iPad as Digital Whiteboard

I want to highlight a fun thing I tried the other day. I don't know why it didn't occur to me before try it, but it worked pretty well.

Long story short, the whiteboards in my classroom are worn out. They're impossible to wipe without spraying enough whiteboard cleaner to get an elephant high. Not a good situation.

With my new AV system in hand and an iPad 2, I figured out that I could probably put something together that looks like a digital whiteboard.

So I hooked up the iPad, fired up an app that I've owned since forever but never knew what to do with called Penultimate. Penultimate is, simply, an app that lets you draw with your finger. It provides multiple pages, three pen thicknesses and six colours. That's really it.


I unearthed a trinket I received as a gift for subscribing to the wonderful Tap! magazine: a Just Mobile AluPen. I'm not, in general, an advocate of using a stylus with an iOS device. The OS isn't designed for that. It's designed for fingers, so use it that way. However, when you want to actually write on the screen, there's nothing better than a pen. The AluPen is really chunky. It's almost like a digital marker pen.

So, what does iPad + Penultimate + AluPen get you? It gets you a digital whiteboard with infinite pages and undo. The beauty of this is that you get to keep every whiteboard you draw during the lesson. You can flip between whiteboards and go forward and backwards and insert new pages in between the others. It's really kind of remarkably powerful.

Penultimate: Choose a Page

Ever wanted to email the whiteboard to your class at the end? Not just the state of the whiteboard that you ended up with at the end of the class but all the whiteboards in between?

Tap. Tap. Boom.

Penultimate: Send Document

Not to be a hater but this beats the pants off taking a photograph of your whiteboard and sending it to Evernote, OCR or not. But wait! Penultimate lets you send a page by email as an image so, if you do love Evernote, you can get all your pages into Evernote and OCR'ed with a few taps.

I think the point at which I realised I had something interesting here was when I was doing some revision about disk geometry. I drew a disk with tracks and sectors. The discussion took a turn about disk defragmentation so I started scribbling occupied and free blocks all over my disk diagram. Then I undid all the mess.

Could Penultimate be better? A little bit. I'd like to be able to zoom into the page because all these iPad styli have really fat tips and they tend to obscure your view of exactly where the point is landing. If you could drop images into Penultimate and then scribble over them, that would be pretty powerful too.

What do you really need to run this setup? Well, Penultimate supports the VGA adapter on an original iPad so all you need is an iPad of any vintage, the projector you already have and one of your ten fingers. The stylus is optional but recommended when you want to actually write.