OneNote in Schools

Keri-Lee Beasley was wondering about the use of Microsoft OneNote as a teacher. Here’s what I got off the top of my head:

For Teaching

  1. Keeps all of your class notes together in one place. I have my actual teaching notebooks for the last 3 years easily available if I want to refer back to how I did something.
  2. Your OneNote pages can be saved as .pdf files for students who do not have OneNote.
  3. Connected to a data projector, this becomes similar to an interactive whiteboard. Students would manipulate your tablet rather than the board.
  4. Other files can be embedded into a OneNote page as attachments. You can pre-load all the required documents into your pages and have them in one place. You can then distribute those pages to your students and they will also have copies of the documents. Any changes made to the documents are saved within the OneNote page.
  5. Combined with Cam Studio, OneNote is a great way to make screencasts.
  6. Small groups (we’ve had problems with groups larger than about 6) can live share a section of a notebook. Live sharing is exactly what it sounds like: we are working on the same pieces of ‘paper’ simultaneously. At the end of the session, all participants have a copy of the work. For example:
    • Each student is assigned one math problem on the page. They benefit from ‘watching’ the others being solved as they try to figure out how to solve their own. At the end, they’ve each done one problem but have 5 or 6 solutions to study from.
    • Students can edit a document (a poem? An exemplar essay?) together.

For Planning

  1. Notebooks can be shared on the network between teachers to facilitate co-planning. Notebooks are synced every few minutes.
  2. The clipping tool allows you to capture screenshots and easily insert them into your page. It even includes a hyperlink to the original source.
  3. Templates can be created for lesson/unit planning.

For Students

  1. Students download a pre-made notebook (Grade 10 Math Student Notebook) with all the start of the year info. This also serves to give their notebooks structure, particularly important for younger grades.
  2. Students can embed record voice or video files. This is can then be sent easily via email (if you use Outlook too) to teachers for a check of understanding. A good tool to use in Second or Foreign Language classes.
  3. OneNote Notebooks are searchable. It even searches the text in screenclipped images (using OCR) and can also search audio and video files for words (if you index them).
  4. Students can share pages easily via email. This is great for students who were absent or who take poor notes.
  5. Tags can be used by students to help with their revision. As a math teacher, I helped my students create custom tags. As we encountered interesting/difficult problems, the students tagged them as possible test questions. When it came time to study for the test, they only had to search for that tag and all of those questions were found. At the end of the year, they could search the entire Notebook for that tag and they instantly created a cumulative review sheet.
  6. OneNote plays very nicely with Outlook. Tasks that are assigned in OneNote show up in your Outlook task list as well. Emails and appointments can be sent to OneNote, where it is easier to take notes.


  • A lot (most?) of the things on this list are just new salt on an old cracker. Yes, it might make me more efficient and it is definitely cool, but I am still looking for some truly transformative ways to use this in the classroom.
  • I would be interested to see how it works when teamed up with an IWB. It was actually on my “Geek Things To Do” list: use Johnny Lee’s Wii-mote hack to create an IWB for my classroom. But then I changed jobs.
  • I created a “Getting to Know You” scavenger hunt type activity to be used with teachers and students to introduce them to what I feel are some of the key features of OneNote. Feel free to have a play and adapt it for your staff/students. (Warning: Some of the links may not work because they point to locations on our intranet. But you get the idea.)

Okay people. Your turn: how do YOU use OneNote at your school?

24 thoughts on “OneNote in Schools

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  • November 6, 2009 at 2:13 am

    Great list, Clint. I have to say that from a productivity point of view, OneNote does a lot. And that’s from someone who is pretty much anti-Microsoft. I particularly liked the Outlook-OneNote integration, especially the bit about meeting notes connected to calendar events. That single feature saved my butt on more occasions than I am willing to admit. And I love that anything can be turned into a PDF — a feature sorely missing from most MS products, and something that Mac users take for granted as a feature that has been available for many years.

    However, I like you, I am not sure about OneNote in terms of a learning tool. Sure, it makes some things easier. But transformative? Notsomuch. (I wonder if when you said that you were thinking about that article I sent you… it certainly has changed the way I think about tech learning tools.)

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  • November 6, 2009 at 7:16 am

    Hello… One note is a good friend with the wiimote iwb, great for jotting down notes, and organizing shtuff.

    If you do find time to get the wiiboard up and running, try all three programs.

    Aside from Johnny Chung Lee’s original, there are two nextgens.
    1. Uwe Schmidt´s java version, which accepts linux, mac, and TUIO multitouch signals, free.

    2.For my money (all 30 dollars of it, as it is the only paid version) the best for teachers, boon jinn’s Smoothboard 1.6 . (allows you to use a second wii to control from a distance, or shoot stuff from screen a to screen b, and more controllable options than you can shake a stick at, without clogging the interface.) Most important, Smoothboard auto-connects with ms. bluetooth stack automatically TO THE WIIMOTE YOU CHOOSE, cutting your teacher training time in half, and making sure the right wiimote is connected to the right computer, especially if you want to use various learning centers in class.

  • November 8, 2009 at 8:51 am

    Thanks Adrienne. I think it is safe to say that this list is not solely my own: we (including you) all came up with this together. I just wrote it down…

    Deep down, I feel that OneNote has the ability to do more in learning situations… I’m just not sure how yet. So here is a different question for you (and I think I’ll post this on twitter too): what tool (if any) do you see as transformative and why?

  • November 8, 2009 at 9:07 am

    @Matt Ledding
    I was chatting with a colleague in the staff room the other day when our principal sat down. We were talking about IWBs and the Wii hack and he was definitely intrigued. I might be able to swing a test case in one of the classrooms. WooHoo!

    And I Heart OneNote is a great blog. I’ve learned a lot of cool tips from them over the short time I’ve been following them.

  • November 8, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Funny you should ask. At the moment — and this could change in 5 minutes or 5 days — I think tools that are transformative are those that are designed with learning in mind. To date, I’ve not seen too many of these. Quest Atlantis comes to mind, but that is only from what I have read and heard, obviously not first-hand experience. I think something like VoiceThread has the potential to be transformative, but it needs to be embedded further within a relevant context; on its own it is nothing more than a communication tool for offering feedback on video and documents.

    Having said that, I think that many learning activities with tech are transformative, but that it’s not the tech that makes it that — it’s the teacher, the unit design, and the assessment tools. So while I don’t think it’s a bad thing to use un-transformative tech tools in an environment that can make learning activities transformative, I do think we should be cautionary against lauding any tech tool as a “learning tool” unless it has been designed as such.

  • November 9, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Hi! Thanks for the great resources on OneNote. My high school alma mater (and where my brother and nephew now attend) adopted a 1:1 laptop/tablet integration program and I have been in contact with one of the middle school math teachers on how she uses the tablets and OneNote in her classroom.

    On a side note, I actually built Johnny’s WiiMote Whiteboard last semester in my student teaching classroom. Now, I didn’t use the various upgrade program that @Matt Ledding suggested earlier but I found that the system worked pretty well but with some pretty large software limitations. With the OneNote tablets, however, you could overcome the software shortage by utilizing OneNote capabilities. It’s at least worth a shot, especially if you know someone who is willing to lend you a WiiMote. Building the IR pen requires some soldering but is not that difficult and costs maybe $15.

    Good luck!

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  • November 10, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    It would be great if you could share what you learn about how other teachers are using OneNote. Maybe you can even convince the teacher to drop by and add her opinions and ideas!

    Like Johnny says in the TED talk, his version has about 90% capability for about 5% of the cost. I’ll take that trade-off any day. I too think that OneNote could bring an added dimension to the whole thing. I haven’t heard any reports from teachers who are using OneNote combined with IWBs, though.

  • November 11, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Would you mind if I uploaded your Getting to Know you Notebook to iheartonenote?

  • November 23, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    The lists of recommendations for students and teachers are excellent.

    1) Has anyone been using the “unpack” feature in OneNote for saving files to internal networks (for students to retrieve at the beginning of a class)?

    2) Has anyone found a useful way to limit “texting” use of shared files in OneNote?

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  • November 23, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    Thanks for your visit. I just had a look at how technology is being implemented at your school and it is a very impressive read. It would be great to get some ‘on-the-ground’ reporting about what you guys are doing and how you’re doing it!

    As for your questions:
    1) We use the OneNote single file package mostly at the beginning of the year. Ideally this package would include the skeletal framework for the student notebook plus any initial handouts that the teacher would want to give, such as classroom expectations, grading procedures, etc. It could also include any units that have been prepared in advance, particularly if some students are self-motivated. On a day-to-day basis, OneNote pages are saved onto our portal and linked to via class wikis.

    2) By ‘texting’ do you mean students starting their own Live Sharing session and chatting back and forth? I don’t think there is a (technological) way around it, to be honest. If students are disengaged, they will find ways to occupy their time. The best solution is to employ some new-age classroom management strategies. Of course, you could also preempt them and have them chat in class as a backchannel!

  • December 28, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Hey Clint, just another note, you can look up Pentabulous as another (free) wiimote program.
    And if you are running Windows 7 premium or Vista premium, you have the tablet pc functions built into windows, and can use InkSeine as a Onenote add-on.
    @Cassie, all wiimote programs are based on J.C. Lee’s program, but go further.
    I like smoothboard because:
    it is very programmable,
    lets you use 2 wiimotes, for better tracking.
    gives a great visual map of ir dots so you can see where you have a problem,
    you can auto-connect to the wiimotes if you use ms bt stack,
    you can use the wiimote as a remote controller
    you can select which wiimote you use for which computer, for multiple classrooms, or more than one wiiboard/class
    you can limit the tracking area, (so students don’t go into your mail…)

    No present wiimote programs have native vectoral pens, so the Inkseine, inkscape or free versions of commercial IWB programs can give you better writing, but you will see an improvement with the the non JC Lee programs, because, with total props to Johnny, it is the first version, and if there is no improvement on his open source code, there is no need to make a new program with it.

  • December 29, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Yes, I mean by “texting”, the use of the shared file facility. We couldn’t find a way to prevent it and and find that the temptation of exploring a new technology quirk is very attractive to motivated students. Ultimately, few try to do so.

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  • August 8, 2010 at 10:06 am

    So I’m a new teacher but an OLD graphic designer. My last job I was creative director at

    I used onenote to put together (from multimedia, online sites, tutorials and other materials) a great curriculum…. and I’ve come up on a brick wall.

    My class has blocked all SkyDrive sites (public schools block stuff) …. and the one note file (now about 1200 pages) is only viewable outside the school… OR off of my machine which has the current version of Office.

    The school isn’t up to speed with Office… I think they are using 2007.

    What to do? I’d like to turn the whole thing into a website…. but that would be A TON of free work…. I could turn the whole thing into a pdf… but then I lose my tabs and subtabs…. and sub notebooks.


  • August 24, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Have you tried Save As –> Single File Webpage ? This should allow for export and uploading to a web server.

    We share notebooks with our students via our network. In our most common configuration, teachers create a notebook for each unit. Students create a notebook on the server in their portfolio folder, shared with teachers. The teacher puts a copy of the unit notebook in an area accessible to students who then paste a copy of it into the shared notebook, making it a notebook section. Took a bit to work out, but ROCKS!

  • August 25, 2010 at 8:23 am

    @adam fiveson If your notebook is a 2010 version, you can downgrade a copy of it to 2007 version for compatibility. You lose a few features (such as the new recycle bin for deleted pages) but it will still work.

    Does your school have any sort of intranet? Can you place the notebook in an intranet folder and give students read-only access to that one specific folder so they can grab a copy of the notebook, either section by section or by creating a single file package (File -> Save as -> Notebook -> Single File Package) that will unpack the entire notebook onto the students’ computers?

    There is also a plug-in to export your notebook as an interactive website but I’ve never used it.

    @Tami Brass That sounds like a lot of notebooks open for a teacher, especially if they are teaching 5 section of 20 or more kids! Do you have any screenshots of what a teacher’s OneNote looks like with all those shared notebooks?

    We create skeleton notebooks for the first day, consisting of the usual first day handouts (class expectations, assessment criteria, etc) as well as sections for each of the units that we will be covering for the year. If the teacher is super organized, it might even contain the first few classes worth of material. As teachers need to give resources to their students, they place it on our SharePoint portal, create a link on the class wiki and direct students to the required link. Students then open the file (Word files, .pdf files, or OneNote files) and insert them into their notebook! There is definitely a learning curve for students and new teachers, but we’re getting there!

  • August 25, 2010 at 8:51 am

    @Clint and @Tami Brass

    The plugin doesn’t work… AT ALL and saving it as a webpage creates one REALLY REALLY LOOOOONG page.

    I’ve made entire sections of my curriculum into PDFs and then had them download them… the thing is that I am evolving the class as I go… to suit their needs… and to fit their capabilities. I also want to be able to add to these sections as I progress as a teacher.

    The primary issue is that I’m teaching Commercial Art and Graphic Design…. on Macs… the school has Office 2007 on the school PC’s (I was on 2003 on my PC up until I raised a stink about it this week.) But as I said, my kids are on Macs… running MS office… whatever the available version is… but onenote isn’t crossplatform I don’t think, in fact I couldn’t find onenote at all for the mac….. so far I think I have two choices.

    Manually copy out all the content… a page at a time… creating tabs in a web platform… OR…. figure a way past the firewall… so my kids can access skydrive.

    If microsoft wasn’t so darned proprietary about their stuff this would be MUCH easier… I should have compiled my little notebook in Adobe InDesign… at least there I could print it… I could save it as HTML… and I could make PDFs… I’d even have better font and layout control.

    Anyways… if you come up with something by all means shout out.



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