Chalkboards and whiteboards are arguably the most iconic tools associated with teaching. Research suggests that students learn better by having information presented through multiple modalities, especially through visual means (Mayer, 2003), and boards are perhaps the simplest visual teaching tool. In recent years, instructors have replaced boards in favor of PowerPoint presentations and interactive whiteboards (IWB). However, there does not seem to be a significant difference in learning outcomes when the same information is presented in PowerPoint rather than handwritten on boards (Shallcross, 2007). Additionally, to date, IWBs seem to present more complications for classroom integration than enhanced learning outcomes, and their potential for active learning is still under study (Karsenti 2016).
Instead, one study found that when instructors presented content on PowerPoint and also elaborated on the content via the chalkboard, students were more active and spent more time asking questions than when instructors only used one of the tools (Meo, 2013). This study underscores a core function for boards of any kind: they can be easily utilized to encourage active learning in the classroom. Instructors can use boards to engage students individually and via groups with problem-solving and brainstorming activities.
Both kinds of boards have been valued by educators for decades because of their inherent accessibility, versatility, and adaptability as teaching tools. They can be utilized in lectures, seminars, and flipped classes by both students and instructors for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Presenting content from the lecture
- Offering information about the class or lecture
- Incorporating new information into the lecture or expanding upon information already presented (for example, details in response to a student question or comment)
- Engaging students in individual or group problem solving
- Eliciting student ideas through class brainstorming.
A variety of classroom anecdotes can underscore the versatility and active components of board use:
- A philosophy instructor uses two chalkboards in her lecture classroom in different ways. Before class, she uses one board to outline main topics that will be covered in that day’s lecture. During her lecture, she taps the relevant topic on this board every time she transitions to a new topic. She uses the second board during lecture to write out key phrases, illustrate examples, and flesh out student questions. She erases this second board as often as needed, whereas the first board remains up for the whole lecture.
- A biology instructor uses both a whiteboard and a PowerPoint presentation in her lecture. She primarily uses the PowerPoint to convey information to students. She uses the whiteboard to emphasize key terms, expand upon examples from the slides, and actively involve students. She will frequently draw problems on the board for students to solve. She calls on different students to complete each step of the problem and corrects the student’s work on the board when they make errors.
- An economics instructor uses three to six chalkboards per class. His lecture primarily consists of explaining equations and applying them to problems. While he writes on the board, he frequently turns around and speaks directly to students to ask and answer questions, make observations, and clarify points.
- An anthropology instructor uses the chalkboard in her classroom to stage brainstorming activities. Sometimes she divides students into groups, assigns them a question, and then records each group’s answer on the board, or invites groups to record their answers on the board. Other times she lets students record their answers individually on sticky notes and put their answers on the board.
- A history instructor always starts a seminar by asking students for important historical dates, names, and events from the readings. He writes these items on a timeline on the board and then has students label and explain the relationships, correlations, and impacts among them.
- Divide board(s) into sections - One section can be used throughout the lesson and be cleaned off and re-used. Another section may be used by the instructor to convey important information throughout the whole period, such as the structure of that day’s lesson.
- Write out the structure of the class - Instructors should include topics, activities, and learning goals, so that students always know where teaching is headed. The instructor can tick items off as they are accomplished during the class. At the end, the instructor can review the lesson topics with students. Instructors can consider crafting the lesson according to principle of backward design to keep lessons organized and effective.
- Prepare notes beforehand - Instructors can select what key content they will write and how they want to organize content visually. At a minimum, instructors can create a list of the single words or phrases they would like to emphasize during class by writing on the board. They should feel free to copy directly from notes during class, especially for equation-heavy lessons.
- Practice writing - Instructors should use large, clear characters. The instructor’s ability to write legibly is a prerequisite for using whiteboards/chalkboards with maximal efficacy.
- Arrive early - If it takes a long time for an instructor to write, they can write out important information or draw out graphs before class.
- Pause and step aside - While the instructor is writing on the board, students are not able to see what is being written. Instructors can give students time to copy from the board, digest the material, and formulate questions.
- Face students - While it may be tempting to look at what’s written on the board, instructors can try to avoid facing the board while talking to student. Eye contact helps students stay engaged in the lecture, and facing students allows instructors to gauge their comprehension of the material. In addition, student are better able to hear the professor when they speak towards the students.
- Write out key phrases - Students learn better through multiple modalities, so instructors can increase retention of key phrases by writing them out after saying them aloud. Instructors can feel free to emphasize significant terms by underlining or circling them.
- Do not scrunch writing - When running out of room on the board, instructor should not try to cram writing into the margins of the board. Students will not be able to see such small writing. Instructors can announce that they will have to erase the board and give students a chance to copy anything they may have missed initially.
- Draw with humor - Even and especially if an instructor is not a skilled artist, instructors should not be afraid to draw. Hasty drawings done to illustrate an example or problem can provide a humorous element to class.
- Do not immediately erase mistakes - If there is a mistake on a board, the instructor can cross it out, then write the correction in. This give students a chance to go back in their notes, find the part with the mistake, and make the rectification.
- Be spontaneous - If the instructor finds that prepared materials are insufficient to convey the topic at hand, the board can be employed to flesh out the presentation and go beyond the prepared lecture.
- Have students brainstorm and create a concept map - Students call out what they already know about a subject or their answers to specific questions, and the instructor writes all ideas down on the board. Together, the class can create a concept map with the instructor visually representing the connections between concepts on the board (Novak, 2008).
- Reflect on class session - Given time, immediate reflection following a class session can help instructors preserve and remember strong and weak moments. The board can often serve as an assistant memory device.
- Copy out or capture board - The board can often serve as a map of conversation, a record of important student points, and a blueprint for future class sessions. Instructors can photograph the board or copy out key moments for use in later class planning.
- Erase the board - If the next class’s instructor would like to arrive early and prepare the board, erasing will help to make their time more efficient.
- Email out “board notes” - If vital concepts or exciting conversation points were recorded on the board, consider sharing those points with students after class. This practice will enhance and extend the board’s function in student learning and content mastery.
Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching. John Wiley & Sons.
Karsenti, T. (2016). The Interactive Whiteboard: Uses, Benefits, and Challenges. A Survey of 11,683 Students and 1,131 Teachers. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 42.5: 1-22.
Mayer, RE. (2003). The promise of multimedia learning: using the same instructional design methods across different media. Learning and Instruction, 13(2): 125-139.
Meo, SA et al. (2013). Comparison of the Impact of PowerPoint and Chalkboard in Undergraduate Medical Teaching: An Evidence Based Study. Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan. 23 (1): 47-50.