Baby-steps with OneNote

At the start of the year, I dabbled with a few tools to see if I could improve what goes on in the classroom (and outside of it).

The keepers from this experiment were:-

  • Nearpod
  • Planboard


  • OneNote

I will blog about the first two another time.

OneNote is one of those ‘where have you been all my life’ sort of applications. A year ago (or so), when I first tinkered with it, it was just a word processor with tabs for different sections and pages. This year, loads of new functions have popped up.

Now I can set up notebooks for my colleagues so we can collaborate on tasks. I used it for a professional development session earlier last month and it was really great for keeping everything together.

But! More powerfully, you can also use it with students. There are three main areas you can set up:

  1. the content area, somewhere you can leave handouts and rubrics
  2. the collaboration area, somewhere that students can work together on assignments
  3. the student notebook area, somewhere that students can work on their assignments where only the teacher can see.

At the moment, it is very much a baby-steps sort of deal. I have set up a few classes and have made some sections. I am most excited about the prospect not having to print out a bunch of tests and find lined paper from somewhere: I can upload the test and the students can copy it to their notebook and work on it there.

If I can go paper-free with this application, it will be worth the effort I am putting in now. I am so sick of having to go to the photocopier room and then having to do something with the spares that inevitably hang around after the task is over.

There have been some snags and these aren’t in my control.

Firstly, the person assigned to putting students onto Office 365 just didn’t do it. I don’t know what went wrong and it’s really not the point. When the student arrived in August, they could not access Office365 at all. Some heroic other members of staff have been pushing to get everyone on and now they are ready. But a couple of months in means that the provisional routines we had to invent as teachers to get us through the SNAFU are now The Routines of our classes. That’s just how it works. I will have to do a big push to get everyone on the same page and I need to be tactical about when that should be.

Secondly, the school has changed from being 1:1 with tablets to being BYOD (bring your own device). A lot of students cannot afford devices and it’s not like we can force them. We can just strongly recommend they get one. We have a few school laptops but only just got a system for booking them. Bottom line: if more than a couple of students do not have devices, then Plan B becomes Plan A very quickly.

Thirdly, our wifi has been really patchy. There are boring reasons for that but it does mean that you have to go back to chalk and talk if no one in your classroom can access the internet.

Those are the challenges. They are irritating and some of them do not have workarounds but I think the bright side is that they are time limited.

My plan is:-

  • upload content for the next unit on to the notebooks I have set up
  • plan some interactive pages for each week of the new units
  • plan the collaborative tasks in more detail
  • model using the notebooks with classes
  • setting homework on notebooks, so they are more comfortable using it

Contingency Plans:-

  • If students don’t log on so much: keep modelling on the whiteboard
  • If technology lets us down: have some Plan B’s ready
  • If students do not bring devices: make sure I have booked the spare laptops on days where students need to collaborate

I will know if it is worth continuing if:-

  • I need to print out almost nothing for these groups
  • Students submit all or most of their assignments through the notebook
  • Incidents of “I cannot do my project because X isn’t here!!!” drop to zero
  • Students engage (and interact) with the feedback on their assignments

I am excited to find out if:-

  • There are tasks that I can devise that could not be done without OneNote, so it is more than just a replacement for a 3-hole binder.
  • Whether spoken feedback and other audio embeds make a difference to learning

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