Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Google Jamboard - an invaluable ally

Lucy Trewinnard, Digital Education Associate at Birkbeck, University of London writes exclusively for the BLE blog about Google Jamboard 

A nationwide move to online teaching saw lecturers put away their dry wipe markers and erasers and start testing out the array of digital whiteboards available to them. 

Digital Whiteboards are not just a replacement for where an educator highlights notes during a class, but they also give the student the pen - inviting collaboration and idea sharing.

What is Google Jamboard and how does it work? 

Jamboard is Google's answer to the digital whiteboard. Aside from being a 55-inch screen hardware you can buy - Jamboard is also browser and app-based piece of software residing in the Google Cloud allowing real-time annotation and collaboration (for free)

A board invites its users to "Jam" by offering the ability to: 

  • Write, draw and mind-map
  • Sketch (Google's own Image recognition technology also boasts it can turn your sketch into a polished image) 
  • Add images straight from Google's image search function
  • Add Google Docs, Sheets or Slides
  • Collaborate - with up to 25 users being able to work on a "Jam" at once. 
  • Backup to the Cloud - the Jamboard's save automatically, meaning that you can re-visit them later.


Digital Whiteboards provide spaces for students to work collaboratively with each other, in both live sessions and out of class. Dr Becky Briant (Department of Geography, Birkbeck, University of London) and Dr Annie Ockelford (School of Environment and Technology, University of Brighton) talk here about their experience teaching with Jamboard - as both a synchronous and asynchronous tool with, used within small and large groups.

 


How do digital browser/app based whiteboards differ from integrated whiteboards (collaborate, MS Teams, Zoom)?

A lot of the platforms being used across higher education institutions already have their own answers to a digital whiteboard. Collaborate Ultra, MS Teams and Zoom all have whiteboard features which can be used effectively in teaching - as a method for collecting students’ thoughts and responses in discussion. However, there are limitations to this - being unable to share images, in most cases there is no ability to save the whiteboards that have been created (which also means no editing later) and not always being large enough for everyone to contribute. 

What is key to Jamboard (or other digital whiteboards used within Digital Education) is the versatility of how these tools can be used as tasks as a feedback, for diagram/image annotation, as a group project area, or live question and answer responses... or just as a space for gathering thoughts. This versatility allows students to engage in discussion dynamically across multiple different learning styles. 

Limitations 

Of course, there are limitations. Jamboard, being a Google product, works at is very best when its users all use Google accounts - which is great if your institution's emails are hosted by Google - but less friendly when hosted elsewhere; this then requires your Jamboard to sit on the web publicly. 

Anonymity: There are both pros and cons that come along with anonymity - with anonymous posts the students have freedom to contribute to a "Jam" without fear of judgement, of course, the problem with this is that students may be able to get away without contributing at all. It can be difficult to tell when a student is or isn't engaging.

During a live class, it can be difficult for students that might not be accessing the class on a laptop - without the ability to open new windows to be able to contribute to the "Jam." This poses a real challenge for synchronous use of the tool - where an integrated whiteboard may be preferable. It is important for educators to keep in mind what devices their students may be joining classes using.

Conclusion

Considering Googles Jamboard is free and that it is relatively intuitive to use even for those less tech savvy it can be a powerful ally for teaching - inviting students to contribute with words, images and drawings, creating a place for them to meet for groupwork and form discussion outside of the traditional forums that have long been pillars of Virtual Learning Environments. There are several collaborative digital whiteboards available, so it might be worth investigating if this these tools are something that your institution could incorporate into teaching. 

If you are interested in hearing about first-hand experience lecturing with Jamboard, you can contact Dr Becky Briant (Birkbeck, University of London) at b.briant@bbk.ac.uk or Dr Annie Ockelford (University of Brighton) at a.ockelford@brighton.ac.uk.

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