Our journey with OneNote


Today’s post was written Michael Smith and Palie Cantu of the Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart.

When the Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart began a 1:1 program back in 1996, the earliest educational technology beneficiaries were those mainly integrating word processing and Internet access into their curriculum, such as English and Social Studies. The technology was not quite as user-friendly to the Science, Math and other less keyboard-friendly disciplines. When we moved to tablet PC devices in 2003, we discovered digital inking and soon a whole new world of educational technology integration opened for all curricula.

Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart 1With the new tablet PCs, we explored a third-party digital inking solution, but quickly moved to Windows Journal for ease of use and accessibility. The novelty of inking was enticing, but it still wasn’t quite what we needed in an educational environment. We needed more than just the ink capabilities— we needed organization, structure, flexibility and simplicity.

Upon finding OneNote 2003, a small group of math and science teachers explored the new tool and began incorporating it right away. Because of the ease of digital ink, complex symbols and drawings could be created without awkward keyboard stokes or software add-ins. As with any good ideas, other disciplines took notice and soon followed.

As our teachers and students explored OneNote, they found an integral tool that takes the ease of pencil and paper and combines it with built-in organization, automatic back-ups, audio /video recording capabilities, word processing, spreadsheet functions, graphing tools and the ability to change the size of the digital paper. Let’s not forget a student favorite—color ink customization for differentiated learning techniques!

Collaborating with the OneNote Class Notebook Creator

One thing that was missing for us was the ability to easily share and collaborate with this new tool. Distributing the work from teachers to students and back again was cumbersome. It was a valuable process, so we found ways to do it via clumsy combinations of email and posting files to our LMS portal.  This proved to be quite a lengthy process with lots of potential points of failure. There were a few other schools, blessed with talented programmers on staff who found ways to make sharing and collaboration happen within their network infrastructure. Unfortunately, we, as well as most schools in the world, did not have this resource. The ingenuity of schools like the Cincinnati Country Day School, Appleby College and Whitfield School pioneered a way to take OneNote and make it collaborative. Microsoft integrated these techniques and now, as an Office 365 school, using the OneNote Class Notebook Creator tool, we can share our notebooks from teacher to student, administration to faculty and more broadly.

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Now with our current shared notebook setup, the teacher places the information in their OneNote notebook, it shows up automatically in the students’ notebooks. The students add their responses and it’s viewable by the teachers in their own notebooks in a matter of seconds! As early adopters of the new OneNote tool, we were beta testing a version of shared notebooks last school year.

As we were deploying a notebook in a high school math class, a senior stopped me as I walked by her desk and said, “thank you… you just made my life easier.” In context of a rigorous academic college-prep program, this is high praise indeed, especially from a senior!

Individualized Learning

One step along the path to individualized learning is allowing teachers the ability to influence their own curriculum. Historically in the U.S., states with greatest purchasing influence such as California and Texas would often dictate what textbooks publishers make available to others. While this process might prove economically beneficial for publishers, many of our teachers would prefer to tailor their own resources.

Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart 4Keeping in mind that copyright laws must be observed and respected, instructors can now create their own digital texts by gathering sources and organizing them in OneNote notebooks shared with their students by means of the OneNote Class Notebook Creator tool. Gone now are the days when these teachers must ask students to NOT mark up the textbooks.

In these digital textbooks, students are ENCOURAGED to highlight, color, circle and annotate the information to benefit their unique learning styles. There are probably many textbooks still teaching that Pluto is a planet and have maps with incorrect country names and borders. With our shared notebooks providing digital textbooks, we don’t have to wait years for updated information.

The metaphorical “light goes on”

As a school with 18 years of 1:1 experience, we’re used to many national and international visitors coming to see our teachers and students in action.  These visiting educators and administrators have often heard of OneNote and might have a theoretical concept of this process prior to setting foot on campus. But when they enter our classrooms for the first time, seeing the engagement of the students, the simplicity of the solution and the natural fit in an educational environment—the metaphorical “light goes on”—and theoretical understanding meets tangible comprehension. Like any other teacher, these “a ha!” moments of realization are highlights of my day.

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