simply ditch the whiteboards for this forthcoming section?

6 Comments on “Hello lecture hall, bye bye whiteboards?”

  1. Hi Joss,

    Buffalo State has successfully used whiteboarding in large lecture classes (scroll down to third picture): http://physicsed.buffalostate.edu/AZTEC/BP_WB/

    They even have used “Seat Experiments” during lecture: http://physicsed.buffalostate.edu/SeatExpts/index/

    Don’t give up the pedagogy!!

    • Joss Ives says:

      Hi Frank,

      Thanks for the resources. It seems like it is worth my time to try it out in one of the lecture sections and get lots of student feedback to see how it works.

      I had completely forgotten about those “Seat Experiments” I did the diverging eyeglasses one in the past and it was great fun.

  2. Scott Thomas says:

    Can your students use computers/tablets in class? If so, use “digital” whiteboards. Set up google docs (or other web 2.0 tools) that are shared between small groups of kids (seated near each other?). To me, small whiteboards would probably be easier to use, but I don’t know how involved your problems are.

    • Joss Ives says:

      Hi Scott,

      The problems don’t tend to be overly involved. Most of what I do comes from or is based on Knight’s activities in 5 Easy Lessons. I also usually do a lot of scaffolding of the whiteboard problems using clickers. I think the digital options might be too tedious given what I ask, but I would really like to try them out in the future. I do really like that the digital option provides them with the option of saving their stuff without going through the process of taking pictures of the whiteboards.

  3. Bret Benesh says:

    Hi Joss,

    I have no advice. I can only say that it took me half of a semester to figure out that the students could use whiteboards for the clicker questions. Up until then, I had them answer clicker questions (and using paper when they discussed), and then work on whiteboards later. So I wish you had posted this earlier.

    PS: I wasn’t even the one who thought of using the whiteboards that way. One of my colleagues visited my class, and he suggested it. I am heavily dependent on people like you and him for ideas, apparently.

    • Joss Ives says:


      I didn’t start using the whiteboards until the year after I started using clickers. And the idea that students would collaborate on them during clicker questions was something that had not occurred to me at all and I simply noticed that it seemed to be happening more and more as they became comfortable with the whiteboards through the specifically-for-whiteboard activities. But now I really see how powerful they are in communication. And they have the “easy to erase mistakes” aspect as well; my son is 6 and learning to write and he will sit down for way longer practicing his writing on a whiteboard than he will on paper.

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