What is it?
OneNote is a powerful tool for taking personal, collaborative and meeting notes. It can be used both online and offline. OneNote Class Notebook enables staff to work with students by distributing content for them to work on.
How might I use it?
There are two primary uses for OneNote: Firstly as a note-taking application and secondly as an application with a cohort of students to communicate and collaborate.
OneNote for note-taking
OneNote notebooks let you collect related information in one central place, just like you would with a paper notebook. You can have different pages and sections within a notebook and the OneNote interface will be familiar to you if you use other Microsoft 365 applications such as Word and PowerPoint. You can have separate personal and collaborative notebooks. For example, you can share information within teaching units or as a space for projects you are working on.
OneNote also has a mobile app. This makes OneNote easily accessible from anywhere, even without an internet connection. Like other Microsoft 365 applications, OneNote can be edited in the browser, or from within Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Teams come with an associated OneNote notebook, therefore it's easy to take notes collaboratively as a group.
OneNote Class Notebook for using with a cohort
A OneNote Class Notebook has four main parts:
- A collaboration space accessible to both teachers and students, where teachers and students can create or edit content, individually or in groups. Teachers can subdivide this section and set permissions for specific students, allowing access to these sections for working on group projects.
- A content library where important course documents can be stored for student use - content can be copied into their own notebook sections.
- A class set of student notebooks. Each student maintains his or her own notebook that is viewable only by the student and the teacher.
- A teacher-only section. You can use this to prepare content before distributing it, or to store notes that should not be viewable to students.
Although the terms 'teacher' and 'student' have been used, that is only to maintain consistency with the language of Teams. In reality, any staff member can be given a 'teacher' or 'student' role - it is similar to giving teacher and student permissions in Moodle.
OneNote Class Notebook is a tool that helps staff connect with their students. OneNote’s features allow sharing, collaboration, dynamic presentations, and enhanced organization. OneNote helps teachers organize lesson materials and share them with their students. Students can interact with the materials and with each other, using OneNote to work individually or in groups. Teachers can present to the whole class or share items just with the students who need them. OneNote enables both students and teachers to exchange their feedback automatically in one place virtually anytime, anywhere.
How do students use it effectively?
Students can access OneNote by logging into Microsoft365 with their University credentials. From here they can access both personal and share notebooks. Alternatively, shared notebooks can also be accessed via Microsoft Teams (most commonly in the General channel of a Team).
In OneNote students have a personal space to take notes and organise them however they wish - think of it as an online notebook. They can create a section for each of their classes and fill the page with lecture notes (typed or inked), audio recordings, video, snaps of the whiteboard or PowerPoint slides which include searchable text. In addition to this, notes can be made offline on a range of devices (mobile phone, tablet, laptop, desktop) and they will automatically sync when you next connect to the internet. Students can also take advantage of built-in accessibility features such as immersive reader.
What are the pros & cons?
- The OneNote interface looks familiar to Microsoft 365 users, and works well alongside Teams.
- Can be used as a reflective/portfolio tool (especially for formative work and formative feedback).
- It is straightforward to add media to your notes such as audio, video and images.
- There are built-in accessibility features such as immersive reader.
- You can link to and embed documents into your notes.
- All notebooks, sections, subsections and pages are stored automatically in the user’s OneDrive, so you do not need to worry about losing your notes.
- As well as typing into OneNote, you can write by hand with your stylus or finger. Search for something you have written using built in handwriting recognition.
- Use OneNote for capturing handwritten notes when teaching online.
- Notebooks can be shared, or alternatively use Microsoft Teams to create a notebook with a team to work on collaboratively.
- The Content Library is a great way to organise and share content with students. Students can each have individual copies of content, on which tutors can provide feedback individually
- If you delete part of your OneNote notebook, you can retrieve it up to 60 days after you edited it.
- You can 'print' documents and images to OneNote, where you’re then prompted to select which notebook you’d like them to appear in.
- Class Notebooks have a variety of sections for different uses: personal note-taking spaces, collaborative spaces, teacher-online spaces and a read-only content library.
- Can add content on nearly any device.
- For summative assignments students can export to PDF first then upload into Moodle or Mahara (although see "Con" below).
- Students can lead, and it provides an opportunity to use the tool in a way they would if they were working in a professional environment.
- OneNote notebooks are stored in the cloud, therefore they physically never exist on a local device.
- Personal notebooks are created by an individual user. If that member of staff (or student) leaves, the notebook and content goes with them, even if it has been shared.
- If using OneNote for summative work, bear in mind that if you want to lock or archive notebooks for marking, there is no easy way to do this. Workarounds exist, but they are complicated.
- It can get confusing if you insert documents into a notebook. Make sure that you know which copy you are editing as a new copy may have been created. There can also be issuing with performance and syncing, with files taking a long time to load for large cohorts.
- OneNote 2016 is the most feature-rich version of OneNote. For new users you may wish to start with the Windows 10 OneNote application which is automatically installed on Windows 10 devices. Indeed, inconsistencies exist across the different versions, and OneNote 2016 can be problematic.
- OneNote's interface changes according to how you are viewing it. For example, the mobile app has the fewest features, whilst the Windows 10 application has more functionality than the browser version.
- Only the desktop version allows exporting of the entire notebook, which can cause issues if used for student coursework submissions.
- Formatting issues exist with symbols when converting notebooks to PDF. In fact, exporting to PDF can be very temperamental and problematic.
- Student notes are viewable to staff within a class notebook. Similarly, students can view annotations added by a staff member in a student's notebook in real-time as they write them - staff need to ensure these are the final comments before writing them in the notebook. There is no process for moderation.
- Printing notebooks from MAC OS and iOS can be problematic.
OneNote Class Notebooks can be used as an e-portfolio, though it is not designed as such. For an e-portfolio, you may also wish to consider using Mahara. To review the pros and cons, and help you choose which tool fits your context, you can see a comparison of the two.
Read how the Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering at the University of Bristol used Microsoft OneNote for interactive feedback.
Allison, Neil, and Jolanta Hudson. “Integrating and Sustaining Directed and Self-Directed Learning Through MS Teams and OneNote: Using Microsoft Teams and OneNote to Facilitate Communication, Assignments, and Portfolio Management,” 2020. Watch a webinar recording of Neil Allison and Jolanta Hudson sharing their experience of using OneNote.
Grijalva-Borja, Nicolás, Vanessa Espinosa, Stefanny Quinteros, and Anthony Salguero. “Analysis of the Perception of University Students About the Use of Microsoft OneNote as an Electronic Laboratory Notebook in Response to Non-Face-to-Face Education in Pandemic Times.” In Information and Communication Technologies, edited by Germania Rodriguez Morales, Efraín R. Fonseca C., Juan Pablo Salgado, Pablo Pérez-Gosende, Marcos Orellana Cordero, and Santiago Berrezueta, 150–62. Communications in Computer and Information Science. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2020.
Microsoft have produced an overview of accessiblility features in Microsoft OneNote.
Further training and support
Complete an online course on Microsoft Teacher Academy (log in with your University of Bath username and password to track progress). Getting Started with OneNote
Complete an online course on Microsoft Teacher Academy (log in with your University of Bath username and password to track progress). OneNote Class Notebook: A teacher's all-in-one notebook for students
Complete an online course on Microsoft Teacher Academy (log in with your University of Bath username and password to track progress). OneNote Staff Notebook: Tools for staff collaboration
Further reading and references
Armstrong, C., Llorin, J., 2015. Using Shared Microsoft OneNote “Binders” to Create a School Environment for Sharing, Continual Formative Assessment, & Information Organization, in: Hammond, T., Valentine, S., Adler, A., Payton, M. (Eds.), The Impact of Pen and Touch Technology on Education, Human–Computer Interaction Series. Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp. 241–247.
Calle, S., Bonfante-Mejia, E.E., Castaneda, R.F.R.-, 2019. Implementation of a Dynamic Teaching File Using the Software Application Microsoft OneNote in an Academic Neuroradiology Division. Journal of Medical Education 18.
Guerrero, S., López-Cortés, A., García-Cárdenas, J.M., Saa, P., Indacochea, A., Armendáriz-Castillo, I., Zambrano, A.K., Yumiceba, V., Pérez-Villa, A., Guevara-Ramírez, P., Moscoso-Zea, O., Paredes, J., Leone, P.E., Paz-y-Miño, C., 2019. A quick guide for using Microsoft OneNote as an electronic laboratory notebook. PLOS Computational Biology 15, e1006918.