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OneNote transforms the way we work as a staff

Today’s post was written by Stewart Davies, assistant principal at the Ysgol Bae Baglan, opening in September 2016.

Ysgol Bae Baglan is a brand new, state-of-the-art school for 1,600 students aged 3–16 in Wales. The school’s team is proud to be in one of the very first schools serving students from age 3–16. Bae Baglan is the amalgamation of four very successful schools, and has students with a broad range of needs and from different socio-economic backgrounds. The school will open in September 2016 and will implement a one-to-one program with the Microsoft Surface over the next three years, starting with Year 9 from day one.

The challenge for Ysgol Bae Baglan is to have our brand new cross-phase school ready to open in September 2016. Our teachers currently work in four different schools, so we needed an effective way for them to communicate and collaborate. Eighteen months ago, we started by deciding what we needed to achieve: simple email group communication, collaborative creation of Scheme of Work documents, collaborative development of lesson resources, ways of organizing, recording and sharing meeting notes. The biggest challenge of all was to take the thousands of lesson resources, including video that were on four internal school servers, and find a way to effectively share in a way that avoids duplication, is easy for teachers to access, is sustainable for the future and enhances teaching and learning.

The choice turned out to be simple. Office 365 had all of the features we needed, and the jewel in the crown was OneNote, which I knew could transform our whole approach to teaching.

We started by implementing Office 365 Groups, which enabled department teams to collaborate and get work done by establishing a single hub. Group email is a breeze through conversations that are available in the familiar Outlook 2016 application. Office 365 Groups also allows collaboration in OneNote. Each group is automatically provisioned with a OneNote notebook, alongside group email, giving us a space to collaborate.

OneNote transforms the way we work as a staff 1

OneNote transforms the way we work as a staff 2

We used page templates within the group OneNote, so departments had an easy interface to record meeting minutes. By adding a new page under the Meeting Minutes tab, departments have an instant, consistent way of working. This was a simple start, but transformational, as it gave everyone an easy introduction to OneNote—pages looked the same whichever department they were in. More importantly, it wasn’t long before teachers started to realize that the ability to attach and print documents right into a OneNote Notebook not only made department meetings more effective by sharing items before the meeting, but OneNote had great potential for the classroom.

OneNote transforms the way we work as a staff 3b

Giving each department an administration notebook gave them the freedom to experiment with easy ideas—administration is much easier to think about than teaching. Soon, departments began to experiment more with their department’s group notebook, and this helped sow the seeds and help people understand how OneNote works. All sorts of tabs started to appear!

Early in the process, we realized that we needed to organize our resources carefully. We didn’t want a single notebook containing resources for whole department because for 12 different year groups we were worried about how this would be organized and the amount of regular syncing that would be needed. We took the approach of having collaborative shared notebooks, generally one notebook for each year group. This made the notebooks simpler to understand and navigate. We set up the notebooks using a single admin user and then shared them with the department users. These notebooks appeared in the teachers’ Shared with Me folder in OneDrive. Once these collaborative shared notebooks were open and pinned in OneNote 2016 on teachers’ Surface Pro 4 devices, access became even easier. We did this for every teacher, so each department member had the same place to store and organize lesson resources.

OneNote transforms the way we work as a staff 4

Using OneNote on a Surface Pro 4 is the icing on the cake, because as well as text, images, videos and files, teachers can also use the Inking feature in their OneNote pages.

We left the structure of these OneNote Notebooks for the department heads to organize, but we did provide one tab with a Scheme of Work template to provide some consistency. Department heads came up with many different ways of organizing the OneNote Notebooks, because of the flexibility that OneNote offers and how easily OneNote can reflect your previous paper-based ways of working.

For example, the Math department chose a time-based structure for some notebooks, based on when each topic would be taught.

Other notebooks took a topic-based approach. At first, this flexibility was daunting and we worried that departments would be overwhelmed, but soon departments started sharing ideas. Good practice in one department was being discussed in others, and use of OneNote notebooks was soon demanded from PLC working groups too.

Getting teachers to collaborate and share resources in this way has always been a challenge, even within a single school. This is one of the reasons why we didn’t implement individual Class Notebooks right from the start. By providing only the collaborative workspaces, teachers understood our vision was to work in a new way right from the start. There was no alternative. We advised teachers against creating their own notebooks except for practice and insisted that resources from the four schools be organized in the shared notebooks. The message was soon understood, but teachers wanted to know how resources would be shared with students.

The solution to this was a OneNote Class Notebook that allows a teacher to quickly set up a personal workspace for every student, a Content Library for handouts and a Collaboration Space for lessons and creative activities—all within one powerful notebook. With OneNote Class Notebooks, teachers can easily add students to a shared notebook to allow for differentiated instruction, content delivery and a collaborative digital space.

The idea is that teachers have their own OneNote Class Notebooks for each class, but are able to copy pages or whole tabs from the department shared resources notebooks in seconds. The Class Notebooks are places where teachers can tailor the shared resources to the individual needs of each class or student. Making resources accessible to all our learners is at the core of our vision, and a fantastic OneNote add-in, the OneNote Learning Tools, makes this a reality. Named as a top dyslexia app for 2016, this add-in actually makes reading in OneNote more accessible for all learners.

Having an individual Class Notebook means that teachers’ notes will have a permanent home, no longer wiped clean from the board at the end of each lesson. Students have a permanent place to refer back to and to store their own work. Teachers can mark students’ work through inking-in or leave recorded verbal feedback.

If this wasn’t enough, the latest OneNote Class Notebook add-in for OneNote 2016 makes management of Class Notebooks even easier. This new free add-in for the OneNote desktop is designed to help teachers save time and be even more efficient with their Class Notebooks. The add-in includes page and section distribution, and a tool to help teachers quickly review student work.

We have tested Class Notebooks with a few classes to make sure we are on the right track and now there is no doubt! Using a Class Notebook on a Surface device with a Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter to connect me wirelessly to my projector in class is a revelation. I no longer stand at the front and write on the board. Instead, I ink-in right from my Surface while sitting amongst my students, or even better, these tools allow me to put students in control of their learning, and they can use the Inking feature at their desk.

Setting up Class Notebooks for 107 teachers and 1,600 students will be no easy thing, which is why we are excited to see the announcement of Microsoft School Data Sync and Microsoft Classroom. Microsoft Classroom has a OneNote Class Notebook built into every class, allowing teachers to create assignments with due dates, complete with Outlook calendar events and reminders. School Data Sync helps automate integration with your Management Information System, so you can spend less time setting up classes and instead simply export CSV files to automate the process. We are really looking forward to the general release of these features so that we can roll out our Class Notebooks with ease.

The journey hasn’t been easy, but right from the start our head teacher Mike Tate has “got it.” Mike reminds us that it’s not about the technology, it’s what we can do with it and how it only offers new opportunities for students if we can bring staff with us on the journey. That is why training for teachers has been a big part of our plan. We had some fantastic sessions with MIE Master Trainer Jennifer King and Microsoft Surface Business Development Manager George Isherwood using OneNote on our Surface Pro 4s. These were inspiring and motivational and got us off to a great start. More important was the ongoing training and support provided by our own ICT teams and MIE experts like Paul Watkins within our four schools, and the support we have from our Local Education Authority at Neath Port Talbot. Some things did make it easier though, such as the ability to train on OneNote even before our Surfaces arrived using the online version. Another great resource is the Microsoft Educator Community, which contains hundreds of hours of resources and training to support teachers using OneNote and other tools within Office 365; we registered all of our teachers! Finally, the Twitter community has been a huge support, particularly the #MIEExpert community and the OneNote team, who are very accessible and helpful.

This support has allowed us to ensure that OneNote transforms the way we work as a staff even before our school has opened. OneNote made it possible for us to collaborate, create Scheme of Work documents and collect resources. More importantly, it allowed for a change in mindset, a change in approach, with greater collaboration and communication at the center, which we believe will improve the quality of teaching and learning in the future. Staff now expect to use OneNote because it is the one tool that allows this degree of collaboration. The Senior Leadership team is finding new ways to use OneNote for whole school activities through the OneNote Staff Notebook. Along with the other Microsoft tools such as Sway, Mix and Skype, we are developing a whole new approach to the curriculum as we begin to discover what these tools allow us to do, both within school and beyond.

We are excited about where our OneNote journey has taken us over the last year, but even more excited about where it will take us in the future, when we can stop calling it our “OneNote journey” and begin to realize it as our “teaching and learning journey.” You should be excited too, because OneNote, Office Groups, OneNote Class Notebook and the other exciting Office 365 tools are entirely free to qualifying educational institutions. I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t be using it!

The next six months will be exciting, so keep watching for our next update.

—Stewart Davies

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