Post by John Churchley, sessional lecturer Thompson Rivers University, School of Education and retired teaching professor and educational developer
On January 10, 2024, I presented a BCcampus FLO EdTech Sandbox session on the many uses of digital sticky notes in online teaching and learning environments. In this post I share the advantages of using sticky notes and offer dozens of online learning activities educators can use to encourage participation and increase engagement.
Strengths of the Tool
Sticky notes are a go-to tool for many teachers — whether paper, digital, or in a hybrid application. They’re easy to use and help ensure all learners have a voice. They are especially effective for those who are less comfortable speaking in a group. Sticky notes can be used in many digital whiteboard environments, including Google Jamboard (soon to be retired), Miro, Zoom Whiteboard, and Padlet.
Whether paper or digital, sticky notes can fulfil several pedagogical functions: generating ideas, sorting and re-sorting ideas and information, and eliciting feedback and interaction between participants on specific ideas. Digital sticky notes can be an effective way for students to interact with content, the instructor, and each other in a digital environment. In a synchronous online class, sticky notes last longer than chat comments, and can engage everyone without having to take turns speaking or break out into small groups. Sticky notes give every student a voice and a chance to interact in a non-threatening way.
Features and Issues
The feature sets and issues of sticky notes vary with the whiteboard platform, as does privacy and security, affordability, and access. Google Jamboard is popular, but it will be retired at the end of 2024. However, an alternative is Miro, which has free accounts for educators. Students have free and anonymous access through a desktop web browser or mobile app (which requires an account or a one-time sign up using an email address). Not every whiteboard platform has the same tools for sticky notes (such as emojis, hyperlinks, comments, and tags), but the concept of generating ideas and moving or sorting them is standard.
There are dozens of learning activities using digital sticky notes. During the session, one participant said they weren’t sure we could talk about sticky notes for a solid two hours, but we did! In fact, we looked at over 20 instructional applications for them. Instructors need to think creatively about the types of pen and paper tasks and “at the whiteboard” tasks students might do in a face-to-face classroom, and then adapt the activities to use digital sticky notes as the medium for students to use online.
Generating Ideas Activities
My Job/Your Job/Our Job
This brainstorming/sort activity is a way for a class to co-construct group norms. Participants (and the instructor) create sticky notes with values and behaviours they feel would build a safe, inclusive, and efficient learning environment. These sticky notes are placed in one of three columns to show who is responsible: instructor (my job), participants (your job), and everyone (our job). Participants can respond to the notes to indicate agreement, and the group refines the ideas into a final set of expectations. The use of the sticky note whiteboard environment enhances the experience by encouraging everyone to participate and giving everyone a voice.
Sticky notes are a great way for students to share multiple answers to a question. You could ask students to use sticky notes to:
- List the following…
- Give an example of…
Formative Assessment Activities
Below are some formative assessment activities (Yee, 2020) that work well with sticky notes:
- Ticket out the door. Students write down their main “take away” on a sticky note and share on a whiteboard.
- Stickiest point and muddiest point. Using sticky notes, students write what was most clear and memorable (their stickiest point) and what was not clear or confusing (their muddiest point) and then share on the whiteboard.
- One-minute paper. Students are given one minute to write the most important thing they learned from a session. Everyone then posts their sticky notes on the whiteboard.
- One-word summary. Students use a sticky note to write one word that best summarizes a session.
- Stuff I know well/Stuff I sort of know/I have no clue. Create three columns on a whiteboard based on these categories, and students use sticky notes to add their ideas to the appropriate column.
- Group KWL. This works well for introducing a reading. On the whiteboard create a chart with three column headings: K stands for what I KNOW, W for what I WANT to know, and L for what I LEARNED. Before the reading, students use sticky notes to write and share what they know under the K and what they want to know under the W. Post-reading they share what they learned under the L.
- Haiku to summarize a lesson. Students write a haiku (a three-line poem that’s five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables) on sticky notes and then share on the whiteboard.
- Parking lot. Mid-lecture questions are written on a sticky note to be addressed later.
Activities for Sorting Ideas
This activity demonstrates the use of pre-written sticky notes for sorting concepts into categories based on participant predictions. There are correct answers shared at the end generating discussion about the preconceptions for each idea. As the sorting is done anonymously, there is no stigma associated with an incorrectly sorted item. Students can use sticky notes to sort:
- Different categories
- Dualism: true or false; pro or con
- Defining feature: present/absent
Activities for Sharing Ideas
Compass Points and Chalk Talk
These brainstorming/feedback activities (Ritchart et al., 2011) work well with digital sticky notes.
Compass Points is a thinking routine where participants use sticky notes to express their feelings about an issue or project and share them on a whiteboard with the points of the compass: Needs (north), Excitement (east), Worries (west), and Steps to be taken (south). This type of activity could be used for addressing participant concerns about a project or challenging topic.
Chalk Talk is a text-based (non-verbal) conversation among participants ensuring everyone gets an (anonymous) voice and can comment on the ideas of others. It is well suited to a sticky note/whiteboard online environment.
Other Resources for Sharing Ideas
Sticky notes can be adapted to many different instructional routines and can make these routines easy to use in a digital environment. Besides the Chalk Talk and Compass Points routines, there are many other learning routines to encourage deep student thinking in the K-12 sector in Visible Thinking at Project Zero in the Harvard Graduate School of Education (Ritchart et al., 2011). While the examples are for K-12, most of these routines can work well with adult students. Likewise, business innovation structures like those in Liberating Structures (Lipmanowicz & McCandless, 2014) can be adapted to sticky note learning activities at the post-secondary level. Finally, there are many other sources for instructional strategies that can use sticky notes. These include Yee’s Interactive Techniques list (2020) as well as resources from your institution’s teaching and learning centre and BCcampus.
Lipmanowicz, H., & McCandless, K. (2014). The surprising power of liberating structures: Simple rules to unleash a culture of innovation.
Ritchart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Yee, K (2020). Interactive Techniques. https://fctl.ucf.edu/about-us/staff/kevin-yee/