Hand Annotation in Live Virtual Sessions

Hand Annotation in Live Virtual Sessions

If I were to choose one topic that comes up again and again, to which the answer changes just as frequently, it would be hand annotation in live classrooms. Though there are many alternatives to this teaching practice, many faculty still want simple and elegant options in their live virtual sessions. The following are just some of the solutions.

Join with a Touch Screen Device

I cannot speak for all video conference tools, but some have an interactive whiteboard that can be used for annotations - both by the host, and by the participants. Zoom (see Zoom options here). However, anyone who has ever tried writing with a mouse can attest that it is not easy. In fact, it's pretty annoying. Starting or joining a virtual meeting with a touch screen device sounds like a good solution, but not every device is convenient for this purpose either. A regular laptop with a touch screen has an awkward angle that still makes it hard to write by hand. Through trial and error, I have found that tablets or laptop-to-tablets computers with a stylus work best for this purpose. If your video conference tool does not have an interactive whiteboard, you can still use any of these devices by opening any text editor with ink tools, and sharing the screen. Here are some of the products that can be used this way.

Sharing an iOS Device in Zoom

Some faculty prefer to use their desktop or non-touch laptops for sharing PowerPoint presentations, and use a separate device for hand annotation. iOS devices can now be easily shared in Zoom - either by connecting iPads (iPhones are too awkward to use for this purpose) to a Mac computer via cable or by using AirPlay (screen mirroring).

Mirroring other Devices

There are instances when alternative ways of mirroring may be required - for video conference tools other than Zoom, and for non-iOS devices. For the purposes of this article, "mirroring" refers to projecting a  mobile device onto a computer screen. There are several tools that have been recommended. Up to date, I have only been able to test Reflector 3.

Product Options*

While we do not endorse any products, these are a few options that would work well with the techniques above. For PC users, Microsoft Surface Pro 7, Surface Book 3 and Surface Pro X all work as laptops but easily convert to tablets for easier writing. You will need a stylus to annotate by hand.

For those who prefer iOS devices, any reasonably up to date iPad should work. The latest models include  iPad Pro, 12-9in (4th gen), iPad Air (4th gen) and iPad (8th gen). Writing devices include Apple Pencil (2d gen) for iPad Pro, and Apple Pencil for iPad and mini iPad.


A larger screen may be more convenient for hand annotation, but will likely come with a higher price. Choosing a tool is more about the right fit for the task, so consider your needs rather than the latest fad. If a larger screen is preferred, consider going with a less powerful and/or older model to lower the cost. You will also need a stylus - make sure to choose one compatible with the iPad model.

Lightboard/Learning Glass

Lightboard or "Learning Glass" is a relatively recent invention that allows the instructor to write while standing/sitting behind the board - without obstructing the view. For more information see a short introductory video below by Michael Peshkin - an engineering professor at Northwestern University and the inventor of Lightboard, or visit this website

Lightboard is Open Source Hardware and can be used freely. Commercially built systems are also available from the following manufacturers:

Want to brainstorm other ideas for hand annotation in your live virtual classrooms? Schedule a session with one of our instructional designers.

* While we do not endorse any products and our recommendations are based on experience and best practices, ATTECS is an Amazon Associate and earns from qualifying purchases.

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