Digital Drawing Tools for Online Teaching

Credit: iStock.com/ilkercelik
Credit: iStock.com/ilkercelik
Digital drawing tools are a powerful yet underused resource for online educators. They are helpful in quantitative courses with equations, art and other classes that are heavy on visual analysis, and interactive sessions such as videoconferences.

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Digital drawing tools are a powerful yet underused resource for online educators. They are helpful in quantitative courses with equations, art and other classes that are heavy on visual analysis, and interactive sessions, such as videoconferences.

Making drawing-based video lessons requires a digital drawing surface, such as a tablet or touchscreen monitor; a stylus pen; a drawing app; and a video recorder. Here are some of the best apps for making lessons with drawings.

Browser-based tools

Browser-based apps do not require downloads and should work on any touchscreen surface, be it a tablet, laptop, or desktop. Many also have built-in videoconferencing functions, making them good for taking notes or collaborating during live events, either face-to-face or online.

Scratchwork is designed for making lessons with math equations. It provides a clean, simple, grid-paper surface, which should bring a smile to the face of any math or engineering teacher; a math function editor; and the ability to recognize the math functions on imported photos. Thus, if an instructor already has equations written out, they can photograph the equations, import them to the drawing surface, and then use them as the starting point of a lesson. Scratchwork also has a built-in videoconferencing feature with webcam that can allow up to seven users to work on the drawing at once, making it a great app for students to work with in groups during live events.

Draw.Chat is another free drawing tool with a built-in videoconferencing feature. It also requires no registration—you simply go to the site and start a new whiteboard, and the system will activate your webcam and microphone. If you want to use it for a live event, you send students the URL to the whiteboard for them to join. You can save your drawing onto its cloud storage system, though not a video lesson. It doesn’t state a limit to the number of people who can join a videoconference at once, saying only that is allows a “large number of users” to collaborate, which suggests that it might work with a full class.

Miro, formally RealtimeBoard, is an online whiteboard designed for collaborative drawing during meetings. It has the same simplicity as the other tools but also comes with templates—such as brainstorming, concept mapping, and note-taking templates—that instructors might find helpful in developing lessons or hosting meetings. Plus, it has a wide range of apps that integrate with Google products, as well as Dropbox and Zoom. Since Zoom has a recording feature, you might want to run it with Miro to create a video recording.

Google Jamboard is a part of Google’s constellation of free apps. It is a simple drawing tool that allows for community editing, and users can save and share the results on Drive. One nice feature is that users can choose between a variety of backgrounds for their drawing, including images that the user uploads. It also provides multiple whiteboards that the user can advance through while drawing, and thus an instructor can move to another whiteboard when they have filled up the screen without having to pause to erase everything. As an alternative, Google Canvas is a slimmed-down version of Jamboard that is ideal for someone who just wants to draw on a screen without the clutter of other features.

Software-based tools

Software-based tools are downloaded to your computer or tablet. Because they do not require an internet connection, they provide the freedom to make video lessons anywhere; however, they may not work with all devices.

Explain Everything Whiteboard is an exceptional app for creating digital lessons. As the name suggests, it’s designed for making tutorials on a concept or process using images, videos, text, or drawing. Unlike the apps above, it has a recording function that also has editing capabilities. You can even add outside content to the video during editing. Instructors can have Explain Everything’s own cloud site host the recording, giving students a link to it, or export it. It also works on nearly any device.

ShowMe is another popular app among educators for creating video lessons on a whiteboard surface. Like Explain Everything, it is does not include a videoconferencing function, but it does it allows multiple users to watch or edit at once. Thus, an instructor can have student collaborate on it while using a different videoconferencing app, such as Zoom. Instructors can also download the resulting video or have the ShowMe platform host it. One interesting feature is that teachers can upload their videos to a gallery for other teachers to use, or use one created by another teacher for their own lessons. Importantly, it works with either iPads or Android tablets.

Procreate is an iPad app that is popular with graphic artists and good for making artistic drawings as part of a lesson or live videoconference. It has a large selection of colors, fonts, and brushes as well as a recording function.  is another highly regarded iPad drawing app that is free, though it does not have the same functionality as Procreate.

As instructors, we often default to text when creating digital content, but drawings can be a more effective and engaging format for communicating some topics. Add digital drawings to your teaching toolbox.