The Wonders of OneNote

In the last two years I’ve started a love affair! No, it isn’t a mid-life crisis, this is a moment of clarity.  Microsoft OneNote is the software I (and many other teachers) have been waiting for and it has been under our noses for years!

Why has OneNote driven me to write this open love letter? It isn’t just another clever app, this software is truly practical with a multitude of uses in just about any environment, especially schools.  Here are some of the reasons why I am passionate about OneNote.

It is accessible.  OneNote has been a standard issue on Windows machines for years but remained undiscovered to most.  However, with Microsoft’s push into the education market, OneNote has been developed and extended to be freely available on every device I own.  Simple sharing, across platforms and devices, is key.

OCD organisation.  Just being accessible isn’t enough, to be long term love rather than a dalliance, the program needs to prove to be useful.  OneNote does this because it organises everything in an intuitive and familiar way.  It really is an electronic ring binder with section tabs and pages.  However, as you would expect, the electronic organisational features go way beyond what you could achieve with a paper binder.

So easy, a child could use it.  I implemented the class notebooks with a Year 4 class (8/9 year olds) and all of them, regardless of ability, were navigating OneNote independently within a couple of sessions.  I didn’t explicitly teach OneNote skills, I simply embedded it into some lessons and let them loose.  They loved it because it made learning easier.  Screen clippings and audio feedback were two of the most popular features.  The Microsoft feel means that anyone who has been using Office (i.e. nearly everyone) will immediately be at ease with the layout and menus.

OneNote ribbon
The OneNote ribbon menu is familiar and easy to navigate making the software accessible to all.

Teacher Features.  The ease with which work can be shared with the whole class via the Class Notebook, the accessibility granted by the Immersive Reader and the integration with Outlook, Teams and other Microsoft products make this software something every teacher can fall in love with.  Even if you do not feel you have the infrastructure or confidence to use this in class, start with your own notebook and see how easy it is to organise and access your plans.  Soon you will be sharing it with others and getting them on board.  Staff notebooks, for things such as meeting notes, are a natural extension.

So much to love.  I mentioned just a few of the many great features I have discovered and I am finding more every day.  By following @onenotec and @msonenote on twitter, you will find that there is always something new to learn.  I intend to spread the love through my blogs and videos here, with an aim to share notebooks online in the future so please sign up to my blog or follow me on twitter @topdad75.

Start a love affair with Microsoft OneNote.  It is free – much cheaper than most love affairs!

Shouldn’t EdTech be for everyone?

I spent a day at BETT 2016 (a showcase for Educational Technology) on Friday.  It is about 14 years since I last attended, back then Interactive Whiteboards were just about to become mainstream.  Haven’t things changed and hasn’t it grown!

The sheer size of the exhibition, now at The Excel Centre, was unwieldy.  The layout was like a rabbit warren of tunnels between a mixture of massive corporate displays and pop-up micro efforts with a banner printed last week in Staples.  All of them potentially interesting but unfortunately distracting and completely unnavigable, even with the help of the not so handy map which unfolded to a size big enough to power a yacht if the wind caught it.

Then there were all the people.  Not the people visiting, although there were plenty of them, but the people selling – there were hundreds of them! Many of them seemed to be ‘Exhibition Specialists’ who had probably been selling sails (the size of my map) at The Boat Show last week.  Their sole purpose was to scan you, well your badge code, with their iPad, iPhone, iPod or (if they were a corporate stand) a special scanner.  They must have been on scanning targets or bonuses because once they had your precious e-mail address they just wanted to move onto the next person.  It was noticeable when you spoke to someone with a real, rather than a mercenary, passion for their product as you had to remind them to scan your badge.

On top of all of that were all the stages and presentations, I counted at least 10 presentation areas all with different timetables and none of them with a single seat by the time I got there.

However, I loved it!  Lots of people were genuinely enthusiastic, passionate or even evangelical about education and how we might be able to make it better using technology.  People had come from all over the world to share, learn and try to improve the education of children.  I saw some ground breaking technology which was exciting, some brilliant ideas which were inspiring and a lot of stuff I wish I had access to, let alone my students.

Despite my grumbling above, this is my real issue – it is clear that even within this country, even within the state sector, even within counties and postcodes, there are schools who have and schools (and children) who have not.  Clearly this isn’t fair or right but as I left I wondered why?

I teach Primary and we know we have always been a poor relation to Secondary Schools when it comes to technology but it was clear that the differences within the Primary sector are huge.  I know all schools circumstances, budgets and cohorts are different but that in itself doesn’t explain the massive differences.  Why are some schools thinking that they are on the cutting edge with a suite of 30 (24 working) Windows based PC’s which will only connect to the internet if you turn them on a few at a time whilst other schools have sets of iPads or 1:1 chromebooks?

I stumbled into a presentation by a Primary Head, I didn’t catch his name because, predictably, I missed the start.  He was the answer to my question.  3 or 4 years ago they had invested in iPads – 1:1 I think.  There didn’t seem to be anything special about his school, no additional funding, average cohort, just a ‘normal’ Primary School.  The only difference was the fact that they had someone passionate about using technology.  Rather handily, it just so happened he was the Head Teacher but I realised it could be anyone, it could be me.  I am not a Head Teacher but I am passionate that technology can make teaching and learning better for our teachers and our children and so I want to make sure that Edtech is for everyone.

How is this going to happen, I’m not sure yet!  It may well depend on what is contained in the many e-mails I will be receiving this week from all the people who scanned my badge on Friday.  I am sure it will start small but I know that unless people with a passion for getting technology into the classroom do it then no one will, we certainly cannot wait for the ‘powers that be’ to do it, so the children in my school will miss out and be at a disadvantage.

I will be writing about this much more over the weeks, months and possibly years.  Any advice, anecdotes or warnings will be gratefully received.