OneNote 4 months in

I blogged about having made some Baby Steps with OneNote. Here’s an update on how I’m getting on.


1) upload content for the next unit on to the notebooks I have set up

  • I found uploading a lot of content ahead of time too challenging. I think it’s because there aren’t enough hours in the day and writing my own textbook chapter-by-chapter is something I de-prioritise in favour of the 101 other things I have to do.

2) plan some interactive pages for each week of the new units

  • I tried this once and then only one student engaged with what I made because the other students couldn’t get OneNote to work
  • Some of the issue is the large variety of devices in my classroom. Online OneNote looks and feels completely different from the native app (which is all I could project on the board).
  • We call young people today “digital natives” but that doesn’t mean that they engage with technology intuitively, it means that they have limited skills for teaching themselves how to use an unfamiliar interface. People of my generation “leveled-up” with the technology. (I remember mice being a new, exciting invention.) I have a lot more coping strategies when faced with a brand new type of interface because I have had to re-learn brand new types of interface dozens of times in my life. “Digital natives” are baffled very easily and need to be shown step-by-step. If I can’t project their interface on the board, they can’t apply what they’re seeing to the interface in front of them.
  • Another part of the issue is passive-aggression, sorry to say. A significant minority of students will say they don’t have a device or they don’t have their login. This is to avoid having to do anything out of their comfort zone.

3) plan the collaborative tasks in more detail

  • This works really well. Who doesn’t love clear expectations and guidance? Only one group collaborated on OneNote though…

4) model using the notebooks with classes

  • Like I said above, this is only really helpful if they can see me modelling their exact interface.

5) setting homework on notebooks, so they are more comfortable using it

  • Since the entire class weren’t able to get on to the resource, I didn’t set homework on there. I don’t particularly like having to play ‘hunt the assignment’, where there are multiple ways of handing in work to me. I have a lot more better uses of my time. If they were all on there and ready to try something new, that would be different.


1) If students don’t log on so much: keep modelling on the whiteboard

  • This contingency plan assumed they all could get on. Not all of them were able.

2) If technology lets us down: have some Plan B’s ready

  • Plan B has become Plan A in my youngest class.

3) If students do not bring devices: make sure I have booked the spare laptops on days where students need to collaborate

  • The laptops now ‘live’ in a cupboard on the other side of the campus. I cannot book them. As a compromise, two of them are permanently in my room. I brought in an old laptop I wasn’t using anymore which brings me up to three. This isn’t enough for the youngest class, so I abandoned the experiment with them.


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

None of these things are happening for me yet.

I trialled OneNote with my 10 year old and my 15 year olds. The 15 year olds have laptops and it’s a much smaller class so I am able to get around and help them. They took to OneNote really well. Then disaster struck. OneDrive for Business has stopped working for Mac (since the new OS came out), and I was trying to figure out a work-around. In the process, I managed to delete my notebooks. I didn’t realise that was what I was doing until it was too late.

I have had to re-make a notebook for them and I’m trialling it with the next class down. They seemed cautiously interested in trying it so let’s see.

What I have learned:-

  1. I have to delete all the default pages the classroom OneNotes are populated with. They are hard to read and a bit confusing.
  2. I don’t know the difference between Content Area and the Main Area. What’s the difference?
  3. If you delete your notebooks off your OneDrive, they are not stored on your computer.
  4. Students find the instruction “copy the page over to your area and work on it there” completely baffling.
  5. They usually do know their login information.
  6. It’s not worth trialling something with a class who do not all have laptops. In theory, this works with tablets but it is too much of a faff to get it going on a tablet, so it might as well be laptop only.

In the meantime, I have been working with OneNote with my colleagues. It’s the same story! The one or two colleagues who are technophiles  engage with the platform but the others find it infinitely baffling and avoid trying to use it. I’m not sure what the issue is because it’s  just a notebook folder.

I am keen to get this up and running. I want to go paperless and I want more authentic opportunities for collaboration in my lessons. Not only is it good for learning but it is good to model how they will work outside of school. Another motivating factor is I want to be able to find their assignments easily. If they can only submit it in one place, then that’s easy! I will feedback later on how I am getting on with this new iteration.


2 thoughts on “OneNote 4 months in

  1. Tim Watters says:

    I thought I was the only one! I’ve been using OneNote with my 15 year old Chemistry students. While I marvel at the potential most students find the Microsoft interface horrible. They log onto Office365 (which sometimes doesn’t recognize them), go to OneNote Online where the interface isn’t very google-esque simple, open in OneNote (yes you’re in onenote but you want to open in onenote), log in AGAIN, ignore the security warnings about downloading potentially unsafe files, ignore the notice about not being able to upgrade the software because you don’t have administrative access, finally get to the desktop version with another interface, copy from the content section to your personal section (say what?), and finally add some content to the page. Whew!

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