These are a few thoughts on how to get the most out of Microsoft OneNote. I’ve found that, used well, it can help with all this: how I plan my lessons; sharing of content; tracking progress and communication with colleagues; how students organise their work; and, most significantly, how I provide feedback.
1. How to use it as a work-setting tool
OneNote is like a digital textbook, ringbinder and jotter, rolled into one. I can share content – text, pictures, videos, links – with my classes easily. With one click, I can distribute a personal copy to each student’s private section, so they can make their own notes, or change the colour and size of the text, or the background colour if that makes reading easier (not to mention using the Immersive Reader to convert text to speech for students with additional support needs). And students can make their own pages in their own sections, so they’re empowered to control their learning.
2. How to do live annotation
I can use it as a digital whiteboard, too, using a touch/inkable device (or, in happier times, an interactive whiteboard in class). And, unlike a whiteboard, it won’t get erased at the end of the lesson: it’s all there, recorded in the OneNote Class Notebook and already shared with everyone in the class (even those who couldn’t join you live).
In English, annotation is something we need to model and use regularly – I’ve been scribbling all over Don Paterson’s poem, Nil Nil, recently. This is an absolute skoosh in OneNote: paste the text in and highlight/annotate it. You can even use the collaboration space to let students work in groups – annotating, making notes and collating resources.
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3. How to use it as a digital workbook
OneNote is fully integrated with Microsoft Teams, too. You can create a notebook for an existing team easily (and it will automatically create new sections for new students added to your class later). You can use OneNote in Assignments, attaching a page with instructions and any resources (texts, questions, embedded images or videos, and so on). This creates a copy for each student and they can complete their work there, without needing to download or upload anything else.
For students, it keeps everything in one place. All the notes from their teachers, their collaborative group work and their own private notes, classwork and assignments are stored in OneNote, in sections that can be structured (and colour coded) depending on their need.
They can access it through a browser, a desktop app or mobile app, and it syncs across all devices. Handwritten work you want to share with a teacher? Open OneNote on your phone and insert a photo. Easy.
4. How to use it to track learning
It’s great for tracking a learner’s journey: assignments, feedback and DIRT (dedicated improvement and reflection time) tasks can all be stored in the same place, letting them (and you!) look back over their progress, monitoring the impact of feedback on performance, and identifying areas that need more consolidation or support.
5. How to use it to save time
But the biggest impact for me, as a teacher, is in time and convenience. Giving feedback in OneNote is easy and flexible: type it; dictate it (speech to text); record it (audio feedback); write it (phone or inkable device); insert pictures of exemplars; insert marking instructions, success criteria or rubrics – or even motivational bitmojis. All of these are at your fingertips, giving you flexibility and saving you time.
Waiting in the car for your partner or kids? Open OneNote on your phone, highlight with your finger and record audio feedback. Want to share a good example of what they could have done? Insert it next to your feedback, so the learner sees what you mean. Worried your typed or written feedback lacks nuance or sounds harsh? Insert audio feedback so the learner hears your voice. Prefer marking by hand? Provided you’ve got an inkable device, it’s no problem.
There’s a load of support on hand if you want to give it a try. Mike Tholfsen (@mtholfsen) has a YouTube channel stuffed with tips videos. Or check out Twitter: the #MIEExpert hashtag will direct you to loads of educators who use OneNote.
I know we’re overwhelmed with new tech, and teachers’ workloads seem to grow year by year, but if you invest a small amount of time in trying out OneNote, you will reap the dividends. It will save you time in the long run, and it will improve the learning journey of your students and the efficacy of your feedback.
Andy Leask is a teacher of English and e-learning coordinator at St George’s School for Girls, in Edinburgh, Scotland, and an MIEE (Microsoft innovative educator expert). He tweets @andyleask