Ryan James


April 20, 2020

OneNote - the Game Changer

I think every teacher can get nostalgic about education technology whether they’ve been in education for 30 years or 5 years – things change so fast and we often like to bring up the old story starter “Back in the old days…” and I’ll try to refrain from getting into my front porch sitting, wisdom spitting, old main character for you all. Regardless, from time to time, there comes a product that you just get really psyched out of your mind about – for me, it’s OneNote, which is part of the Microsoft ecosystem. So let’s look at what school looked like before OneNote for me and what I’ve been able to do with it. I think it’s best to say that I’m a STEM teacher. I have a background in Math education, I loved English in school, and I currently teach Computer Science in a Science department. Before I made the switch to Microsoft, I was using Google classroom up until 2017. At that point in time, Google Classroom and Google Docs had very limited support for STEM related classrooms. The uploading of documents was nice and the chat feature for classes worked but was less than ideal. All of my classes used pencil and paper – which meant a lot of paper. Sometimes the code segment for a problem may take 5 – 10 pages of paper or a calculus problem may require and more than one sheet of paper for the calculations or proof. When I needed the students to have access to a digital file, like program code, I would load it all on flash drives and pass them around the classroom. So, yes, I had a way of getting students their work, but it was probably the least efficient way possible. The time required per student to get one assignment to them was way too long and on top of that grading was a nightmare. Many assignments went ungraded because the time for feedback exceeded anything that would help the students understand their mistakes. So, for me looking back – this is a broken model of education.

Enter the world of Microsoft and OneNote. I was not overly excited about OneNote when I first came to this product – what’s exciting about a digital notebook? Even though I work with technology and teach technology for a living, I love to use real notebooks and always have pencils ready and sharpened. This has to be the worst sales pitch in history, right? OneNote enables teachers to create ‘Master’ Notebooks that become the textbook for the class. When the teacher is ready, these pages can be copied for student access in the Content Library. This is similar to passing out a handout in a classroom. The students can copy this page to their notebook while the teacher can work from the Content Library in class. For students that are absent, when they copy their pages over, they will have all the notes from class – talk about accommodations! After a class has met, the teacher can grade student work for a class notebook by looking at a specific page for each student. Papers don’t have to be carried home anymore – everything accessible from a login into Office 365. Ok, so this all sounds good, but what else? Remember those flash drives I would send out? That doesn’t happen anymore because I can attach any type of file to a page. The instructions for the assignment and the files for the assignment are all on the same page. Students can submit their work by attaching a file to their page too! If they don’t like digital, they can upload pictures from their camera into their notebook for work. Still this is just using OneNote as a standalone – when you buy into the entire Microsoft ecosystem, embed a Form for student feedback or quizzes or any other Microsoft app like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.

When I say OneNote is a game changer – it has completely changed how I teach. It has brought the attention onto the students and not on me as a performer anymore. Students get feedback so much quicker that they can connect their mistakes to the content we are currently discussing. When I am out sick or on leave – students can just pull up their digital notebooks and it’s like I’m in the classroom with them. OneNote has changed how I teach and refocused my lens on to student achievement and that’s what I’m really looking for in a resource.