Online Teaching of Mathematics – tools

Recently a lot of universities, including my own, have been asked to conduct teaching online due to the COVID-19 outbreak. For a while, I did quite a lot of online teaching and tuition, so I thought I would share this in case it helps anyone else teaching Mathematics or related fields. I found online tuition for mathematics very effective, and sometimes even better than face-to-face tuition for some topics.

Chalk and Talk

Mathematics is an unusual sport in that the vast majority of it still uses traditional teaching; the lecturer writes on some kind of board and students copy some of it down. In tutorials, students and teachers will often share a piece of paper, whiteboard, or blackboard. Although blackboards and chalk are not so common anymore, the basic principle of developing a proof or an argument, or performing a calculation live in front of students is still, I think, a very common form of teaching. (For some discussion of this, I love Prof. Korner’s essay, “In Praise of Lectures”)

Replacing this face-to-face learning with an online equivalent is therefore essential, so here are some tools that might help. Essentially, there’s three things you need: something to write on, a decent web camera, and the right software.

Mathematicians tend to be quite computer literate, and a large number don’t like Microsoft windows, and use Mac, or linux- compatibility in hardware and software is also needed.


Handwriting is still important in Mathematics, so having some hardware that allows writing on a screen is essential.

  • I use a drawing tablet to draw, which essentially replaces a mouse with a pen, and enables you to write when you depress a mechanical nib on a special mat. Personally, I chose a VEIKK A30 Digital Drawing Tablet (UK LinkUS Link)which is ten inches by six inches (about the size of an A4 piece of paper), and costs about £50. I use it with linux, but it is also compatible with Windows and Mac. (The market leader is Wacom, but in my opinion this is much more expensive, but overkill for mathematics- budding artists, etc, may find it has more features which are not needed.)
  • Some people prefer to draw directly on the screen of a device. I found this a little less good myself, as you are always looking down, and there is a small but annoying delay between writing and it appearing on the screen. These are much more expensive options, but if you are in the market for a new tablet or computer, worth considering. Some options, which really depend on your ecosystem:
    • The new iPads all work with an optional Apple Pencil, but this is close to £500, even with the educational discount. I find the baseline model (10.2″ diagonal, slightly smaller than A4) a little small for writing a page of mathematics, and the bigger iPad pro is better, but more expensive. I found it slightly annoying to change between apps as well, and you are always charging them.
    • The Samsung galaxy tablets and the S-pen are very good for android users, but have many of the same flaws as the iPad. They come at 10.5 inches, but again are above £400 quid.
    • If you are in the market for a new laptop anyway, I really like the 2-in-1 devices, which are PCs that come with a stylus with which you can draw on the screen, and can run Windows or even Linux. I have a Dell XPS 2 in 1, as the pen is fantastic, but there are many options now which might suit all budgets.

Webcamera and microphone

If you do a lot of online tuition or teaching, having a decent quality webcamera and microphone is important for audience experience. You may have one built into your PC or laptop, but this makes a big difference for the recipients of your teaching.

I use a Logitech C920 webcamera, which records in HD (1080p), sufficiently good quality, and also records sound well. It is compatible with linux (and Windows and Mac). You can spend more or less, but at around £50, this is a good investment in my opinion, and a good balance between cost and functionality.


Here there is a lot of choice, and your choice in software might be imposed on you by your institution. Some tools I like:

  • For live one-to-one or one-to-n teaching, where n≤4, I really like bitpaper . Essentially you can share a whiteboard between you and your students/ collaborators, see each other, and all of you can draw on it just as if you were standing by a whiteboard. It is multi-platform, and works across all browsers. You can also cut and paste images, upload files, and share screen. There is a built-in video system, or you can use a separate app. This is free. Bitpaper have recently started charging the tutor, but for most people this is $8-$10 per month.
  • For recording videos (asynchronous teaching)
    • Use a screen recorder to record whatever you are doing in your screen.
      • OBS is software that you can use to record anything- it can capture your screen and then export to video.
      • For Mac users, you can use the in-built screen recorder (or QuickTime) – – together with bitpaper.(thanks to Tim Waite for the tip!)
    • Explain Everything is a great tool. There’s a small learning curve, but again you can write on the screen , add images, pdfs, show examples of software, (Here’s an example of a fun probability problem I did to mostly try out the software.) To produce polished videos takes some time, but to record your own writing on a whiteboard is very easy. Apps exist for apple and android.
      I have used for recorded videos, but live collaboration is also possible.
      There is a free option, although the paid for option is worthwhile if you want to use any of the advanced features.
    • If you want to polish your videos, you can edit the video if you have the time or inclination- I use Openshot. (free and open source). Many people are afraid of videos in that they don’t look professional. I think in the circumstances, students appreciate anything you do, and you should concentrate on good clear content, and now worry about your hair or special effects!
    • As an example of what you can do (and your lectures will be much better technically) here is the start of a short section I made using OBS and bitpaper. I recorded myself with the webcam while delivering the lecture, and recorded a bitpaper window.
  • For interactive lectures, seminars (synchronous teaching), I am yet to find a perfect option
    • Most institutions I have worked at or visited use panopto for lecture capture, and you may have a good setup in your institutional lecture rooms which negate you doing a lot more work. If you can’t use your university lecture rooms, you can also download a client to your own PC which lets you stream from your webcam and broadcast your screen. Chat rooms are also possible so participants can ask questions. Often Panopto recordings are integrated with virtual learning environments such as blackboard.
      If your institution has subscribed to this, it is probably the best option, although the software does not run on linux, and I have found university admins sometimes put some restrictions on what is allowed- worth talking to them though!
    • Blackboard Collaburate Ultra allows you to share slides, your webcam, use the built in whiteboard, and share , for example, computer code or a whiteboard app such as bitpaper. You may have breakout rooms, engage in chat, and do all kinds of things you would do in a face-to-face class. I find it really good, intuitive for students and lecturers, and would recommend it if your university subscribes. It also can automatically record to Blackboard, meaning that students don’t miss out if they don’t attend class This is one of the more user-friendly tools I have found. The web client works for me in Linux and Chrome. If your institution has a subscription, it’s a really good tool.
    • Zoom is a web conferencing software that includes the ability to share a whiteboard, or share a screen and use another tool such as slides, powerpoint, or bitpaper.
      I like it as it works very well cross platform, and is intuitive, and easy to send a link to someone to join in and view on the web.  There are severe limits on the free plan (40 mins maximum), but the paid plans (around £12 per month) are a good option for recreating a lecture environment.
      Breakout rooms are also possible, and you can set up ways to allow students to raise their hands and give instant feedback in a lecture/class. Recordings are also possible. Be careful of security/privacy concerns, and set passwords for your meetings. This would be my recommended tool if you can’t use Blackboard Ultra Collaborate.
    • Many universities use Skype for Business (being incorporated as Microsoft Teams) , and it does have a limited whiteboard option. I have found these sessions to be technically poor in terms of video quality and quite difficult to arrange as the cross-platform support tends to be mixed. Recording can also be added on centrally (at an institutional level) or you can record using other software. It is getting better, and if your organisation has sold its soul to Microsoft, it’s well worth checking out. (Similarly, and I haven’t used it, if your institution has invested in Google, Hangouts Meet might be a good option)
    • Youtube live has great cross-platform compatibility, but doesn’t have a built in whiteboard. You can use another whiteboard, and share your screen, and broadcast it via youtube. This is something that pretty much everyone can see, on their TV, phone, computer, wherever, so for public lectures or to broadcast to the masses, this could also be a good technique. Participants have the ability to chat, which may or may not be constructive!
    • For all these options, for a large class, if you do have an assistant who can help you run the tech, moderate comments, respond to student queries, it helps things along.

I’d be interested to hear any other great solutions in the comments below or drop me an email at web (at)

Conclusion (what I do:)

  • Use a drawing tablet and better quality webcam (total outlay: around £100)
  • Use bitpaper and the built in video service for teaching 1 to one or small groups.
  • Use blackboard collaborate ultra for interactive-classes , or if not available, Zoom.
  • Use OBS to make recorded lectures, and Openshot to edit them lightly.


  1. Great stuff — many thanks for this, Ben!

    I just got myself a Veikk A30, and I’m having trouble making it work properly — I run Ubuntu 16.04, and I assume I need to compile and install the driver ? But when I try to run ‘make’, I come up against exactly this reported issue:

    I wondered if you have any relevant information or tips, for getting that tablet working properly in Linux?

    All the best — David

    1. Dear David- thank you for the comment. I must say I didn’t come up against any huge issues at all- I am using mostly Ubuntu 19.04 at home and 18.04 at my office. So if it’s not working at all, perhaps upgrading would help if you are able to- and 20.04 is out very soon, of course….

      Having said that, I remember some of the more advanced features of the pointer I couldn’t get working, and didn’t try; for example, the pressure sensitive feature of the device just doesn’t work for me, and I haven’t bothered. So for me the tablet is really just a mouse equivalent. I don’t use it for drawing, colouring, etc, so haven’t looked.

      One thing I did do is restrict the Veikk pointer to one of my two screens- I found this worked quite nicely

      1. Thanks, Ben — and apologies, because I somehow missed that you had replied to my comment! (some weeks ago now) Yes I am hopeful that the problem I faced will be fixed by upgrading to Ubuntu 20.04. For now, I found a workaround, which is to use an older version of the Veikk driver for Linux — which works fine for my purposes (mainly PDF annotations, and interactive whiteboard.

  2. You recommendation for VEIKK A30 Digital Drawing Tablet links to a glove. Was that your intention? There’s also a picture of a glove, but you describe a table + pen. Could you clarify, please? thanks, Julia

    1. That’s very strange- and thanks for pointing it out!
      This is the correct link now- I’ll update the article. If you google Veikk A30 you should be able to find it!

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