OneNote as a Virtual Whiteboard

OneNote as a Virtual Whiteboard

Did you know you can use the free version of OneNote on your Surface to create documents that can be shared with collaborators across the globe?

Better yet, using OneNote combined with voice over IP (VoIP) software like Mumble or Skype can turn your Surface into a powerful – and free – remote presentation/meeting tool. (no more paying Go To Meeting as much as $56USD/Month for the same functionality).

To simplify things for this article, I’m going to start by showing you how to use OneNote as a real-time virtual whiteboard to share ideas among a virtual team, regardless of where they are or what kind of computers they have. All you (and your collaborators) need is an internet connection and, at a minimum, a web browser.

Sound good? Let’s get started…

Why use OneNote?

One of the best reasons to use OneNote as a virtual whiteboard is persistence. You see, a lot of similar technologies work well during your virtual meeting but once the presenter disconnects, you lose the ability to look at the presented materials.

Well, let’s face it, ideas don’t just happen from 8 to 5 local time, right? What if you want to maintain a persistent whiteboard that remote team members can mark up at all hours of the day or night?

Since the steps that I’ll show you keep the OneNote whiteboard on OneDrive, it will be available day or night to anyone with permission and an internet connection.

Another reason to use OneNote as a virtual whiteboard is ease of use. Microsoft has done a really good job with OneNote and it’s easy to share your documents, so that you won’t have to jump through a lot of hoops to share your whiteboard.

There are other compelling reasons, but the last last one I’m going to list here is granularity. Because OneNote lets you set read and edit permissions separately, you can easily setup a small group of people with permission to edit the virtual whiteboard and a different (potentially huge) group of people to just be able to see the whiteboard – try to do that with a physical whiteboard in a conference room, large auditorium, or classroom!

What Do I Need to Use This Functionality?

Technically, only the person who sets up the whiteboard needs a copy of OneNote installed because Microsoft has provided an online version that works well, when you’re trying to view a virtual whiteboard quickly.

However, if you want to be able to make changes to the whiteboard, you will need an installed version of OneNote because the online version will not allow you to mark up –  though you can delete content and add text.

Using OneNote as a Virtual Whiteboard

OK, now that you know what you’ll need, here’s how you create and share your virtual whiteboard. My recommendation (and the steps will reflect this) is to use the desktop version of Outlook (Outlook 2013) to do the initial creation and sharing of the virtual whiteboard. I just find it easier to do it this way.

Creating and Sharing the Whiteboard

  • Start OneNote 2013
  • Select File then New

  • Name your document (I’m naming mine Whiteboard Demo), then tap or click Create Notebook

  • You will be prompted to share your Notebook. Tap or click Invite People from the popup

  • In the Invite People section, enter the email addresses of all of the folks you wish to be able to edit your virtual whiteboard and make sure the “Can Edit” option is selected. Also make sure the Require user to sign in before accessing document checkbox is checked
  • Next, tap or click the Share button. OneNote will automatically send out email invites to the editors.

  • Now, tap or click on the Get a Sharing Link option then tap the Create Link button for the View Link option. Do NOT do the same for the Edit Link option

  • Copy the generated link (it will look like the one below) and distribute it to the folks whom you want to view the virtual whiteboard. You can do so via email, text, or even just posting it on a web page.

You probably noted that I used different mechanisms for sharing the virtual whiteboard to the editors and viewers. I did this to show you some of the flexibility OneNote has for sharing because you could use either to grant read or edit rights.

Let me briefly touch on the advantages and disadvantages for both mechanisms:

  • The advantage of using the Invite mechanism is that you have complete control over who is invited to see the whiteboard but, it might be impractical for large groups of people. That’s why I used it for the editors
  • The Shared Link mechanism has the advantage of being really easy to do and the flexibility in distributing the link but it might result in people seeing the whiteboard that you don’t want seeing the whiteboard and should NEVER be used to grant edit permissions. However, if you are going to have a large number of viewers AND there isn’t any sensitive information, this method is very convenient

There are a couple more options for sharing OneNote documents but for creating a virtual whiteboard, the two above should do the trick.

Accessing the Whiteboard: Viewers

If you’re one of the viewers of the virtual whiteboard, all you need to do is the following.

  • From a machine with an internet connection and web browser, click the link the creator sent out. It should open OneNote Online in a browser window and the virtual whiteboard will appear.

That’s all you have to do to see it. What? I told you it was simple.

You won’t really be able to do anything but look at it and it will take a couple of seconds for updates to appear if someone makes a change but it doesn’t get any more simple than this.

Accessing the Whiteboard: Editors

Now let’s say you are one of the people who is allowed to edit the whiteboard. I’m going to assume you’re using the Modern version of OneNote since it came pre-installed on your Surface (and to demonstrate that it works across versions).

  • Make sure you are logged into the machine with the Microsoft Account that was sent the edit invite
  • Open OneNote from the Start Screen
  • Tap on the three horizontal lines in the upper left of the screen

  • A list of notebooks that you own or have permissions to will appear, select the one that was shared with you. In my example, it’s Whiteboard Demo

This is also pretty simple, isn’t it? From here, you can easily edit the document or add sections/pages as if you were in the same room and the changes show real-time.

Replace Go To Meeting with OneNote

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned the fact that you could use OneNote and Skype to replace Gotomeeting (or similar, for-pay, products).

To pull it off, all you really have to do is call your collaborators with Skype (Mumble, Ventrillo, etc…) then switch over, or split screen to OneNote and do the presentation.

I know Go To Meeting (and Skype for that matter) offers screen sharing functionality that you could use to do a more traditional on-line presentation. However, both lack the persistence using OneNote can offer since the OneNote information will remain available to editors and viewers alike long after the meeting has ended.

I hope you found this article informative and helpful. If you have ideas or experience using OneNote to do remote presentations or collaboration, I’ll bet our other readers would like to learn from your experience.


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