Milanote – A review

In 2020 I wrote a review about LucidSpark and then made a quick tutorial video. If you’re not too familiar with it and want a quick summary of what LucidSpark does, it is a collaborative tool where people can share and organize their ideas on a near limitless canvas. It is simple and easy to use and I like it.

Then I saw this comment on the video.

Well, I have no loyalty to one product over another and so I thought I would check out Milanote and write a quick review.

Signing up & Pricing

As one would expect from an online service in 2021, the signup process is super easy. You can use your Google, Apple or your personal email account. When you sign in for the first time it does ask you what field you work in and then you’re in your first Milanote board.

I must say I like the pricing too. The limits are related to the amount of content that you use. LucidSpark takes away some collaborative features that are pretty nice.

This is their normal pricing, but I did find a reference for their educational pricing in a FAQ.

This is not surprising but always good info! I did not reach out to find out what it would cost but I believe that would depend on how many students would be using it.

Creating Boards

So far things between LucidSpark and Milanote have been pretty similar. Here is where things start to get a little different. Take a look at Milanotes dashboard. It looks like a creative space itself and it is. You can “connect” boards together (though it is only in appearance only as far as I can tell). You can also rearrange your boards to your liking. Most places just list your workspaces in a list or row and you can search by name or date modified, etc.

The dashboard is unlike anything I’ve seen before

Here everything is right in front you. To make a new board simply drag the Board icon onto the workspace. That’s it. Once you have it in the workspace you can click on it (just once) and you can change the color and the icon. By clicking on the name of the board you can give it a new and unique name.

To delete a board, just click and drag a box around it and then delete it. If you right click on the board you gets lots of options as well.

Look at those options!

It’s pretty cool. If it is a brand new board. Double click on it quickly and you can choose a template and oooooh boy do they have some templates. Rather than try to write about it, just watch the GIF below.

If you already have info on a board you cannot apply a template and double clicking it will just open it up.

Working on a Board

The toolbar
  • On the far left hand side is a very simple toolbar. Here you can…
  • Add notes
  • Add hyperlinks
  • To-do lists
  • Lines
  • Add a board inside your current board
  • Add a column – These can hold everything mentioned above
  • Comments
  • Add an image
  • Upload a file
  • Draw

Sketches, videos, documents, audio, color, maps and headings are all hidden behind the ellipse in the middle of the toolbar

The difference between Draw and Sketch is Draw will let you draw anywhere in the board. Sketch will put it in its own box and from there you can add that to a column.

Here are some elements on my sample board.

You want an element, just click and drag it onto the board. It’s straightforward and simple and easy. Double clicking any element will bring up more tools. For example, double clicking a website will allow you to change the link, change the description or color, etc.

The canvas does seem to be infinite but unlike other services, you can’t zoom out and make everything super small to the point that you can get lost. That is something that is not welcomed. One thing that milanote is missing is a navigator window. It may not need one, but as your board and ideas grow it may be a nice touch to quickly navigate around.

You can still get around pretty easily by holding the space bar. This turns your cursor into a hand and you can scroll with your mouse to move up and down or hold the Shift key to move left and right. So getting around isn’t too difficult, but not everyone knows about that nifty trick and it’s not advertised here.

I really like the idea that you can a board inside a board. This is great! I don’t know how many times I’ve been brainstorming and simply put different approaches in different areas on the board far away from each other. It works but it doesn’t at the same time.

If I’m working on solution A, I would love to see nothing but those ideas, problems, considerations and the like. Having my mythical solution A as its own board solves that. Without it, I’m constantly comparing the two ideas and that is distracting in the planning phase.

Like Lucidspark though, the tools offered are not many, but they are all meaningful. I don’t feel like there are too few options here. Everything I need to get thoughts together is there and I like that. A workspace cluttered with tools and windows is a distraction. This is probably the reason there is no navigation window.

Another cool feature is the trash can. It is located at the very bottom of the toolbar. At first, I thought I would select an item, hit the trashcan and it would be gone. This is not the case. When you click on it, you can see what elements have been deleted and by whom! I can even empty the trash (only for my deleted content) and drag it out of the trash and back into the board.

Collaboration

You can invite and work with people in real time. Like most services, all you have to do is hit the Add editor button near the top right hand corner.

Then type in their email address or get a shareable link and you’re off to the races. For the shareable link, when someone clicks it, milanote requires them to create an account. This is a welcomed obstacle. This makes sure that you know who is working on your board at all times and no anonymous contributors will be there to wreck your work.

When another user clicks on an element on the board you can see who that is. It’s nice and slick.

It looks better in person

You can also link two elements together. When you move your mouse over an item there will be a white circle and when you click that you get an arrow that you can drag to another element. Once linked the arrow will remain no matter where you move. Nice.

Adding files, images, etc. from your computer is as easy as dragging them into the web browser. PDF’s are uploaded and linked and you get a quick preview of the first page. You can’t scroll through the document, but others will have the ability to comment on it and download it.

One thing I am not a fan of is you cannot see who posted what from just a glance. If you right click on the element it will tell you at the bottom, but I would really like it if I could just glance and see who is proposing the best ideas.

Another thing I would love to see is a history of changes like in a Google Doc and LucidSpark. Sometimes it is nice to go through the organic method of planning and to see how ideas are forming into the tangible. This is a nit-picking item to be sure, but I thought I would mention it.

Free account limits

I mentioned earlier that the free account does not limit features for you, but it does limit you in a different way. You can only use 100 items in total. So if you have a board for 50 items, then you have used half of your free account limitations. You can check this by clicking the gear in the top right hand corner.

I like this. With a 100 items you can definitely get some room to really do some planning and organizing. It is much more than just a taste or an idea of what a product can offer you and actually accomplish something and really put it through its paces.

Export & Publishing

This is something that Milanote gets right. You have lots of options to export your boards. Check out the image below.

Exporting large boards like this can be a pain. Most places give you the ability to export it as an image (usually a PNG) or as a PDF. The problem here is that if you have a large board it will shrink everything down to try and fit it on a single sheet. This is fine for simpler and smaller boards, but those big ideas need a different format. Here is an image of the PDF version.

It looks fine

For those larger boards you can download it as a list as a Word document, a Markdown doc or a Text file. Here is what the Word version looks like (I don’t have Word so Pages is opening it). You will notice that my drawing and some images are not in the list, but if you have a large board and need to export, this is definitely the way to go.

You can also share it or publish your board. This is more for presentations. Here you can share it with lots of people via a “secret link” and you have some other options as well. One option that particularly appreciate is the ability to get the HTML code to embed into a website. I like that and you don’t see it very often and usually when you do see it, that feature is behind a paywall.

I also like that there is no option for the viewers to edit the board. I do not like anonymous editors. It gives students the ability to “showcase their humor” and that often times ends up derailing your lesson or distract your students which can be a little annoying.

Conclusion

The question I try to answer in this section is should teachers use this tool with their students. I would say that this is good for high school students and beyond. The product is sleek, performs well and is very easy to use. However, with that being said, students should have some executive function skills that they can pull from to organize the board(s). If not I can see it being a time vampire (a tool that causes you to allocate large amounts of teaching time instead of focusing on the content of the unit) and causing disruptions.

I can see younger students adding board, to board, to board, to board to see if they can find the limit of the program. There are also no moderation tools to be seen. Again, this tool isn’t designed for third graders so I am not faulting the devs here.

The tool is met for creative collaboration and Milanote excels at that. If you have a high school drama class looking to come up with set design issues, I would go for Milanote over Lucidspark without question. It is a much better suited tool for that task.

For just brainstorming, you could use Milanote, but I feel Lucidspark has better tools on hand to make it more useful than Milanote. I like the fact that you can tag your notes/items on Lucidspark and then automatically have it arrange them based on that information.

Milanote doesn’t have that ability but again, I don’t think they want that ability. It is targeted for creative designers and not just ideas. Milanote is great and I think for the right task it would be suited for high school and beyond. I wouldn’t try this with most younger students unless it was for presenation purposes.

Also, if you’re a teacher and looking to collaborate with peers – this is a tool to consider for sure.

Chromebook – Sign into two accounts at the same time

I was working on a review when this came across my desk. Here is the short story. A teacher noticed that a student had another person’s email open while on their Chromebook. At first, the thinking was that they had signed into that Chromebook as that person (which is not a great idea). Upon further investigation, it turns out that the student in question was properly signed into their own Chromebook but somehow was able to open up someone else’s Gmail next to their own.

Before I go and detail how this happened, this is simply wrong. I cannot think of having a student log into another student’s email account as a good thing. Whether they’re friends and share passwords (another bad idea) or not that should be squashed.

I am going to detail how this works and what you or your Google Admin needs to do to fix it.

Continue reading “Chromebook – Sign into two accounts at the same time”

Streaming Events #3 – Test!

Well…we tested and….it went well!

We streamed two middle school volleyball matches. The total stream lasted about 2.5 hours and we streamed it on a lonely YouTube account. That way if there were mistakes they would be seen by very few people (in fact the only people who tuned in were people in the gym 🙂

Not everything we great, but nothing was terrible which is good. Middle school students did most of the setup and the actual streaming. Overall, it was pretty good.

Continue reading “Streaming Events #3 – Test!”

Laptop recommendations? Check with your school

Back in June I wrote this same article. You can read it here. Basically it was in response to an article written by Monica Chen of The Verge. The article “recommends” the best laptop for students at all levels by students.

Well, they just republished the article again and I thought I’d just remind parents and students out there to use these articles as a jumping off point. A place to start your research not as a definitive source.

Remember that all of these sites are powered off of ad revenue. All of them, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these recommendations were actually paid for. For example, no way I would recommend an iPad Air for a high school student where I live. I know that all the surrounding high schools are either Google Workspace schools or Office 365 schools. There are much better options at that price point for those students than an iPad. An advertisement that looks like an actual article is a native ad and it may be what is happening here.

Again, check with your school. They will have recommendations and can help you narrow down your search much better than a tech journalist or a blogger like myself 🙂

Bose VideoBar VB1 – Review

Image from Bose’s website – that is not my arm

We have a pretty nice conference room at my school and it gets a lot of use too. It has a great 80″ display, nice tables with power built into them and comfortable chairs. We also have integrated speakers in the ceiling, lots of natural light and easy connections to the display. There is one thing that it has always been missing and that is a good video conference option.

We have tried to bring in a VOIP phone but unless you were sitting right next to it, you couldn’t hear the person. We tried hooking up a smartphone to the speakers with an adapter, but that required someone to sit at the front and they would always have difficulty hearing people in the back of the room or if a group of people were talking it was difficult to hear any of them clearly, then we tried hooking up a computer and run a Zoom meeting. The problem was the camera was not a wide angle camera and so it only captured 65% of the room which usually means we sit a bit far from the camera or we reposition the tables. Then the microphone on the laptop was difficult to hear, even if there were only 8-10 feet away especially if they turned their head away from the mic.

We reached out to some vendors and one recommended we try out the Bose Videobar VB1 (that’s quite the name I know). We had a demo unit for two weeks and it worked very well.

Continue reading “Bose VideoBar VB1 – Review”

Google Drive – Make a template

It is back to school time! I thought I would start this school year with a pretty simple tutorial on how to create a template that you can reuse over and over again. If you have ever used Google Classroom then there is a type of version of this already there. When you make an assignment and attach a Google Doc, Sheet or Slideshow then you have the option to make a copy for each student. That way the original stays untouched and each student will have their own copy to play with!

Well in Google Drive you can make a template that you can use over and over again without the original getting sullied. Be aware though that the template will be accessible by the whole organization. If you cannot do this from your school account, you should reach out to your IT team and reference these instructions so they can turn this on for you.

Continue reading “Google Drive – Make a template”

Streaming events #2 – Update

We have the goods!

We have done some quick testing and this looks pretty promising. Right now my family and I are moving into a new house so I’m a little strapped for time between that, work and posting to IT Babble. So instead of a long detailed post (that is coming) I’ll give some quick thoughts and recommendations.

ATEM Mini Pro

This thing is awesome! When you hook it up to a monitor you get to see all the cameras (up to 4) and switching between them is super easy and literally just a press of a button. Setting up our live stream test (we tested Facebook Live and YouTube) was crazy easy. We did have to plug the ATEM Mini Pro into our network via an ethernet cable. Once we did that we used the software on the computer to configure the live stream.

If this is set up and you are using the same service over and over, then you do not need a computer connected to the ATEM Mini. You simply hit the On Air button and then from your computer turn on the the live stream and that is it!

One concern that we found was that an HDMI input stopped working for a little while. We tested it one day and the HDMI 2 input just didn’t work. We plugged the camera into the other inputs and it all worked fine. It was just HDMI 2. The next day it worked fine with no issues. Not sure what happened. It wasn’t the camera or the cable it just stopped

Continue reading “Streaming events #2 – Update”

Google Tables (Beta) – An introduction

Most people are not too familiar with Google Tables. It is a database that lets you keep records on tables and then lets you make associations from data on one table to another table. Here are some real world examples of what Google Tables can do for you or your school.

  • Keep inventory of all your devices
  • Create a ticketing system so people at your school could request IT (or any) help
  • Organize a convention – You could organize all the speakers and who will be attending their workshops and also organize all the attendees and have all their schedules at the tips of your fingers

In fact Google has a number of templates that you can use right away. They have those mentioned above but also booking rooms/shared spaces, project management, creating a directory, new employee onboarding and more.

Continue reading “Google Tables (Beta) – An introduction”

Streaming events – An ongoing experiment

Photo by CoWomen on Pexels.com

This is going to be an ongoing series. Here I am talking about what we currently do and are planning. In future posts I will talk about the testing of the equipment, the use of the equipment and finally changes that we’ve made.

Streaming school events (concerts, athletics, presentations) has always been a bit of mystery for me. In theory it is pretty simple. You need cameras that feed into a computer and that computer then encodes and feeds the video to a streaming service. In practice it is pretty complicated and there are lots of questions:

  • What cameras do I use?
  • Do I have to wire the cameras?
  • How do I manage multiple camera feeds?
  • Can I brand or add graphics?
  • How do I capture audio from the event?
  • How do I encode the video feed so it streams properly?
  • Does it have to be 4K?
  • What service do I use?
  • What programs do I use?

What we do now

Right now, we have it super simple. We use a Mevo Plus camera. They have a newer version but here is what ours looks like.

Here is how you use it. You turn it on (it has a battery) and it connects to your smartphone via its Mevo app. Once they connect you control the camera with your smartphone. You can zoom in, out, and even pan all digitally. It can stream from your phone to YouTube, Ustream, Facebook and others live or you can record it to its micro SD card and then edit the footage later. The camera is a wide angle lens so it does a good job of covering a large area and the output can be up to 4K.

The quality is very good and while the camera we purchased was $400, outside of a tripod we did not need much more. We did buy some accessories, but we have figured to run audio from a soundboard or mixer into the Mevo for greatly improved sound. Overall, we have been very happy with our Mevo and will continue to use it.

There are some issues though. The Mevo is a single camera. There is no way to integrate it with other cameras. It is its own singular solution for streaming. You have one camera and that is it. It is simple and straightforward and that is the beauty of our Mevo, but as we look at covering athletic events, having more than one camera is desirable to cover more of the action. This has led to some good conversations and more importantly a plan.

The Plan

We are looking to stream with multiple cameras but as you add complexity to any solution, it usually requires more equipment, training and of course – money. We are looking for this equipment to be managed by middle school students (with appropriate teacher/administrator supervision – of course) so the solution has to be pretty easy. Easy to set up, use and tear down. All of this is important.

The first part is the BlackMagic Design ATEM Mini Pro ($499). This is going to be the brains of the operation.

This thing looks expensive but it offers a lot of flexibility and power when it comes to streaming. You can have 4 HDMI inputs, professional switching between the inputs as well. You can have two microphone line ins and if you hook it up to a monitor you can view all four inputs at once. Great for producing. Also, you can attach a hard drive to it to record if you don’t want to stream. There is also powerful software you can download and use to get even more power out of this thing. Best of all, it is pretty easy to use. I’ve watched a few demo videos about it and I think that middle school students could be up and running with this deck with some minimal practice and training. This video by Zebra Zone is particularly good. He shows the set up and goes through all of its features one at a time. Just great!

Now on to cameras. We don’t want super expensive prosumer cameras. We are looking to save a little money and through my research we are going with the Canon Vixia HF r800. Yeah that name just rolls right off the toungue there doesn’t it? Here it is from BH Photo.

Since it is going to be covering athletic events, it could get damaged so having a less expensive camera that does OK with motion is what is important. All of our events are going to be well lit (for the most part), so low light is not a factor. Another plus to this camera is that it comes with optical image stability. If we put it in the hands of someone or are doing a panning shot on a tripod it should look pretty smooth. The big thing it offers though is HDMI mini out. This means we can plug it into the ATEM Mini Pro! We are planning on purchasing two of these cameras.

Now here is the expensive part. We don’t want to be running HDMI cables all over the place, especially if student athletes are going to be walking or running in those areas. We want to do this wirelessly if possible and so an HDMI wireless transmitter/receiver set is in order. This starts expensive and can get really expensive. We decided on the Hollyland Mars 300.

This is for one camera! Right now we are going to stick with just one, even though we are starting with two cameras. We need to try it out even though it has great reviews. This boasts 300 feet wireless connectivity which is way more than we need, but to know that it can go that far is pretty impressive.

Broadcasting live!

Another piece I would like to add into this setup is the ability for people (ideally students) to announce the games. Rather than just have coaches and athletes talking to each other, it may be a nice touch, but how do you do this?

The ATEM Mini Pro does have two mic inputs and so we were thinking of just adding them that way. Perhaps purchasing some “cheap” broadcasting headsets. The problem with that is that many of them are only XLR and we need a 3.5mm input instead of XLR or 1/4″ inputs.

Another issue is the price. The cheaper headsets are starting at $50 and they quickly go up from there.

What’s next?

The equipment has been ordered. Once we set things up and try it out we try to find a workflow that works for us.