After nearly two years of one to one experience, I have settled on using mainly OneNote, as the primary method of giving notes and information to my students. I have attempted to use PowerPoint presentations (boring), and Dyknow (clunky), and eventually have turned to using OneNote for just about everything, with a few exceptions I’ll elucidate later. I’d like to write about some of the strengths and weaknesses of the program as well as how I have integrated it into my courses.
OneNote is an excellent tool and the major benefits of it are that the students can keep all of their work organized and accessible and in one place. I have cut down on the printing of most materials, and even lab assignments are done electronically, graded electronically, and the graded work is kept in their OneNote notebook. In a sense this can be treated like a portfolio if you add reflections and such. Additionally, I have a tablet and I can make any sorts of notes I need to, such as formulas, drawings, or graphs, even the polar bear ninja at the top of my blog was done using OneNote. And all of it goes out to the students where they can add it to their notebooks. At least, that is the theory. It isn’t quite that simple in reality.
I have played with a bunch of techniques and currently what I am doing is pushing the students’ notes to a server we have at school. The students pick up the days notes at the beginning of class and add it to their own notes. Of course there are a few students who resist organizing them and I have to come around later and ‘remind’ them. I do it this way because sometimes the files are quite large and I don’t want to overload the internet connection. Some teachers send their notes out through email, which I have done at times if I want to send the notes outside of class time. Also, when I grade assignments I normally post them to the server for the students to pick up, so that I don’t have to deal with trying to send an individual email for each student. We have looked at the possibility of having shared notebooks with the students, but the students would be able to delete files, and frankly, we don’t trust them.
Notes in this program can include a wide variety of content including pictures (with a simple way to embed screen shots), tables (although frustratingly they are different than those in Word), links to websites, links to audio (including the ability to record from within OneNote), and links to video. There currently is no way to embed video itself into the program, but I can imagine such a thing will be considered in future versions of the program.
There are a few issues myself and some of my coworkers have run into, however. Our students, for the most part, do not have tablets, and we in the science department have lamented that issue to no end. A major point of having laptops at all is the ability to do formulas and drawings and have them saved to a notebook, but unfortunately that was not mandated when the laptops program began, and we have been suffering for it ever since. As it stands, the students sometimes get by using the mouse, or the trackpad, or trying to type the formulas out. But, none of these solutions is particularly good. I have taken recently to printing more materials than I did first semester just so that the students can solve equations on paper.
Also, we are still in the process of transferring many of our materials from Word to OneNote and the conversion does not work very well for notes that include drawings or have had reviews written on the notes. Some teachers get by printing their files as a PDF, and then the notes themselves are loaded to OneNote, basically as pictures which cannot be edited afterwards. I have done it, but I don’t like it. I have found, however, that transferring PowerPoint files to OneNote works fairly well (once again the slides are like pictures), and I usually give them those notes as a resource.We also have had the issue of compatibility from the 2007 version, and the 2010 version. Our older students still have the older version and there are a few small issues there.
The thing I find most annoying is that when copying files from Word and then attempting to write notes over the top of them, many times the notes will shift around instead of staying in place. And they basically can’t be fixed afterwards. Please don’t comment that there is a fix for it from Microsoft. We have updated the fix and it doesn’t work for this issue. I have learned to handle some of it by removing any formatting on the word files and deleting any spacing before copying it over, but the problem still occasionally creeps up and there doesn’t seem to be a simple solution.
Overall I am reasonably satisfied with OneNote, but I’m definitely hoping for a new version to come out. It is frustrating and makes no sense to me that it doesn’t match up hardly at all with other Microsoft products, particularly Word. This type of program is clearly the wave of the future, but it is still a few years away from its full potential.
We have looked at the possibility of having shared notebooks with the students, but the students would be able to delete files, and frankly, we don’t trust them.