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.

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”

Brainstormer.online – A review

I was reading Freetech4teachers and saw a quick article about Brainstormer.online and thought it might be interesting to check it out. As you can guess from its unusual URL it is a brainstorming website that allows people to pose a question and a number of people brainstorm about that question and then vote on those ideas. That pretty much sums it up. It is easy for students to join and pretty straightforward. The question I am posing, is it worth your time? Let’s find out.

Continue reading “Brainstormer.online – A review”

Blackbird – A review

I’m always interested in websites that teach coding. I like the idea of learning new skills and testing oneself. Blackbird is one of those sites. The goal here is to teach people JavaScript which is pretty cool because JavaScript runs in browser making a bit easier for people to play around in it.

This website is geared for middle school students and up and unlike block programming (like the super popular Scratch) this has students working with actual code, but it does it with a lot of hand holding which I like. Just to be clear I am no programmer. I have dabbled here and there with mostly Python but with this review I was learning right along everyone else. Let’s see if it is worth using.

Continue reading “Blackbird – A review”

Teacheasyapp.com – A review

So I saw a comment on my TeacherMade review. It felt like a bit of advertising for Teacheasyapp which is fine. Apps and services have to get their name out there so I don’t mind too much. After taking a quick peak at it, I figured to do a full on review of it. It basically is a way for you to annotate and leave comments on PDF files that students share with you. It has some interesting features and I will be looking at the online app that you use with your computer and the Android app (it has an iOS app as well).

Continue reading “Teacheasyapp.com – A review”

mote for Gmail

Not too long ago I wrote a review about mote. To sum it up, it is a Chrome extension that will allow you add voice comments to Google Docs, Google Slides and Google Classroom. I like it, it works well. When giving feedback to students sometimes a voice is better than a short comment. It allows you to really emphasis what you liked or to give criticism. It works well, it’s easy to install and easy to use.

Continue reading “mote for Gmail”

WordPress + Anchor.fm = Podcast?

OK – I am skeptical about this. Apparently you can turn all of your WordPress.com articles into a podcast on Anchor.fm. I like Anchor and I am still worried that Spotify has purchased it and others that could share that same space (looking at you Soundtrap.com).

So I thought I’d give it a try. I mean we have over 700 articles on IT Babble so let’s connect the two and see what happens.

Dear GOD!!!! So I created an Anchor.fm account and there was nothing to connect my blog. I like Anchor because it is so straightforward and simple. So I did some research and found this video. It’s a short video and they give an email link at the 6 second mark. The narrator says a URL. The address she is saying is “anchor.fm/wordpress.com” or so I thought.

Continue reading “WordPress + Anchor.fm = Podcast?”

Whiteboard.fi – A review

I was reading Techcrunch and saw that Kahoot! had purchased a small company called Whiteboard.fi. The fi stands for Finland in case you were wondering. So, I loaded up the website, tried it out and within five minutes knew this was a very good product. Read on below to get the whole skinny.

Pricing

There is a very robust free version (what I’ll be reviewing here) and there are two more tiers that charge $4.99/teacher/month and a full featured $12.99/teacher/month. Schools and districts are invited to contact them for bulk discounts if they want to sign up their school or whole district.

The biggest issues with the free version I can see is:

  • No PDF upload
  • No co-teachers
  • No feedback
  • Not able to join a student session

Despite all that I still believe this has tremendous value. 

Signing up

YOU DON”T! Ha!! 

If you don’t have a paid account, you don’t really sign up or sign in and the same is true for your students. To get started click the +New button near the top right hand side of the screen.

When you click that a new screen will open. Here you need to give your “Class” a name. With the free account and even with the first tier, this changes every time. There is no permanent URL or web address you give your students. It will change every single time. This may seem like a bummer, but when it comes to security it is an elegant solution. The chances that someone will “stumble” upon your class is 

There are two other features. One is for a waiting room lobby. This is just what it sounds like. Students who try to join the class must wait here until the teacher admits them into the class. You should certainly use this – especially if you have some kids who love to give themselves nicknames like. That way you can know who is who. You want this on.

The other option is to enable manual saving. By default this website works like Google Docs. It saves itself automatically from time to time. Of course this uses more Internet resources and if you are working with slower speeds, this can cause problems and big delays with students working. So you could enable this if you have slower Internet to allow students less downtime. A nice touch for schools with slower Internet speeds.

When you click + CREATE NEW CLASS at the bottom a new window appear with the URL to your class whiteboards and you can even pop up a QR code (I imagine for students with tablets/smartphones). In my school’s case, I would copy the URL and paste it into our LMS for students to access.

Using it

To get to Whiteboard click on TOGGLE MY WHITEBOARD button above this. I do wish this looked a little more like a button than it actually did, but I ‘m really nitpicking here. You can always hit this button to get the URL again or show the QR code at anytime you want. This is very nice. I see a lot of online services that show this right away and then bury once you’re in the site.

Since I turned on the waiting room, students are not admitted immediately. They are stuck in the “Lobby” You can find this below your whiteboard. You have the option to Accept or Kick them from the class. Pretty straightforward. 

Once you’ve accepted there are a few more settings you can play with. In the top right hand corner of the screen you will see the gear -click that to see what else you can do.

As you can see you can turn on/off the Lobby (in case you forgot during the creation of the class). You can also lock the room. This will keep unwanted hooligans out of your Lobby or class. 

Now, onto the good stuff – what can it do. At the bottom of your (the teacher) whiteboard. You can add more than one workspace and you can decide which workspace will be visible to your students. You cannot hide all of your workspaces, one has to be visible for students so keep that in mind. To hide/show a workspace, just click on the eye next to students. If it turns green, the students can see it. If it is white with a line through the eye, then it is hidden.

Obviously every student has their own whiteboard that they can work on. You can see what they are working on. This will update every few seconds so it is not a live view of what is happening but it refreshes often enough that you shouldn’t be caught off guard. 

While you can see every student’s whiteboard, they cannot see each others at all. This is a good thing. Every year, I’ve had those super talkative students who are inseparable. These students look for anyway to communicate with one another in a class – so I’m glad there isn’t an option here for that to happen.

But Patrick, what if a student does something incredible and you want to share it with the class?

Why that’s a good point! The good people at Digital Teaching Tools Finland have thought of that. From the teacher side, if you click on a student whiteboard you will see it in detail and if you click the ACTIONS button neat the bottom, you then have a bunch of options. One of those is to Copy to teacher whiteboard. This will copy all the contents of that student’s whiteboard. Once there, if the teacher has that particular whiteboard visible to students, then everyone will see it! Nice. 

Some other great options are that you can save the whiteboard as an image, you can erase a whiteboard or you can push your whiteboard to everyone. Of course you can kick a student out as well. 

Another great feature is the ability for the teacher to push out their whiteboard to all students. This is a great option when doing individual problems or maybe writing prompts, etc. From your whiteboard there is a button called PUSH on the far right hand side just above the whiteboard.

When you click that button you are given three options:

  1. Push all of your pages to all students
  2. Push your current page to all students
  3. Push your current page to all students as a background (they cannot edit this)

Just know that when you push something out (even if you’re pushing a student page to your teacher whiteboard) it will erase everything on that whiteboard.

If you push out a question and everyone answers it, you may want to save everyone’s work as a PDF. To do this go back to the settings area (you remember that gear icon in the top right hand corner) and select Save all whiteboards as PDF. 

It will download it as a PDF, each student is clearly labeled and you can even download your own whiteboard if you’d like. It will only download the currently active whiteboard though. For the teacher, it will only download what is currently visible for your students, so keep that in mind as well. 

Annoyances

I have to dig deep to find these and I can only find three. The first is that if you want to modify text it is a little too difficult to be worth your time. Rather than have those tools available in the toolbar, you have to click on the text, then click on a toolbar button to see the text options. Instead of sizes, you have a slider which can be a bit of a pain to get the size you want. It just seems a little silly to have it this way.

The other thing that is annoying is on the student side. If they are inactive for five minutes they get this Connection Paused screen. I like that it pauses their screen and that it notifies the student, but it just screams at the student. If you’re in the middle of a good discussion and five minutes pass, I guarantee students will look down, click on their device and click to reconnect. It just breaks becomes a distraction. Maybe setting this to ten or fifteen minutes before splashing this on their screen.

The final one, and again, this isn’t a deal breaker, is that all the feedback tools are locked into the paid versions. Again, there are ways around this, but it would be nice to have something available for teachers in the free version.

Again, these are just tiny annoyances and not deal breakers in anyway

In conclusion

Use this tool! It is appropriate for just about any grade level, it has enough features that you could use it with higher education or a third grade class. It is simple and easy to learn, no login hassle and boy does it work well. I even tried it on my Pixel 4a and no problems at all. This is a great tool and I can see why there are a lot of teachers out there using. If you have devices that allow touch input, this would be great. If your device doesn’t have touch input, this is still really good. iPad? No problem. Samsung Tab? No problem, MacBook Pro? No problem. This thing just works.

One thing to be aware of is this is not a collaborative tool like LucidSpark. This is more of an individual tool that should be led by a teacher. 

So if you’re looking for a way for students to work individually and for you to monitor this work then check out whiteboard.fi.

CloudApp – A review

Do you ever have those apps that you like using. That you genuinely enjoy firing up and doing some work in it? Well CloudApp is one of those apps for me. I’ve been using for nearly a decade now and it just gets better and better.

What does it do?

In short, it performs four main functions.

  1. It can host images or media in the cloud
  2. It can take screenshots that you can crop, annotate
  3. It can take a video that you can quickly trim and add annotations to it
  4. You can upload files to quickly share (since I use Google Drive this isn’t such a big deal)

Not only can it do those things it has a nice web interface if you want to log into the website and use it. It has apps for Mac and Windows and even iOS so you can have all your content available on whatever platform you use. Heck they even have a Chrome Extension so it can work with Chromebooks. No Android app yet but I’m hopeful it will come soon.

There is a paid version but I think the free version would be more than enough for most people which is rare. Continue reading “CloudApp – A review”

Mote – Chrome Extension review

OK, it’s a weird name but it has a pretty cool function.

This is an extension you can add to Chrome and use on a variety of Google products to leave audio comments. If you mark up an essay or digital document, all too often students will just take a look at the score at the top of the first page and maybe leaf through the rest of their work and then stuff it in a folder, trashcan, or some other dark region never to give it another thought.

This is obviously a problem as feedback is a pretty crucial part of the teaching-learning process. mote allows you to record audio feedback and add it to Any type of Google document (Docs, Sheets, Slides) and it also allows you to add comments on Google Classroom as well. Continue reading “Mote – Chrome Extension review”