Microsoft Brings Handwriting to OneNote For iPad

OneNote NoteBook on a student's iPad

OneNote NoteBook on a student’s iPad

Along with all the great eLearning stories that happen within the classrooms at St Andrew’s College, this blog does also try to cover the occasional product release or update that is pertinent to our students and parents.

This week saw a significant update to the free OneNote iPad app from Microsoft, with two new features introduced:

  1. Handwriting directly into a NoteBook with either a finger or preferably, a stylus.
  2. OCR functionality – allowing for searching within images that have been added to a OneNote NoteBook.
    1. UPDATE: Microsoft OneNote Developers have confirmed to me that OCR functionality is only available in OneDrive (Consumer) and not in OneDrive For Business that schools / workplaces use and rely on.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the College has invested significantly into teachers using the Surface Pro 3 tablets (around 25 teachers now have one as their primary device), and 2015 has seen quite a few students bringing a Pro3 to class each day too. Whilst we do run a fleet of iPads in the Junior Department managed by JAMF’s Casper Suite, the lack of handwriting or drawing within the free OneNote app on an iPad has always been a significant drawback.

Until now.

I decided to create a quick video highlighting the handwriting feature of OneNote for iPads, and included the necessary steps to connect with the College’s Office365 account (all OneNote NoteBooks on an iPad must be stored in OneDrive or Sharepoint Online – they can not be stored locally on the iPad only).

The other new feature that is bound to be prove helpful to students is the OCR functionality – in Microsoft’s release notes they say:

With today’s update, text within any image inserted into a notebook saved on OneDrive will be searchable in OneNote on all PCs, phones and tablets, as well as OneNote Online. Once added, the OneNote service will process it and it will start showing up in search results typically within a few minutes.

Searching text within an image inserted into OneNote on an iPad

Searching text within an image inserted into OneNote on an iPad

It is primarily in our Preparatory School that we have seen lots of iPads being used by students and with this update I am sure there will be a re-examination of their usefulness in the classroom, given the tight integration into Office365.

iPads In The Junior Department

A student using an iPad in class

A student using an iPad in class

In 2013 the Junior Department teachers at St Andrew’s College decided to trial a number of iPads in their classes of students (Years 1-3). The initial motivation was to trial some 21st century technology in their classrooms and to also ensure that as teachers, they were keeping up to date with changes in classroom teaching tools and practice. I met with Mrs Jane Egden (who was also involved in our first ever Mystery Skype) to see how this initial trial has progressed and learn how the iPads have been used with students.

As most of the teachers in the Junior Department had used Apple devices previously, they felt they would be a great product for the students given their intuitive interface and wide range of apps that could be installed to support learning outcomes. The initial trial saw each teacher given an iPad with three “floating iPads” that could be shared amongst the classes in the Junior Department.

“The iPads are wonderful for independent learning during maths times.” (Junior Department Teacher)

Teachers were initially managing the installation of apps onto the iPads themselves, experimenting with free apps and purchasing the occasional paid app too. It was quickly apparent that this was time consuming and frustrating as there was no consistency of apps across the iPads. In my role as Director of ICT, I suggested to the teachers that if the fleet of iPads was going to grow beyond the 10 being trialled, that it would be preferable to use a centralised management system to deploy apps.

cycloneIn 2014 another 10 iPads were purchased and I decided at this point to explore the JAMF Casper Suite for managing Apple devices. With limited in house experience in centrally managing Apple devices, the College partnered with Cyclone Computers to assist in this area and we settled on a hosted solution of the Casper Suite which would allow us to easily configure and deploy identical apps and settings onto all the iPads in the Junior Department.

“It is a real bonus having 20 iPads all with the same apps on them at Discovery Time on Fridays. I hear children sharing opinions of the games. Also when they work on the same app they can compare results and ideas, as well as compete with each other.” (Junior Department Teacher)

Whilst there were some initial technical problems with the deployment of Casper and configuration of the iPads, the benefits of being able to easily deploy an app across all 20 iPads by pushing them out wirelessly is tremendous. This has completely removed the time and effort from the individual teachers, allowing them to focus on how to use the iPads to support learning outcomes.

The main curriculum areas the iPads are being used in are numeracy and literacy based activities, with apps support reading and maths.Letter School A new app that has been purchased and added to the 20 iPads to support handwriting skills is called Letter School. Outside of apps, the students will occasionally use the iPads for research on the internet (content filtered via our Fortigate 600c UTM firewall), and taking videos of students reading for teacher records of progress.

“The children really enjoy the iPads during reading and maths time to reinforce the strategies they have been learning or to scaffold their knowledge.” (Junior Department Teacher)

The response from students to the iPads in their classes has been very positive. Mrs Egden said that there was virtually no instruction required on how to actually use the iPads themselves as most of the children had used them before at home. They have been very good at sharing the iPads responsibly and also being accountable for their actions on them. Self management skills are required to ensure the iPads are returned to where they are stored so they can be charged for other users as well. Interestingly, the teachers do not offer the use of the iPads as a treat for good behaviour, but instead they are used as a regular part of the teaching practice.

 SUMMARY:

Whilst many students bring their own MacBook in the Secondary School, St Andrew’s does not have College owned or managed Apple products in any other area of the school, apart from these iPads in the Junior Department. Consequently there has been a learning curve to understand how best to manage and deploy these for use in the classroom. With the Casper Suite in place, we can easily add additional iPads to the fleet with exactly the same settings and apps on them.

Additionally, as the Junior Department teachers identify new apps that will support their students, we can add these very quickly when requested. The final comment comes from a teacher using these in her class:

“The iPads have been a wonderful way to create a diverse learning environment where a range of learning styles can be catered for … they are so user friendly there is little instruction needed for a followup task or a practice activity. With the range of apps we can download there is a learning activity to suite a huge range of learning intentions.”  (Junior Department Teacher)