One of the things I love about St Andrew’s College is the fact that we are a school from Yr1 to Yr13 and in my role as Director of ICT I get the chance to see learning in action in classes across this age range. Today I met with one of our new teachers, Mr Wilj Dekkers, who teaches a Yr6 class and together we chatted about his use of Microsoft OneNote for creating ePortfolios for his students.
For the uninitiated, ePortfolios are essentially a way for students to create a record of their learning, some of their work (either in progress or ‘published’), and being able to share it with others (usually the teacher, parents or other students in the class). Historically, this type of work has been put into a scrapbook or clear file and one of the great things about an ePortfolio is the ability to add audio and video, alongside the photos and written work of students.
After giving his students some basic guidance around logging into Office365 and creating documents in OneDrive, they were then asked to share their ePortfolio OneNote Notebook with Mr Dekkers. Here is a good example of one page of an ePortfolio:
The convenient aspect for Wilj is that he can see the work of any student anytime, anywhere at the click of a button. Additionally he can comment directly into the ePortfolio to provide encouragement, feedback and feedforward. This feedback, along with the electronic format of these ePortfolios which can double as traditional homework workbooks, resulted in a parent emailing Wilj the following about her son:
[he] has worked harder at his homework than ever before and whilst he still needs a bit of a nudge to get into it, he is certainly putting in more effort than he has in the past. Thank you for your efforts to make the work relevant and interesting.
Because these ePortfolios are all stored online in OneDrive (part of Microsoft’s Office365 which St Andrew’s College subscribes to), the content is always “real time” and accessible anywhere, whether at home or in the class. An additional benefit of this is that students can work collaboratively on work together. Inevitably, this resulted in a large novelty factor for students as they saw their peer’s work ‘magically’ appear in their OneNote notebook as they worked together on something. However, this also has real, tangible, benefits as Wilj explained:
I had a student home sick vomiting. As he started to feel better, he got out his computer, logged into Office365 and started planning the board game he and his friend at school were working on. He emailed an invitation to work collaboratively on the document to his friend and together they continued the planning, meaning they were not behind the others simply because one was not physically at school.
According to Wilj, this was the first occurrence of students in his class independently using OneNote to enhance their learning and at the same time making the physical confines of the classroom irrelevant. It was no longer a requirement to be physically present beside each other for this learning to take place. To this end, he suggested that the current focus in education on Modern Learning Environments (MLE) is incomplete if the thinking is only around the physical layout of classrooms and the furniture contained within it. The electronic tools that students use, such as Office365, OneNote and Moodle, are equally vital components to consider when discussing what impact a MLE will have on a child’s education.
One of the limitations that Wilj has struck is the difference in feature sets from the full desktop application of OneNote compared to the web based browser version of OneNote in Office365. On the desktop, students can easily record and embed video and audio directly into their ePortfolios which adds a new dimension to their work. Now students can not only type in their poem, but record themselves reading it aloud as well, or describing the process of composition and editing. Unfortunately, at this point, there is no easy way to view or listen to these recordings in the browser based version of OneNote. Here is a screenshot of a student’s ePortfolio as seen through the browser:
Despite some of these limitations, which may well be overcome in future enhancements, the upsides remain. Students and parents are now able to see work being done in the classroom with increased regularity through these ePortfolios, contributing to the further erosion in the distinction between classwork and homework.