Teaching Handwriting Online

There are a number of strategies you can use to demonstrate handwriting techniques online as well as give feedback on and evaluate student work. These strategies can also work well for other tasks such as diagramming sentences. Choosing the best strategy for you will depend on your specific goals as well as what tools are available to you. In this blog series, we will discuss synchronous and asynchronous strategies separately, although there is definitely a lot of overlap between the two.


Joining a Zoom meeting with additional devices

The easiest way to use a “writing board” in a live Zoom meeting is to join the meeting with an additional device, such as a smartphone or tablet, and sharing the Zoom whiteboard from that device. Watch this short video for a walkthrough of how to set this up:

You can use the same method to annotate a slide or anything else you load on your screen with the Zoom annotation feature.

We recommend using a stylus to write on your device. You can find very inexpensive styluses online, such as this one ($14 for two): MEKO Universal Stylus.

Diagramming sentences: If you do not have access to a tablet, Diagrams (free) is a great web-based option that you can use to produce diagrams/flowcharts in real-time. You can use it with your class by sharing your screen. Our recommendation is to try and build as much of the diagram as possible before class. It is a lot easier to manipulate portions of demonstrations than to create them from scratch during a presentation.

You can also generate complete diagrams before class by using tools such as RSyntaxTreejsSyntaxTree, or synTree (all are free). Once a diagram is generated, you can put it into a presentation and use the Zoom Annotation feature to draw your students’ attention to a specific part of the diagram.

Using a document camera

If you want to demonstrate handwriting or diagram using pen and paper, you can set up an external webcam or a phone to function as a document camera. This can be done either for free using items you can find around your house, or using an inexpensive dedicated setup. There are multiple ways to do this, and here are a few helpful resources to help you find the setup that works for you:

Regardless of what setup you choose, you should be mindful of how lighting and glare affect your document. Position your document and camera in a way that makes the image as evenly lit as possible.

Mechanical Engineering Professor Allison Okamura (Stanford University) has shared the following best practices for using a smartphone as a document camera:

  • Use a dark pen that writes clearly.
  • Make sure you have a good light source in front of you, for your face and for the document. Avoid backlighting.
  • If you write with your right hand, you will set up the paper to the right of the computer/keyboard. Left-handed users can set this up to the left instead. I recommend using unlined white paper.
  • Set the camera up about one foot from the writing surface.
  • It may be better to use the camera on the back of the phone, rather than the selfie camera, but you can see what works best for your setup.
  • Make sure the smartphone is capturing video in the right orientation. How you do this depends on your phone. If there is a problem maintaining the correct orientation after laying the phone down, you can look for a phone-specific solution to lock the orientation. There does not seem to be a way to lock orientation on the mobile Zoom app, so this has to be done via settings in the phone’s operating system.
  • Practice writing and drawing the types of equations and diagrams that you expect to use during your meetings.
  • Remember that what you see on your computer Zoom window is what the other participants will see.
  • In Zoom, others can “pin” the video from the phone feed to make this the video with the largest size in “speaker view.”
  • The person drawing may want to use the “gallery view” to see both other participants and their phone feed clearly.

Connecting a device via Zoom

Zoom allows sharing from an iPhone or iPad using a cable or wirelessly (as long as it is connected to the same network). Duet will also allow another computer or a tablet to serve as an additional monitor, and then we can share screen from that “monitor.”

And that’s all it takes! In the next post, we will round up your toolbox by discussing asynchronous strategies.

Read Part 2 of this series here.

Author: Luca Giupponi, Educational Technology Specialist, Center for Language Teaching Advancement

Amanda Lanier, MAFLT Program Director and Assistant Professor
Shannon Spasova, Assistant Professor of Russian

Daniel Trego, Educational Media & Design Specialist, College of Arts & Letters

A previous version of this piece originally appeared on the MSU College of Arts & Letters Ed Tech blog.