How to share handwriting in Zoom

Brought to you by the SCPD Instructional Design team

At Stanford, Zoom is one of the main tools used to communicate with students in online courses. Faculty and instructors often ask how to share their handwriting in Zoom. We share two ways to do that in this article.

Why share handwriting on screen?

A wide range of interactions with students can be supported online, from real-time video discussions and screen sharing, to collaborative authoring in a Google doc, to generating and upvoting ideas using a tool like Poll Everywhere.

For some types of interactions with students, it is helpful to make marks or hand drawings on the screen in real time. Some examples include:

  • Working through technical problems or derivations, such as physics problems or graphing exercises.
  • Emphasizing dynamic movements or processes, such as a chemistry mechanism, drawing technique, or series of character strokes.
  • Annotating, such as marking a piece of music, labeling a powerpoint slide, or marking up a passage of text.

Below we show you two methods for sharing your handwriting in Zoom.

Before we get started, here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • These methods are useful for making quick sketches or annotations, or responding to student questions on the fly, such as during office hours or tutorial sessions. For longer lectures involving a lot of handwriting, you might want to consider alternative ways of presenting your content.
  • If you plan to make recordings of your lectures instead of interacting synchronously with students, we recommend you use Panopto instead of Zoom. Many of the same principles will still apply.
  • Students can also share their handwriting using the methods below. However, we would not recommend giving students the Host or Co-Host role in a Zoom meeting. Instead, enable screen sharing for all participants.

Great! Now let’s get started.

Method 1: Digital inking on a tablet

You will need:

  • A desktop or laptop computer (recommended)
  • A good internet connection
  • Either:
    • A graphics tablet with USB cable, OR
    • A touchscreen tablet. The tablet should be capable of signing into Stanford systems using a SUNet ID and should have the Zoom app installed.
  • Stylus (see 5 ways to make your own stylus)

*Note:  CTL has a limited inventory of iPads and Apple Pencils for Stanford faculty and instructors. Requests can be made using the iPads for Teaching and Learning request form.

Using the Zoom whiteboard feature

Zoom has a built-in whiteboard feature that allows you to use your computer’s mouse or stylus to make drawings on screen. To practice using the whiteboard feature, first, log into your Zoom account from a desktop computer or laptop, and start a new Zoom meeting. In the meeting toolbar, select “Share Screen,” then select “whiteboard” from the available options. You should be able to use your mouse to make a drawing on the shared whiteboard screen. When you’re done with your drawing and want to stop sharing your screen, just click the red “Stop Share” button at the top of the screen.

As you can imagine, it is difficult to make markings on the Zoom whiteboard using a traditional mouse. To improve the drawing functionality, you can use a tablet.

The approach you take will vary depending on the types of devices you have access to.

If you have a graphics tablet...

A graphics tablet, such as a Wacom tablet, is a touch-sensitive surface (similar to a trackpad) with a stylus that allows you to move your computer cursor similarly to a mouse. If you happen to have a graphics tablet, just connect your tablet to your computer via USB and you will be able to use the stylus as a mouse to draw on the Zoom whiteboard. Most instructors will not have access to a graphics tablet.

If you have any touchscreen tablet (including iPad)...

With any touchscreen tablet, you can connect to a Zoom call directly from the Zoom app on your device and use the whiteboard tool. However, if you have a good Internet connection, we recommend that you also keep the Zoom meeting open on your desktop or laptop computer. This will allow your students to see a more flattering angle of your face and will allow you to more easily control the Zoom meeting.

If you have an iPad/iPhone + desktop or laptop computer…

With a Mac

If you have a Mac computer, you can connect your iPad/iPhone directly to your computer via USB or AirPlay and use your iPad as an extra screen during your Zoom call. Start the Zoom meeting on your desktop or laptop computer. Then, to start digital inking, select “Share” from the Zoom meeting toolbar, then click “iPhone/iPad via Cable.” If you don’t have a USB cable, you can select “iPhone/iPad via AirPlay” and follow the instructions that appear on screen. Whatever is on your iPad will now be displayed in Zoom. You can use your Apple Pencil with whatever iPad app you prefer for digital inking. The native “Notes” apps in iOS, for example, can be used as a basic whiteboard.

Note: If you are unable to share your screen, please see the section on Screen Sharing Options below.

With a PC

If you have a PC computer, you can connect your iPad/iPhone via the “Screen mirroring” option supported by iOS and Zoom. Start the Zoom meeting on your desktop or laptop computer. Then, to start digital inking, select “Share” from the Zoom meeting toolbar, then click “iPhone/iPad.” Follow the instructions that appear on screen.

Whatever is on your iPad will now be displayed in Zoom. You can use your Apple Pencil with whatever iPad app you prefer for digital inking. The native “Notes” apps in iOS, for example, can be used as a basic whiteboard.

Note: If you are unable to share your screen, please see the section on Screen Sharing Options below.

If you have any touchscreen tablet + desktop or laptop computer...

Start by installing the Zoom meeting app on your tablet device. Then start a Zoom meeting using your desktop or laptop computer, with the camera positioned to show your face from a flattering angle. On your tablet, sign in to Zoom with your Stanford account (using SSO) to the company domain stanford.zoom.us. You can access your meetings from the meetings menu in the Zoom app or use the meeting ID. Do not connect to the audio – you should already have audio connected from your computer.

Once you are in the Zoom call with your tablet, share your screen, and select “whiteboard” from the options.

Note: If you are unable to share your screen, please see the section on Screen Sharing Options below.

Now use the whiteboard to draw or write equations, draw graphs, etc., and it will be shared in real time.

Screen Sharing Options

If you are unable to share your screen from your tablet, you may need to adjust the screen-sharing settings for your Zoom meeting. We recommend that you disable screen sharing for all participants and make your tablet the meeting Co-host. First, check your sharing options to make sure “Only Host” can share their screen:

Then, make your tablet the Co-Host:

Annotating existing content

Depending on what device you have, the digital inking method may also be useful for making annotations to existing content. For example, many iPad apps now enable you to make annotations using an Apple Pencil. Instead of selecting “whiteboard,” simply share your preferred annotation app.

For instructions on using an iPad to annotate Powerpoint slides, see: How to Use Powerpoint and Zoom with iPad.

Method 2: Use your device as a document camera

You will need

  • A desktop or laptop computer
  • A good internet connection
  • A smartphone or tablet with a working camera, capable of signing into Stanford systems using a SUNet ID, with Zoom app installed
  • Pen and paper on a flat surface, or a whiteboard setup
  • A light or lamp to remove shadows (recommended)
  • Tripod or mount for device (purchased or homemade)

Have you ever used a document camera or overhead projector in the classroom to project writing from a piece of paper to a screen? You can achieve something similar with Zoom!

Position your smartphone or tablet camera facing a piece of paper or a whiteboard. You may find it useful to use a camera tripod. A small desk lamp can help to cut out unwanted shadows.

Again, similar to what we recommended in the Digital Inking instructions above, create a Zoom meeting on your main computer, then log in to the Zoom meeting from your smartphone or tablet.

Once you are in the Zoom meeting, start your camera on your phone or tablet, then simply write something on the paper!

In the Zoom meeting, students can Pin your video, so that they will see it in a larger view regardless of who is talking. As the Host, you can also Spotlight a video, which pins the video for all participants.

Be sure to remove your hand from the frame periodically and confirm that participants have a clear view of your writing.

Professor Allison Okamura, Mechanical Engineering, who has recommended that students use their phone as a document camera for the department's PhD qualifying exams, shares her “best practice” tips:

  • 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.
  • Place your computer at a height where the camera on your computer can clearly see your face.
  • 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.
  • Adjust the paper/pen/writing size/smartphone placement as needed to ensure that the results you see on the computer Zoom window are clear.
  • 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.

That’s it!

We hope you enjoyed practicing these two easy ways to share your handwriting on screen in a Zoom call.

See Also:

For more tools and tips, please visit the Stanford Teach Anywhere website.

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