Quest for “the Holy Grail of education”

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As we mentioned when we kicked off this blog, we intend to regularly host guests from the education world.  Today’s inaugural guest blogger is Rob Baker, an education innovator from Cincinnati Country Day School.  Rob has been a passionate champion of the transformational power of OneNote in education since the beginning, and we wanted him to be the first guest to share his story.

Today’s post was written by Robert Baker, OneNote educational consultant and director of technology at the Cincinnati Country Day School.

The OneNote blog post on October 7th, which officially introduced the OneNote Class Notebook Creator app, began with a quote from me that sums up what OneNote is, “…a framework for teaching and learning.” But OneNote is so much more than that and I am excited to share my journey with you to help introduce, inspire and innovate. Given a second choice of which quote of mine should be used to describe OneNote, I would have gone with, “It is the Holy Grail of education.”

In 1996, Cincinnati Country Day School (CCDS) became the first school in the nation to implement a one-to-one PC program, which equips every student in grades 5–12 with a PC. We switched to tablet PCs in 2003 and that is where things really started to take off pedagogically. We consider ourselves a “lab for the world” in terms of technology integration in education. I am trying to create the most powerful teaching and learning environment on the planet and OneNote class notebooks were inspired in part as a result of this effort.

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 OneNote notebook with lots of great samples from CCDS.

Shared OneNote notebooks: transparent technology in action

Shared OneNote notebooks allow teachers to focus on pedagogy and not technology and offer the best example of authentic and transparent technology integration. Alternate forms of assessment, personalized instruction, collaboration, feedback, SAMR—really any pedagogy—can be amplified and enhanced through the use of shared OneNote class notebooks. That is the beauty of the tool.

OneNote notebooks can be molded for a particular class, subject and teacher. Think of it as an electronic version of a five subject notebook.

We are spoiled at Country Day. We are used to having this powerful framework to assess, collaborate and engage our students in real time, with near instant access to everything our students are doing. Holy formative assessment, Batman!

Digital ink: As natural as pen and paper for students and teachers

Writing, sketching, annotating, highlighting and drawing are such an essential part of the teaching and learning process. Tablet PCs with a stylus enable all of these authentic activities to take place in a digital classroom.

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When you look at the student and teacher OneNote samples, think about how important process and brainstorming are for your students. How much better are these examples because digital ink is available when that modality fits the task at hand!? I love to say, “TYPE THIS!” when sharing examples of process, feedback and problem-solving involving ink. This includes homework, notes, labs, essays and group projects. Students can only see their notebook but teachers have full access to and can collaborate with and engage their students in one spot with instant, sharable feedback. Teachers have instant access to everything that every student in their class does. No more turning things in or handing things out. No submitting files and trying to keep track of versions. Want to use audio and video? That is also built into OneNote. Our students have the best set of notes they have ever had and they are searchable by text, handwriting and even audio! There is no file structure in OneNote, teachers and students interact on virtual pages and the changes sync automatically in the background.

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My mission as a “OneNote educational consultant”

At the end of the day I consider myself a workflow specialist, trying to make teachers jobs as easy as possible because I know you get more of what you subsidize. For example, the easier it is to offer feedback to students in meaningful ways, the more feedback teachers will provide. I am also a classroom teacher and empathy is much more powerful than sympathy. When I develop tools or processes for educators, I am also one of those end users.

In the summer of 2007, working with Nate Johnston, an amazing science teacher in our Middle School here at CCDS, I began “hacking” shared notebooks to mold it into a framework that allowed a teacher to interact with a class of students exactly the way a teacher needs to. What we came up with was embraced by the faculty at CCDS and helped inspire the OneNote Class Notebook Creator. If you came to one of the 25 Tablet Conferences I have hosted since we rolled out the first shared class notebooks in Nate’s science classes, you were exposed to this powerful paradigm and you wanted it at your school, but it was very challenging to deploy. I am so excited that the OneNote team has put their powerful developers behind the effort to bring this free tool to the masses. They are committed to enhancing and supporting the tool moving forward.

The new OneNote Class Notebook Creator tool is receiving overwhelming attention and implementations from schools all over the world. I want all teachers to know about this powerful new paradigm. Moving forward, I am excited to be working directly with the OneNote team as a OneNote educational consultant.

Microsoft is committed to providing teachers everywhere with free tools they can use to enhance and streamline the teaching and learning process in their schools. I am so humbled to see aspects of the original CCDS shared student notebooks being used world-wide and am honored that our little experiment helped inspire the OneNote Class Notebook Creator.

If you like what you see in the OneNote samples, it is easy to start experimenting with OneNote class notebooks in your own classroom. Currently, you need to have access to Office 365 for Education and an administrator needs to make the app available to you within Office 365. You can host the notebooks on a SharePoint site, or just within your OneDrive for Business. Visit for more bite-sized teacher trainings.

—Robert Baker
Follow me on Twitter @daperfecttablet and use #OneNoteClass

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