Why OneNote is perfect for education

By JASON BROWN, Saturday 14th February 2015, 20:40 PM

I wrote an article today explaining why the Surface Pro is the ‘most perfect’ device ever made, which you can read here, but as I was writing it I found myself talking a lot about the pen and OneNote and how it made taking notes easy. So I thought I’d write another article explaining why Microsoft OneNote is the perfect piece of software for education!

Firstly, it’s free! You can read all about that here. With students more often than not being unable to afford the latest software all of the time (especially having spent a chunk of money on a tablet like a Surface Pro 3), OneNote being completely free is a blessing for any student! Of course, Office 365 Pro Plus Benefit enables students and staff in educational institutions to have access to five free copies of the latest Microsoft Office software and as a student you’d be stupid not to take advantage of that great offering, but many schools and students do not know about this offering.

OneNote is part of the Microsoft Office 2013 suite and is included in all editions of the suite as well as Office 365.

Note-taking with a pen and OneNote is easy in any scenario - whether it be in the classroom or in the meeting room!
Note-taking with a pen and OneNote is easy in any scenario – whether it be in the classroom or in the meeting room!

Secondly, OneNote makes all of your notes accessible on any device. We know that students have a variety of devices that they like to use – varying from laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones. I’m a student myself and I have all four. OneNote apps can be downloaded on Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android and Windows Phone meaning that it doesn’t matter what device you want to use for note-taking, the chances are OneNote can be used on it. The Metro app for Windows 8.1 is particularly nice and ideal if you want to write using a pen (pictured left).

You can save your OneNote notebooks locally on your device but you are much better off saving them into the cloud because then it is much easier to access them on any device and when you make changes on one device the changes are automatically synchronised (‘applied’) to your other devices so you can work on a tablet one minute and on a desktop computer the next and then a phone without worrying about needing to manually transfer and update your notebook. By default your notebooks are stored on OneDrive. This makes OneNote a very versatile app.

OneNote is accesible on just about any device. It is pictured here running on an iPad.
OneNote is accesible on just about any device. It is pictured here running on an iPad.

But the big reason why OneNote is a student’s dream is because it eliminates the need to create massive paper files and saves you having to carry these heavy, heavy files to school.

Paper files are a student’s nightmare. As a student I can tell you that there is nothing worse than having to cart around these huge files to school. The files are heavy and have caused me some serious backache over the past few months and because they don’t fit in my bag properly, I end up having to carry them in a separate bag to school. Paper files have cost me a lot of money in paper, ink and rucksacks. My previous £40 rucksack split thanks to carrying these massive files to school.

Paper files often do not fit very well into bags. They are unpractical to carry.
Paper files often do not fit very well into bags. They are unpractical to carry. However, one tablet with OneNote fits very nicely into any bag!

Paper files are also a pain to revise from – especially if you only need to revise half of what is in the file. More often than not you’ll need to take out sheets of paper in your file to revise from and you risk putting them back in the order, or worse, the whole file will pop open as try to turn over 100 sheets of paper and suddenly you’ll find all of your work all over the bedroom floor. Then you have to spend time putting the file back together when you could be revising.

OneNote can replace all of the paper in these files.
OneNote can replace all of the paper in these files.

Put simply, to most students files are a nightmare. One has to wonder why, when we live in a world of scarce resources, we are still printing out work and consuming masses and masses of paper and using hundreds of pounds of toner to produce an archive of work that is hard to organise, takes up a lot of physical space, is hard and impractical to transport and difficult to revise from.

We do not like using our natural resources to produce electricity, heat homes or manufacture goods. We are always being told that renewable energy is the way forwards and we are constantly being pestered to save paper and ‘think green’ and recycle just about anything we can. We are always being told about the damage that logging does to the rainforests and the environment and how we can help by buying sections of rainforest to protect to stop this. So why are we still encouraged at school to print out work and put it in a massive file when we know that this is not sustainable?

It seems to me like it’s just an old idea that has stuck around and has become the ‘accepted’ way of doing work at school, or we have yet to find a way in which technology can replace huge files.

This is where Microsoft OneNote comes in.

A lot of people ask me ‘what is OneNote?’ and the easiest way to describe it is ‘a digital file’. Literally. Open up OneNote and what do you notice? Little tabbed sections at the top of the window and a Pages panel on the right side of the window. The little tabbed sections represent subject dividers in a paper file and the pages represent – you guessed it, the pages of the file.

The tabbed interface of OneNote makes organising notes straightforward.
The tabbed interface of OneNote makes organising notes straightforward.

This makes organising your notes very easy and you can set your notebook up in such a way that makes finding notes easy for you. This is of course great for revision ad you don’t need to worry about your notes falling out place – and if they do get disorganised for whatever reason, you just drag the pages and sections into the order you want. OneNote is much better than Word for doing your work in. Not only does OneNote support things like handwriting, it is much better for organising notes because your work is stored in one ‘document’, and not several individual Word documents.

The great thing about the tabbed interface of OneNote is that you can arrange your notebook into your subjects (for example) and this means that OneNote can quite literally replace an unlimited number of heavy, bulky paper files.

OneNote means that one small and light device can replace multiple heavy folders.
OneNote means that one small and light device can replace multiple heavy folders.

But OneNote is more than a digital file.

You can share and collaborate on notebooks using OneDrive and the handwriting recognition in OneNote is now so advanced that you can select handwritten notes and turn them all into typed notes. What’s more, it also converts special symbols such as maths symbols into typed characters.

Why is this good? Isn’t it just a gimmick? One might argue that, but think of it like this. Everything in OneNote is designed to make your note-taking faster and easier. Most people can write faster than they can type – but most people’s handwriting is poor. Now what we can do is write quickly using a pen on a tablet, and then we can transform scrawly handwritten notes into beautifully-presented typed up text. This makes note-taking quick but note-revision straightforward and simple.

You can use the Office Lens app on your smartphone to take photos of diagrams and text in textbooks and then you can send these photos directly to OneNote and it will automatically crop, straighten and align the images and then put them into the page you specified in your notebook. This makes taking notes out of the textbook very quick and easy!

OneNote Class Notebook Creator is a great tool for teachers. OneNote not only saves students the pain of carrying files to school, but it also saves teachers the pain of carrying them home to mark! OneNote Class Notebook Creator is what it says on the tin – a OneNote notebook that a class can share and work in. There is a Collaboration Space where everybody can share ideas, but each student has their own little private section to work in which only them and the teacher can see. This is fantastic for teachers and is the digital equivalent of a student handing in work to a teacher to mark.

Watch the video below to learn how easy it is set up OneNote Class Notebook Creator!

The features of OneNote go on and on, but there are clear environmental and efficiency benefits to using OneNote in the classroom. OneNote saves paper, ink, time and money and makes working with technology much easier and quicker.

Be sure to follow the Wymondham High O Team on Twitter for regular Wymondham High IT updates: @WyHighOTeam

The O Team also has a YouTube Channel with several Office 365 tutorial videos for students at Wymondham High Academy.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter so you can read all about my amazing life(!):@JasonBrown2K13

Also be sure to follow Kevin Sait’s Twitter for Microsoft Educational updates and updates on IT in the classroom at Wymondham High: @kevin_sait

Last updated: Saturday 14th February 2015, 21:12 PM

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