Before Covid-19, our courses relied intensively on in-person interactions. In one course, middle school students design robots. In another, graduate and undergraduate students design apps and products. In both courses, students moved fluidly between collaborative and individual work. They would look at each other’s laptops, share sketches, discuss ideas on whiteboards, and reflect on physical and digital prototypes. We circulated in the classroom, observing and engaging with students as they pursued open-ended projects in response to prompts and guidelines. We could see what students worked on and how they worked, allowing us to coach students on content and process.
The prospect of bringing these interactions online was daunting. While video calls enabled us to continue coaching students and facilitating our classes, we needed a central space where students could collaborate, prototype, organize research, and develop ideas. While we could have repurposed conventional tools (word processing or presentation software) for organizing creative work, these tools tend to be too linear for open-ended projects. Design tools (e.g., Figma) supported many of our goals, but have steep barriers to entry. Consequently, we looked into alternative tools used to organize creative work. We decided to use Milanote as it offered an easy-to-use medium for quickly developing and organizing ideas visually.
As we transitioned our courses online, we asked students to use Milanote as their primary medium for organizing project work, developing ideas, and collaborating with peers. In conjunction with Zoom calls, we succeeded in recreating and in some ways significantly improving on the in-person class environment.
With the shift to remote learning, many students actually found it easier to creatively express themselves, organize project work across cycles of divergence and convergence, and collaborate with others. Similarly, we had greater visibility into the creative spirals—moving between making and thinking—that students engage in, facilitating better conversations and critique.