Digital Annotation: Tips and Tricks

Digital annotation adds dynamism to your online or hybrid lessons (in a classroom). Digital annotation is a tool to accentuate, add, or structure something. It allows you e.g. to emphasize a concept, underline a core element, add an example, map a process, or make a train of thought explicit. In an online or hybrid class, there are several ways to digitally annotate. Depending on the material you use, digital annotation will work differently.

This Education Tip brings together methods for digital annotation applied by Ghent University colleagues.

If the lecture hall has a capture agent with a camera, you can use the remote control to zoom in on the blackboard. Possible downside: this does not always deliver the desired quality. Trial runs have shown that the blackboard is difficult to capture with the mobile set. It cannot zoom in, so your writings must be very large to be legible.

Which lecture halls are equipped with a capture agent?

Borrow a document reader

A document reader resembles a desk lamp where the lightbulb has been replaced with a camera. This allows for easily capturing a tabletop action, such as writing. Some faculties or departments have a document reader available. Please contact your Faculty’s Education Support Office to find out.


Installation of the document reader depends on the model. Usually, they can be connected to your computer via USB. The image captured by the document reader is projected to your computer. Use screen sharing to share that image with the students via your video conference tool (Zoom, MS Teams, Bongo).

Making Your Own Document Reader

What do you need?

  • smartphone, preferably charging 
  • smartphone holder, e.g. selfie stick or tripod
  • a glass filled with a stone (or another heavy object) with which you fixate the stick and ensure that the glass does not fall over.

In this setup, you can record a video to post on Ufora, but you can also use it to write down and visualise things live, during class.

Getting Started

Start the session via the computer but  participate in this session using your mobile phone, without audio. Share the screen via your mobile. That way you are on camera via the computer webcam, and you can show the sheet of paper via your mobile phone. Ask the students to pin both your webcam image as well as your mobile phone image (in Bongo these two images are at the top of the screen by default).

Be sure to do a trial run and apply these tips if necessary:

  • use a dark pen that writes clearly;
  • provide a light source in front of you to avoid unwanted shadows;
  • do not use lined paper as it will distort the image;
  • place the camera about 30 centimetres (or 12 inches) above the writing surface.
  • use your camera in normal mode, not the selfie mode. Recording with the selfie camera often results in lesser quality images;
  • make sure you regularly take your hand off the frame and check that the participants can read everything clearly.

You can easily annotate things using your computer mouse. It is especially suitable for highlighting things in colour and for drawing circles or arrows. Writing formulas and entire sentences with the mouse, on the other hand, is more difficult.

There are several possibilities for drawing/writing:

  • you use the integrated whiteboard of your video conference tool (e.g. Zoom, Bongo or MS Teams) for annotation;
  • you can use an external application such as PowerPoint or Openboard (see below), and then make the annotations visible via screen sharing;
  • you can use your video conference tool’s annotation functions and annotate ‘on’ the screen or file that you share with the participants.

If you have a tablet with a stylus (pen for iPad/tablet) then that is the most appropriate way to replace the traditional blackboard. There are two ways to use the tablet as a blackboard:

(1) use the tablet as an extra device. The advantage is that you can continue to use all the functionalities of Zoom, MS Teams or Bongo via the computer (after all, app versions do not allow some functionalities, such as chat, poll, etc.);

(2) start the online session (via MS Teams/Zoom/Bongo) via the tablet itself and use the tablet’s camera and microphone. You only use one device here, namely your tablet.

Computer and Tablet

  1. Start the online session via the computer. This can be done via Zoom, MS Teams or Bongo.
  2. Join this session via the tablet, but do not connect to the audio or video as this is done via the computer.
  3. In the session, give the appropriate rights to the tablet (Zoom: co-host, MS Teams: moderator, Bongo: presenter).
  4. Then share your screen using the tablet. Here you can choose the integrated whiteboard or share the screen of your tablet and choose which application to share with the students, such as PowerPoint or Openboard.

Please note: in Bongo Virtual Classroom it is not possible to share your screen using a tablet. You can only upload a (possibly empty white) file/presentation and then use the annotation tools within Bongo.

Tablet Only 

If you are unable to use two devices, you can start the online session via the tablet and connect to audio and video. You then carry out the session completely via the tablet. Use the integrated whiteboard or share your screen to use another app.

Please note: in MS Teams it is not possible to start the built-in whiteboard from the app, so it is necessary to use an external application and share your screen.

Please note:  in Zoom, several functionalities are not available in the app, such as chat, gallery view, polls and breakout rooms. They are only available from a computer.

Please note: in Bongo Virtual Classroom it is not possible to share your screen via a tablet. You can only upload a (possibly empty white) file or a presentation and then use the annotation tools within Bongo.

A drawing tablet or graphics tablet, like e.g. a Wacom tablet, resembles a regular tablet in size, or is possibly slightly larger than an average tablet. It has a touch-sensitive surface (comparable to a trackpad) to draw and/or write on. Every brush you make on the drawing tablet appears on the computer. The difference with a tablet is that you do not always have a display, and that files cannot be stored on the tablet. It simply functions as a second screen. Connect the device via USB or Bluetooth and get started.

Be inspired by how Prof. Ir. Mia Eeckhout uses a Wacom tablet within the Bongo environment. In her presentation (in Dutch), she lists some advantages and disadvantages of a drawing tablet based on her personal experience:


  • it offers you writing and math functions within a lesson;
  • adding a blackboard is easy;
  • you can easily switch to different slides;


  • it is an additional device to switch on;
  • it is not wireless and therefore provides more cables that you have to plug in correctly;
  • practice makes perfect. Do trial runs, and use the tablet regularly to master its functionalities.

Software Recommendations by Ghent University Colleagues 

Openboard (whiteboard application)

Openboard is open-source software for interactive whiteboards. The possibilities are comparable to those of a smartboard. Colleagues have indicated that it is especially useful because you can save the boards for later. This video (YouTube) demonstrates the possibilities within the tool.

Goodnotes (whiteboard application)

Goodnotes is commercial software for interactive whiteboards. It has the advantage of document management, which means you can save all the boards you write for later.

Squid (whiteboard application)

Squid is an application to annotate PDFs. Available for Android and iOS.

Drawboard (whiteboard application)

Drawboard is an application to annotate PDFs. Available via Microsoft Store.

Sidecar (iPad as second display)

This app enables you to use an iPad as a second screen to your Mac. This way you do not have to participate in a session as an extra user via the iPad, but you can annotate programs that you open on your Mac. 

Explain Everything (making videos)

Explain everything is commercial software that allows you to create animated videos. You can import documents, PowerPoints, and other files. You can annotate this with colours, basic figures, and text boxes or with a stylus.

You can easily make a video in three steps:

  1. Write out exercises with stylus
  2. Record oral explanations
  3. Add colour markers if necessary

You can export the video to an mp4 format and upload it on Ufora.

Hardware Recommendations by Ghent University Colleagues

Which tablets are recommended by Ghent University colleagues? As inspiration, an overview of the tablets that Ghent University colleagues have bought:

Drawing Tablet

Wacom one (display) or a Wacom Intuos M Bluetooth (without display)

Tablet or Ipad

iPad Pro with pencil (Note: buy the right stylus)

Computer with digital pen

Dell laptop 9365 with active pen


Use a Real Whiteboard

Set up a (real) whiteboard in your office and point the webcam at it. The lecturer uses a whiteboard of 1.5m by 1m (or roughly 3 by 5 feet) and can capture it with the integrated webcam. The integrated webcam provided good-quality images of the board, but an external webcam allows for an even better focus. An important tip here is that only a black pen is legible; other colours are not recommended.

Other Tips from Colleagues

Filming the Blackboard Using Opencast 

Streaming and recording with Opencast works independently from each other, which is something you should keep in mind. You can organize live streaming by switching it on and off, but if you want to record you have to plan this in advance with the Opencast planner.

If you want to write on the blackboard, you have to sufficiently zoom in. Whether the board is properly displayed on screen depends on how the camera is set. You can also use some pre-settings with the remote control that comes with the capture agent. This allows you to request the zoom that you have set on your board with one button and display the correct image.

How do you set such a pre-setting? The remote has a pre-set button. You have to keep it pressed when the position is correct. Then you press a number to register it. As soon as you enter that particular number, the camera adjusts to that setting.

You cannot use the camera on anything other than Opencast.

When recording, the capture agent always streams the presentation next to the image.

Simultaneous Multiple Screen Sharing using OBS

Want to avoid switching between screens? Then this tip from our colleague might help you.  OBS allows you to combine your screens. How does this work? Prof. Christophe Scholliers uses an Android tablet on which he opened OneNote software. This tablet is connected to his computer and is made visible within OBS. When screen sharing in Zoom, he selects the image from OBS (see below).

Watch an instruction video about the use of OBS here

Chaotic writer? No problem!

The lecturer works with fill-in exercises on the slides that he then annotates using his mouse. In addition, he uses the option ‘add text box’ so that he can also type things on the slides. At the end of the exercise, the slide can quickly become unclear. That is why after the fill-in exercise, he always has a slide with the solution nicely written out. That way you can fully focus on explaining the process and worry less about legibility.

UGent Practices

Last modified Sept. 13, 2021, 9:56 a.m.