Finding OneNote Class Notebooks

Today’s post was written by Paul “Lanny” Watkins, teacher at Ysgol Bae Baglan school and MIE Expert.

One of the hardest things I found being an ICT teacher was finding an effective way of providing written feedback to my students. When they produced work using applications such as PowerPoint or Word, it was easy to leave comments. However, when there was a change of topic it was rare that the students went back to revisit and act upon the feedback the teacher had provided. Whereas in other subjects, where students kept the same exercise book, they were able to access teacher comments and act upon them. However, through a combination of time constraints and a change in application, this practice was never promoted. We needed a way of providing quality written feedback, which students could easily access and then respond to, giving them the opportunity to improve their work. But finding the solution was easier said than done. We had tried a number of things within the department but nothing had allowed us to deliver what we wanted. And then we found it.

In early 2015, I attended the BETT show in London with fellow Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Stewart Davies. We had a number of things on our “shopping list,” but what we found wasn’t on our list. After looking at the devices on various stands around the exhibition, we decided to attend some of the sessions in the Microsoft arena, where Surface tablets were being used with OneNote. For me, OneNote had always been that application with the purple icon that appeared when you installed Microsoft Office. The OneNote users I knew used it to plan and organize their shopping lists. As I sat and watched and listened to the presentation, it was as if I had hit the jackpot. Through the demonstration of OneNote Class Notebook, I was seeing the solution to all of the problems that I had been facing. A colleague from another school was also at the exhibition. I quickly ran and found her and literally dragged her to a demo of OneNote Class Notebook using a Surface tablet. Her reaction was the same as ours, and the three-and-a-half-hour car journey back to South Wales was full of excitement as we discussed plans for the “New School,” the amalgamation of four schools to form a Year 3-16 “Super School,” which would later be named Ysgol Bae Baglan.

The following year was one of the most exciting of my career to date. When there is a change of system in a school or the way of working there is always degrees of fear and concern. However, in finding OneNote Class Notebook, we found a diamond! For me, it was the solution that ticked all the boxes that needed ticking. But more than that, OneNote could impact teaching and learning like nothing I had come across before. Next step: promote and implement it across school. It was time to roll up the sleeves!

The first thing to do was to get the students used to this way of working. I felt that getting them to change was always going to be a tough job, but the benefits were so evident. Once the Class Notebooks had been set up, students were given a walk through—and they got it! They could easily understand this new model of working. With a heavy focus on the web app version, students confidently created sections and copied work and resources from the Content Library. I couldn’t have wished for a better start. Now, the next stage: STAFF!

Finding OneNote Class Notebooks 1

The mentality behind putting initial focus on the students getting used to OneNote as the platform for working was simple—there are more students than staff and it takes pressure off staff. By this I mean that pressure is taken off staff from having to show students how to use this new way of working while they are learning it themselves.

I received a phone call the day after the first OneNote training for staff. The head of the Design Technology department was asking if I could look at his Class Notebook! He had gone home and transferred his entire Year 10 Vehicle Mechanics course over to OneNote and was ready to go! It was a huge encouragement to me to see such enthusiasm. You could clearly see the thought process he had gone though in the structuring of the sections and pages and he had spent the evening transferring work to it. He was determined that his students were going to be working this way, and that’s simply what they did. The department has now moved their GCSE Vehicle Mechanics course completely to OneNote and are using it to great effect. A real encouragement to me right from the start!

Finding OneNote Class Notebooks B

One of the most difficult parts of encouraging colleagues to use OneNote is when they confront you with the question “Why should I?” Once such teacher leads with military precision. He has excellent results and has every right to challenge why he should change. Sometimes a simple challenge can have you sounding like a salesman. I knew that I if I could just get him using OneNote that would take care of the rest. Thankfully, we had a Surface Training Day planned for Bae Baglan, so this provided the perfect launchpad. The following weeks, the self-confessed “technophobe” spent more and more time using OneNote to plan his department’s scheme of work for September. The “how do I?” questions started to come, which always provided an opportunity to showcase other features. The final breakthrough occurred when he decided to take his Surface tablet to an exam board meeting rather than his file and pen. He admitted that he felt a little self-conscious being the only educator there using a digital device, but then he went to show me how he had inked and typed and taken photos and videos and had constructed his notes from the meeting in that way. From that point on he grew in confidence and is now working through developing his department’s Class Notebooks. Still with questions, but that’s good!

Finding OneNote Class Notebooks 2

Then I have my right hand man, Scott Gorvett, a PE teacher with a passion for technology. I am so fortunate to have in my department someone like him teaching some ICT lessons. Why? Because he gets it! He sees straight away the benefits of the technology. When he was shown OneNote originally he simply turned and high-fived me. Scott has produced some amazing resources for his students and, in doing so, has enhanced their learning experience. I recently observed one of his lessons, where students were using OneNote as a digital portfolio through the Content Library, where students could access Office Mix videos providing guidance and direction to the students. What I love about Scott is that he is never content. He will always look at the tools that are available to him and think how he can bring the WOW factor to his lesson using them. In January, we had the task of running an introduction to OneNote session for all staff. I asked Scott to take the lead on this day. If staff were going to embrace it, hearing from him and seeing his enthusiasm would be essential. Scott agreed, provided I explain the structure of OneNote to them first. It paid off. There was such a buzz in the room, and Scott’s enthusiasm was infectious. Scott has since gone on to present the use of OneNote to PE teachers across Primary and Secondary Phases on a Physical Literacy course. A true OneNote Avenger!

Finding OneNote Class Notebooks 3

In November 2015, Stewart Davies and myself were invited to present at an ERW consortium meeting. ERW is an education consortium involved in the advising of best practices in education for Primary and Secondary schools across a large geographical area of Wales. At this event, I had the opportunity to speak to school leaders on why schools should use OneNote, while Stewart demonstrated Outlook Groups. Through showing how OneNote is a “Whole School” solution and how using tools such as Office Mix can enhance teaching and learning, a number of schools have engaged in discussion and are now discovering the power of OneNote. When I have opportunities to share OneNote with colleagues, I always liken it to a ball of clay—you can take and shape it to suit your needs.

Finding OneNote Class Notebooks 4

In March, we arranged our first TeachMeet in our locality. Being encouraged by the strong turnout, we had teachers showcasing how they use technology in their classrooms. With a focus on Sway, OneNote, Minecraft and having Microsoft’s Stuart Ball introducing the Microsoft Educator Community teachers, there was plenty of “food for thought” for those in attendance. As teachers spoke, you could see attendees taking pictures and scribbling notes, looking at each other with smiles and nods of approval. All of the teachers in attendance have access to Office 365 through their school, but through a quick show of hands we could see that there were many there that were seeing these amazing classroom tools for the first time. As teachers gave demonstrations of how they use them in their classroom, it was encouraging to see tweets being posted about how excited they were, looking forward to using these tools, or that they had been given plenty to think about and had lots of ideas swirling around in their heads. We are planning the next series of TeachMeets and can’t wait to see what teachers have been doing in their classrooms over the last few months.

As a new Microsoft Teacher Ambassador, I wanted to try and get a better picture of how teachers are using OneNote in the classroom across the country. Something that we were not good at was communicating and speaking to each other (ironic, really, considering how many different methods of communication we have available today). Since the Welsh Government presented schools with a free Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) called “HWB,” communication has been encouraged through social media for sharing ideas and inspiring each other using the hashtag: #hwbdysgy. Through using this hashtag, I came in contact with Holy Name Primary School—a small school with eight teachers who have been a huge source of encouragement and inspiration to myself and to others. This school is a prime example of teachers taking their professional development into their own hands. A group of teachers had taught themselves how to effectively use Office 365—with a heavy focus on OneNote across the school. Through hours of conversations, they shared some amazing examples of how they are using OneNote across the school. They stated, “OneNote has revolutionized the way we work!,” something that so many are saying who have discovered OneNote. As a school, they have successfully encouraged all staff to engage with Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts to embed what they have learned into their teaching and are now training teachers from other schools. Reading their social media activity is a highlight of my day.

It has been a journey—I guess you can call it the first leg. The next leg of the journey is already underway. Read “OneNote transforms the way we work as a staff” by Stewart (@StewartJJDavies) to learn more.

When people say that OneNote has changed the way they work, and they use the word “revolutionized,” you need to realize that they are telling the truth and are not exaggerating. With the continual development of OneNote with the Class Notebook and Learning Tools add-ins, education has been provided with a solution for the whole school, all subjects, all ages and all abilities. Top that off with Microsoft’s ear being constantly open to educators, and I don’t know what schools would want to or need to look anywhere else.

—Paul “Lanny” Watkins