Lighten the mathematics load with OneNote Class Notebooks

Today’s post was written by Ian Allan Thomson, head of Mathematics at Ormiston College in Brisbane, Australia.

OneNote allows the user to collate information in a variety of forms, including text, images, spreadsheets, audio commentaries and videos. It provides a structure for the organization of notes and it supports multi-user collaboration and also is suitable for taking handwritten notes using a stylus on a tablet computer. These features make OneNote practical and beneficial for use in mathematics education.

OneNote provides a natural interface for mathematical language

Mathematics is a language. It has its own syntax, grammar and vocabulary. The language of mathematics is represented by a diverse array of symbols, diagrams and characters. Using OneNote with a stylus on a tablet computer helps the user deal with the intricacies of mathematical language by simply handwriting it rather than having to depress a complex sequence of keys. It also affords the user the ability to gesture, annotate and diagram, thereby supporting non-linguistic thinking.

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Writing mathematics on OneNote produces a digital artifact which, although handwritten, may be stored, copied, transmitted, edited and annotated. The user can even search all of their handwritten notes for a particular phrase such as “partial fractions.” OneNote finds the phrase and highlights it. The fact that OneNote facilitates writing by hand on the computer screen is arguably the most significant benefit of OneNote in relation to mathematics education, since it combines the benefits of a natural interface with a digital product.

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OneNote provides an organizational structure

OneNote supports learning organization by providing a structure consisting of sections, pages and sub-pages.

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The organizational power of OneNote has been elevated even further through the development of the OneNote Class Notebook application. This application has expanded the functionality of OneNote by providing three spaces to work in. The first is a Collaboration Space in which students can input together at the same time. This allows students to collaborate and give one another feedback. The second space is the Content Library. This space is controlled by the teacher, and students have read-only access to it. In the third space, each student has a notebook of their own with sections and pages. Students control and organize their own notebook and nobody other than the teacher has access to it. This arrangement encourages the students to be self-regulated learners, an important skill for the 21st century, and makes it easier for the teacher to give differentiated support and feedback.

Matching materials to the cognitive needs of individual students

When students are learning mathematics they rely on their working memory to cope with new information. This places a burden known as “cognitive load” on their thinking. Cognitive load exists in three forms. First, intrinsic cognitive load is that associated with the actual subject matter at hand. Second, extraneous cognitive load is caused by information in the instructional material that is not relevant to the learning. Third, germane cognitive load arises in the construction of new mental schema and is typified by learning processes such as interpreting, inferring, exemplifying and organizing. Each of the three types of cognitive load—intrinsic, extraneous and germane—have unique features. These features may be examined in more detail in order to identify ways that technology, in this case OneNote, may possibly provide support associated with each type.

Intrinsic cognitive load is to a large extent dependent on the subject matter, which in the subject of mathematics may be, for example, right-angle trigonometry, simultaneous equations or statistics. Extraneous cognitive load comes from aspects of the instructional material that do not contribute to knowledge construction. The classification of cognitive load as extraneous may be dependent on the prior knowledge of the student. Some materials may be necessary for students with limited prior knowledge of a topic, whereas other students may find this same material to be unnecessary, and therefore extraneous. Germane cognitive load can be associated with the complex reasoning processes that students employ when extending their knowledge. It relates to ways of thinking such as classifying, abstracting, induction, deduction and constructing. Unlike extraneous cognitive load, germane cognitive load is desirable and necessary. It stimulates the thinking processes and promotes the generation of new mental schema. As with other aspects of cognitive load, however, the distinction between extraneous and germane cognitive load is influenced by the background of the student. When acquiring knowledge, for example, it may be helpful to have multiple representations of a new concept.

The OneNote Class Notebook allows each student to access a common library of content while at the same time having an individual private section that they control and to which no one else has access apart from the teacher. This means that the student can customize the content and thereby attune the intrinsic cognitive load according to their individual needs. The teacher can also assist in matching the intrinsic cognitive load to the needs of the individual student by adding or cutting information in the student section. This provides a mechanism which allows cognitive load to be classified as intrinsic or extraneous relative to the individual student rather than on a “one-size-fits-all” premise. In a similar way, the classification of cognitive load as being germane rather than extraneous can be made in relation to the student, and materials can be customized accordingly.

Online learning with OneNote and the Class Notebook

OneNote can be used in conjunction with other applications such as Skype for Business and Office Mix. This means that all the benefits of OneNote and the Class Notebook can be applied to deliver mathematics courses online. Some of the learning can take place with the teacher and students communicating together online at the same time, and other learning is supported by resources made available over the Internet.

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Additional examples

Additional examples of the use of the OneNote Class Notebook can be viewed in this Sway. You can also find more tips on using mathematics on OneNote on my blog or follow me on Twitter @ianallanthomson.

Ian Allan Thomson