Virtual Whiteboards

One of my colleagues got me interested in a fairly new web 2.0 technology: virtual whiteboards. Imagine sitting in a room full of people, all of whom have a marker. Together they all make changes to a plan or illustration, add comments, etc., and all on the big whiteboard at the front of the room. Now give that picture a web 2.0 spin – a site where any group of people can get together and mark up ideas, documents, and/or pictures with insightful comments, helpful pointers, or even just silly little mustaches. This is a virtual whiteboard. Virtual whiteboards combine the best element of wikis (collaboration) and the best element of chat rooms (real time conversations).

Of the several that I’ve tried, probably the best to date is called Twiddla. I found the link via the great people over at ReadWriteWeb. What’s so useful about Twiddla is that, unlike other Whiteboard sites, Twiddla allows you to surf the web within the site and collaboratively mark up websites. Similarly, you can upload images or documents (Word, Excel, and PDF files), insert mathematical formulas, even open your email, and use Twiddla’s features to mark up the medium of your choice.

I can see a lot of great uses for this technology in the classroom:

  • Virtual study sessions for just about any subject area – English, Math, Social Studies, Science, Foreign language, health, you name it
  • Group editing a classmate’s (or teacher’s) writing
  • Getting feedback on the design of a class website or blog
  • Visually demonstrating reading skills, like using context clues to understand vocabulary
  • Visually demonstrating writing skills like paragraphing or editing
  • Visually demonstrating research skills, such as identifying site authors or using topic headers in Wikipedia
  • Playing tic-tac-toe

OK, so maybe the last one isn’t totally “educational,” but you get the idea. Twiddla has the potential to be an impressive classroom tool that I’m already finding ways to use in my classroom. Now if only I had a classroom full of laptops…

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