Engaging your class as a whole has always been a challenge, even before we moved online. It is especially difficult during Zoom classes, as the process of a student raising their hands, unmuting themselves, handling background noise and potentially unstable connections means that whole course interaction is limited at best. To improve engagement in your online classes we have listed a range of tools that can be helpful in this effort.

Promoting Student Interaction
Asynchronous activities:

These are a great way to get students discussing a topic in writing. They work best for open-ended discussions rather than for content delivery. They can be set up to limit access to other students’ replies until after they have posted their own response. Professors can encourage discourse by having students post a response to a prompt, and then requiring them to respond to their classmates’ posts with meaningful responses. Such responses should go beyond mere statements that agree with the comment they are replying to and encourage further discussion. A sample rubric for assessing these replies can be found here.

  • Blackboard: The Blackboard discussion board is a versatile tool, and a great choice if you already use Blackboard, since you can integrate a rubric and link directly to your course’s grade book.

    • Instructor guides for creating and managing discussion boards in Blackboard: Discussions

    • Your students can also use the collaborative functions in web-based version of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. They can be used as stand-alone tools, within Office 365, or via a link in your Blackboard course.

    Web/Application Based Whiteboards

    Webinar recording: Using digital whiteboards in your online course

    • Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Whiteboard
      • Included in Blackboard courses
      • Canvas size does not adjust to size of diagram or drawing
      • Limited tools
      • Can upload a PowerPoint fie, image, or pdf. (However, the file size is limited to 60 MB or less).
      • Whiteboard page is not persistent; there is no export to pdf/png option. To save if for future reference, make a screenshot.
      • Instructor controls access permissions

    Supported systems

    Supported browsers

    4. Zoom

    • Integrated into ZOOM

    • Canvas size does not adjust to size of diagram or drawing

    • Cannot insert files for annotating using ZOOM whiteboard.

    • Whiteboard can be saved as image files automatically

    • Instructor controls access permissions

    Supported systems

    • Windows

    • Mac

    • IOS

    • Android

      Desktop/Device based Whiteboards
      Microsoft Office Options

      Microsoft Office Suite comes with integrated drawing tools for several of their applications (Including Word, and Excel) .

      Many of them are compatible and available on both Windows and Mac operating systems (with still present, but slightly less functionality for IOS and Android tablet systems).

      Like with all whiteboarding tools, they work best when paired with an appropriate drawing tool such as a Wacom Tablet, or a touch screen computer with stylus (such as the Microsoft Surface).

      The main disadvantage is it is less possible for students to live collaborate on the tool at the same time, and making it available to students afterwards requires additional steps.

      Office tools with added functionality/features are listed below.

      • OneNote

      Microsoft OneNote is the most full featured option for the desktop based whiteboard. It allows organizing notes by class, using Ink to Text/Math conversion and inserting and annotation of multiple file types (ie: Word, PowerPoint, PDF).


      Supported systems

        • Windows

        • Mac

        • IOS, Android Tablets

      • PowerPoint

      Microsoft Powerpoint allows direct annotation on slides.

        • Included with the campus Office licence (email Helpdesk@qc.cuny.edu if you require it to be installed on your campus machine).

        • Doesn’t require a different software if you are already using powerpoint.

        • Is automatically “full screen” without having to take additional steps (helpful if you are using the WACOM tablet).

        • Easy to use- but limited functionality (only allows direct drawing, no inserting of shapes or graphs)

        • Ink annotations can be saved, with the new “annotations”, so those can be saved as well.


      Supported systems

        • Windows

        • Mac


      • Graphics tablets

      If you don’t already have a device that easily supports digital whiteboards, we recommend purchasing a graphics tablet.

      Wacom – One by Wacom Creative Pen Tablet (Small) ($60-70)

        • Windows and Mac compatible

        • Approximately the same drawing surface as an iPad pro.


        • Easy to use, more affordable, compatible with many device types.


        • There is a bit of a learning curve in use and set up.

      • Tablets (ie: iPad)

      An iPad can be a valuable tool for whiteboarding since many people already have it and use it for other purposes. However, in order to easily use as a Digital Whiteboard, one might require the purchase of an Apple Pencil ($80 with education discount).

      If one does not already have an iPad, the cheapest option is currently $309 (with education discount).


        • Can be used for more than just whiteboarding.

        • Can look where you are drawing (unlike a graphics tablet).


        • Use of a cheap stylus requires awkward hand placement (hovering hand over iPad instead of resting it on the surface).

        • Purchase of an Apple Pencil requires additional cost.