Increasing Student Engagement & Enthusiasm for Writing with MS OneNote

I had the privilege of meeting with Dr Jeni Curtis today to discuss her use of Microsoft OneNote in her Yr9 English class, and discuss how this was one of the key tools she was using to achieve her aim of a paperless environment in her classroom. I was aware that a number of staff at St Andrew’s College were exploring the different ways that OneNote could be used in their teaching and, after seeing some unsolicited parent feedback to Dr Curtis, I knew I needed to write a blog about it.

OneNote is sometimes described as ‘the hidden jewel’ in the Microsoft Office Suite and for those unfamiliar with the programme, it can best be described as an electronic version of the traditional ring-binder, replete with the coloured tabs/dividers down the side. Since all students at St Andrew’s College have access to a free copy of MS Office (along with the web-apps via Office365), the decision to use OneNote by Dr Curtis made perfect sense.

The Setup:

All students initially required some assistance with setting up their OneNote notebooks for English and then sharing this with Dr Curtis. Critically, they were able to set the sharing permissions so that she could both read and edit their notebooks. Once completed, it meant that as the teacher, Dr Curtis could look at the student’s equivalent of traditional “exercise books” at anytime, allowing direct feedback and comments.

Additionally, Dr Curtis shared a “read only” OneNote notebook with the students where they could see useful materials for the courses, explanations of various terms as well as expectations for them around homework and other activities.

The First Task – An Introductory Letter & A Video Response:

The first task for the Yr9 English students in their steps towards a paperless classroom was to write an introduction letter to Dr Curtis using their shared OneNote notebook. What they didn’t expect was that they would receive a personalised video response from Dr Curtis that they could all watch directly within OneNote itself.

Video Response to Introductory Letter

Video Response to Introductory Letter

This certainly left an impression on the students of the class, and was actually achieved relatively easily through the neat feature of OneNote that allows for the recording of audio and video notes directly within a notebook. This innovative idea for marking homework and giving feedback was appreciated not only by the students, but also by the parents, with one taking the time out to email Dr Curtis the following congratulations:

I must congratulate you with using One Note for marking the children’s writing. Callum showed me the video clip commenting on one of his assignments. It was really impressive and useful. It is such a great use of technology and had helped Wayne and I appreciate the use of technology in classroom environment. We were a bit unsure with 1:1 computer concept to begin with.

I hope Callum is working hard in your class. I had seen his shifts of interests from not liking writing to enjoying writing in the last 2 assignments, which is wonderful.

As a teacher that is incredibly gratifying to hear that your efforts to engage students is having the type of impact mentioned by the parent above, and equally, as the Director of ICT at St Andrew’s College, I am thrilled that the teaching staff are using the tools in authentic ways like this.

Feedback & Feedforward On Other Assignments:

As mentioned above, Dr Curtis is able to edit the students’ OneNote notebooks to provide near-realtime feedback on their work, without the logistical efforts of having to collect in their work, or edit a draft copy and email it back to them. By editing the document they’ve been working on with feedback, they can make the necessary changes directly. Here is an example of an edited notebook, with comments in red and errors highlighted in yellow:

Corrections and comments on student work via OneNote

Corrections and comments on student work via OneNote

At the bottom of this writing is the summary comment (note also the reference to the shared class OneNote notebook with tips on punctuation):

The summary comment in blue

The summary comment in blue

Followed by the marking schedule with the relevant skills highlighted in yellow:

Marking Schedule

Marking Schedule

What is really impressive about a setup like this, is that the marking is effectively in real-time. As soon as Dr Curtis has written her comments and added the above marking schedule, the student can see this. The power of MS OneNote, using SkyDrive Pro (update: the official MS Twitter account @msonenote said SkyDrive Pro is being rebranded as OneDrive for Business) in the background for synchronisation of data, means that the delays associated with traditional marking are eliminated, increasing student motivation and desire to refine drafts and submit work.

A different parent took the time to contact Dr Curtis and offer the following observations:

All the best with your strategy of using One Note and adopting virtual folders. I used to manage the eLearning Unit at CPIT, and I know it can be challenging in an educational setting letting go of the ‘tried and true’! From what I can see of Jackson’s homework across all his subjects, the students seem to be quite happy swapping in and out of the various online platforms that they’re required to use (Moodle/Language learning sites/email/skydrive etc). It’s great that the ICT environment at STAC is becoming quite seamless now.

Other Uses of ICT in Yr9 English:

While OneNote provides a great tool for student-to-teacher and teacher-to-student feedback, where class-wide discussion is required, or student-to-student commenting, then the class uses a Moodle Forum where ideas can be shared, debated and moderated. Dr Curtis commented during our discussion on the quality and depth of the student answers within the forum and was particularly pleased at the willingness of students to comment on each other’s responses.

Helpfully, Moodle’s “Participation Reports” allows teachers to quickly check whether students have completed assigned homework on a particular activity – something that is greatly appreciated by teachers, but not always so much by students!

The use of Moodle forums, along with OneNote, really does allow the learning to take place anywhere, anytime, breaking down the physical distinction between classwork and homework.

♦ Dr Curtis noted that for Creative Writing, the class still uses pens and paper – the physical act of handwriting assists the creative processes.
♦ Thank you to the parents that agreed to having their comments to Dr Curtis reproduced in this blog

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