I love whiteboards.
When I worked at the Grameen Foundation in 2009, Mary Hausladen and I installed 4 sheets of melamine board to create a 16-foot wide 8-foot tall wall of white boards next to our cubes. Here is a photo of that wall, showing Mary at work:
The wall was the center of our work. It showed the state of our project. It had a kanban board (on the right). It contained work in progress. It acted as an invitation. People would stop by, ask us about the 5-quarter long roadmap (the purple, blue and orange sticky notes on Mary’s left), and then help us evolve it. It was our best place to co-create understanding. We used computers to create documents for distribution, but the whiteboard was where we would stand and create our understanding of what we wanted to record and distribute.
After installing this wall, we purchased another sixteen 4′ x 8′ sheets of melamine board. With help from Adam Feuer and his friend, who had much better carpentry tools, we covered the walls of two offices, and installed a 16-foot whiteboard wall in each of the two large conference rooms. It was great. Whiteboards instill collaboration. Collaboration increases the chance of effectiveness. Effectiveness makes for progress.
Now, a year and a quarter later, I am a professor at UW Bothell teaching a course on Analysis and Design. How could I give my students the same experience? Help them enhance the collaboration within their teams? The classroom had a 32-foot long whiteboard along the front, but that was not enough space for 10 teams of 3-4 students each.
So, it was back to Home Depot. I bought a bunch of 8′ x 4′ sheets of melamine board and have them cut them into 3′ x 4′ and 2′ x 2′ whiteboards. Here’s Home Depot’s cool electronic tool being used to support my pedagogy:
This provided one 3′ x 4′ whiteboard for each team. Small enough to easily carry, and large enough for a group of three or four people to work with it as a common artifact.
Back on campus, I stashed the whiteboards in one of the computer labs, nearby the classroom. Now each team brings their whiteboard into classroom, and places it on a table or leans it against a wall to form the center of their work conversations. The energy level is higher in the classroom. The students are visibly engaged around each whiteboard.
With their work so visible, I can easily walk around the classroom and coach. When I see a diagram that is syntactically incorrect, I can ask “What is wrong with this syntax?” and then use a whiteboard marker to show them the correct syntax. I can look at the risks they have listed, compliment them on some aspects and encourage them to extend their work into other aspects. I can see team dynamics, and what variety of models students are using. When students bring out their textbooks, and start using models we have yet to cover in class, I can easily step in, give a bit of guidance, and move on. All from visualizing work.
Yesterday, I discovered this arrangement in one team. What modeling tools do you see here?
I see a whiteboard, whiteboard markers, whiteboard eraser, sticky notes, 3 x 5 cards, project notebook, digital camera, computer, and, most important of all, the people on the team. And look at their body language. Are they engaged?
I love this image because it shows all of the modeling tools working together. These tools go a long way toward creating understanding.
It also is intriguing watching the students evolve their use of the whiteboards. Some students put two 3′ x 4′ whiteboards side-by-side to provide more space. Other students used some of the 2′ x 2′ boards. They were easier to carry and make sort of a personal whiteboard. One team could not bear erasing what they had on their 3′ x 4′ whiteboard, so they took over the built-in whiteboard at the front of classroom and consumed 12 feet of it in a variety of different diagrams and lists. Yesterday I returned to Home Depot and purchased some more whiteboards, so that teams can expand their usage as necessary.
We’ve been using the whiteboards for 2 weeks. I look forward to seeing how they are being used by the end of the quarter.