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OneNote‘s big 2014 at St Andrew’s College

Today’s post was written by Sam McNeill, director of ICT at St. Andrew’s College in New Zealand.

The past year saw significant increases in usage of Microsoft OneNote at St Andrew’s College and there were a number of factors that contributed to this, including:

  1. Continued promotion of OneNote by earlier adopter teachers such as Mrs. Jacqueline Yoder, which led to uptake among her fellow teachers in the English department and beyond. Her story, OneNote to rule them all, was eventually published in the College quarterly magazine.
  2. The transition from Microsoft Live@Edu to Office 365, which occurred at the end of 2013, allowed for tighter integration of cloud hosting of OneNote notebooks, thus increasing both the access to notebooks from any device as well as promoting true collaboration between students and teachers.
  3. The release of the more fully featured OneNote for Mac application was significant as this allowed students at St Andrew’s who owned an Apple Mac to be able to connect to notebooks hosted in OneDrive for Business. Approximately 50 percent of our students in the one-device-per-student (1:1) laptop program brought a Mac to school so it was imperative that they could use OneNote natively on their laptops.
  4. The ongoing trials with the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 highlighted the benefits of a pen/touch interface when using OneNote, with teachers committing to using OneNote more effectively in the classroom, in anticipation of getting a Surface Pro 3 in 2015.
  5. The release of the OneNote Class Notebook Creator tool finally showed an easier way to create notebooks for teachers where every student could easily see and share content. Prior to this tool, teachers were receiving up to 27 shared notebooks from students per class making it unwieldy to manage class notebooks.
  6. Ongoing professional development sessions were being offered to staff both formally and informally, allowing them to learn how to use OneNote in their classrooms more effectively or for collaboration with other teachers in their departments or syndicates.

St Andrews 1While the above reasons have all contributed to increased use of OneNote among staff and students, I believe that one of the biggest reasons for the success of OneNote is the interface. The layout is reminiscent of a traditional ring binder folder with colored tabs that all students and teachers can relate to. Additionally, the “blank canvas” approach to the notebooks means users are not confined to dimensions of a page and can arrange content, text, images, hyperlinks and comments anywhere they choose. This freedom is appealing, while still being supported by optional page templates and the ability to insert lists, to-do items and other organizational elements. As Mrs. Yoder noted for her English students, “I didn’t want a place just for storing documents. I wanted kids to interact, not to struggle to use their devices, and to have a ring binder in the sky.”

Curriculum areas where OneNote is being used

St Andrew’s College is the equivalent of a K-12 school and one of the most pleasing aspects of the Office365 deployment has been the uptake among our Preparatory school. While this has mostly been in the Years 5-8 classes (students who are approximately 9-12 years old), some of the usage has been incredible.

Below are some examples of OneNote usage across the school in different curriculum areas:

Preparatory school

St Andrews 2

Mr. Wilj Dekkers joined the College in 2013 and immediately embraced the benefits of using OneNote with his Year 6 students both in class and also for their home learning (homework). I was talking to some of his students in late November after nearly a year of using OneNote and their ease and confidence in using was evident. A student called Hamish commented,” OneNote is really good because we can all go on it at the same time–we have even done debates on it!” Another student, Izzy, noted that while the other Year 6 classes were using traditional exercise books for their home learning, they weren’t. “Mr. Dekkers did take time to help the students setup an individual OneNote notebook at the start of the year, which they then shared with him. He could then see all students’ notebooks and his planning directly within OneNote on his computer.

St Andrews 3Titles in red have been added to highlight different features of the ePortfolio.

With the platform in place, students were able to use OneNote as a planning and collaboration tool in a variety of different learning areas such as writing “choose your own ending” stories within OneNote. Below is a a student reading his story and also navigating through a virtual world in Minecraft he created based off his OneNote writing. You can read the stories they wrote directly in OneNote Online since they shared them with. You can read the stories they wrote directly in OneNote Online since they shared them with guest access – Desert of TerrorThe Black Death Maze and Island Adventure.

There was a strong focus on effective editing throughout the creation of these stories, with students using the highlight feature in OneNote to indicate passages they had reworked (often through visually “seeing” their world they had created in Minecraft). Similarly, students were encouraged to share their drafts with their classmates so they could receive feedback and suggestions on the development of their stories.

Watch students sharing their Kiwiana Minecraft world and reading their presentation from OneNote on an iPad:

Another application of OneNote by students in Mr. Dekkers’ class was during an inquiry learning project on Kiwiana. Again, there was significant use of a range of features offered within OneNote:

St Andrews 4

What impressed me so much about their use of OneNote was:

  • Using “Tasks” that could be ticked off when each job was completed. This meant they knew exactly who had to do what.
  • Having “Hide Authors” turned off (on “History” tab in OneNote) so the initials of each group member was alongside their work, meaning they could see who had contributed what to the research.
  • Storing images in the notebook as examples for when they started to build their Minecraft theme park.
  • Use of highlighting key words and concepts to ensure they would be included in the theme park and oral presentation.
  • Using their iPads and OneNote to read their notes during the actual presentation.
  • Dekkers feedback was given directly into their OneNote notebook during the presentation so by the time they finished they would see his comments.

English department

St Andrews 5Corrections and comments on student work via OneNote.

In many ways, the English department have been leaders in OneNote usage at the College, with a number of teachers tightly integrating it into their classroom teaching. The Rector of St Andrew’s, Mrs. Christine Leighton, commented that it is exciting to see how teachers at the College are embracing opportunities through e-Learning. “Teacher voices are really powerful and to be able to share that voice with other teachers, as well as parents and greater numbers of students is very effective. Teaching is not staying enclosed in a classroom,” said Mrs. Leighton.

It is precisely in these areas of collaboration and sharing that OneNote excels, with Mrs. Yoder saying it started as a way to help her students organize their notes, but she quickly found that Microsoft’s OneNote had a lot more potential. “It has an extensive collaborative capability that allows students access to all my folders, and lets me see their work … My two English classes don’t have books they only use OneNote–that’s their method of storing all of their work and assessments,” said Mrs. Yoder.

She also does all her marking online (grading) making her classroom effectively paperless, “The students hand in nothing. I do a lot of color coding in my feedback so they get back a far more visually enhanced assignment. I am also experimenting with oral feedback,” continued Mrs. Yoder.

This involves inserting a video into her feedback providing a medium for more detailed analysis. It’s a different way of marking and works for students who struggle with English and find it difficult to read a marking schedule. For her work with OneNote, Mrs. Yoder was named a Microsoft New Zealand Innovative Educator (along with Mr. Ben Hilliam from the Math department) and in the following audio clip she explains how OneNote has helped her students:

St Andrews 6Video response to introductory letter.

Another teacher in the English department making extensive use of OneNote is Dr. Jeni Curtis who set herself a goal with her Year 9 students in 2014 to be completely paperless by using a combination of OneNote and Moodle. She found that through using OneNote her students’ engagement and enthusiasm for writing actually increased. Her use of recording video and audio comments directly into the notebooks of the students was particularly well received, especially from parents with one taking the time to send her the following the feedback:

“I must congratulate you with using OneNote 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 … I have seen [Callum’s] shifts of interests from not liking writing to enjoying writing in the last two assignments, which is wonderful.”—Parent quote

As any teacher will confirm, receiving unsolicited feedback like this from parents is both rare and extremely gratifying and was a great encouragement at the beginning of the year for Dr. Curtis to progress with her “paperless classroom” goal.

Math department

St Andrews 7A student reviewing the MS OneNote content recorded moments earlier by Mr. Hilliam, and then practicing in his exercise book.

A number of teachers in the Math department were part of a trial group using Microsoft Surface Pro devices in the classroom, with a setup of the Surface Pro 3, OneNote, Office Mix and also Miracast supported projectors. This led to some exciting teaching and learning where the flexibility of OneNote and the naturalness of “writing” on a tablet combined. Mr. Ben Hilliam used a math page template to teach graphing to his Year 9 students, recording the lesson with Office Mix and then embedding the link into a shared class OneNote notebook, outlined in detail in this blog post, it was evident that all students were benefiting from the example work from Mr. Hilliam, as they no longer had to manually copy it into their books or photograph the whiteboard with the notes made in class–they were automatically synchronized into OneNote notebook. Additionally, if they had not understood the explanation the first time, they could simply watch the video again and hear the explanation and, crucially, see the problem being solved in OneNote.

Another use of OneNote within the Math department has been implemented by the new Head of Department, Mr. Dean McKenzie. Departmental meeting agendas are now written within OneNote and shared with all staff members prior to meetings, and then the minutes are recorded during the meeting for all to see. Furthermore, a move towards year level planning within OneNote is happening. 


The use of OneNote is now becoming commonplace at St Andrew’s College and for good reason. It’s natural interface and storage in the Office 365 (all notebooks are stored and synchronized via OneDrive For Business) makes it an easy solution for students and staff to collaborate and see progress towards learning outcomes.

Undoubtedly, 2015 will bring new opportunities to innovate with OneNote both in and out of the classroom.

—Sam McNeill

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