Look up from the phone!: Creatively using the Old School Blackboard in the world of Online Blackboard.


  • Hans E. Tokke


"Allison was disinterested sitting at the back of the classroom constantly buried in her phone. Despite decent exam scores and writing assignments she would not engage, nor smile, working alongside her classmates or the lectures. Quick to have an opinion, and often a negative one, classwork seemed for her to be a tedious and uninteresting enterprise. Until she got up from her phone. Her group was called up to the whiteboard to illustrate a map of their utopia town as part of their collaborative assignment. None of them admitted they could ‘draw’ until Allison stepped up. Before long she was laughing along with the group as she emerged as the chief illustrator including a “creative dog that also appeared to be a cat!”. Public drawing in front of her peers had broken the addictive monotony of life on the phone and being buried in the siphon effect of social media.

Historically, the physical blackboard hung at the front of the classroom as a signifier of education and learning. Copying notes and illustrations from the teacher into notebooks was how learning was translated in a teacher to student relationship. The electronic Blackboard has emerged first in online education and now into the traditional classroom as a learning platform that engages the student with the course materials, assignment submission, and collaborative online discussions. Indeed, the teacher at the front of the classroom is coopted by a tablet.

In the current culture, students bury their heads in their phones checking their social media, texting, Instagramming, Snapchatting, gaming, or whatever might hold their attention. A difficulty in this tablet and keyboard generation is engaging them in classroom activities that get them off their phones and keyboards and engaging the learning space of the classroom. This paper will demonstrate creative techniques in using the traditional blackboard/whiteboard in the classroom as a collaborative and tactile learning tool. It gets students not only off of their phones but also out of their seats into game-like experiential learning.

The COVID era placed colleges into the online format and quick learning and application into Blackboard, Zoom, Canvas, or whatever online platform is used, forced all students into the online educational realm. As is well known, this has worked well for some students who are accustomed to individualized learning, but for others losing the face-to-face contact and organic elements of in-personal classes was detrimental to their learning. Without the physical engagement with others some students were unable to connect the online lessons to real-world experience. This paper addresses this disjuncture in reconnecting physical presence with the online format in a cohesive manner. This paper introducing using the traditional blackboard or whiteboard as a teaching tool. From storytelling illustrated tableaus, to topical polls, to collaborative wall writing, students participate in understanding one another through public demonstration of their opinions and aspirations. "