The Beta of EdTech – OneNote and Beyond

Technology Early Adopter

I joke that I gravitate to the new “shiny” opportunities in technology. I want to play with the new program or device to see what it can do in the classroom. Will it help me instruct my students? Or is it just something for fun? Does it have future potential to promote communication and collaboration? Can it help to expand our classroom world? When there is something techy to pilot, preview, or beta-test, then early adopters have a hard time saying “no,” instead we gleefully say “when can I have access?”

OneNote Edu

About 7 years ago, in a previous district, I stepped into the first year of becoming a 1:1 laptop school. We had laptops, students, and OneNote. The OneNote digital notebook of was building steam in the business world for project team communications. It was a cool tool, but realistically teachers wondered how they could make it work for education. In my classroom I started small. I created a OneNote section for each student to provide 1:1 communication for daily warm up questions and classwork. Students were amazed I could see their writing syncing in real time. Since then many educators and students have been singing the educational praises of OneNote. The ease of a digital notebook provides “no papers lost” organization for students. Faculty and staff are sharing school meetings and information in seamless fashion. As OneNote grows in popularity in the classroom, so to do the functions and capabilities advance in this ed-tech tool.

As more educators use OneNote we ask for more functionality, and the OneNote team at Microsoft is listening. We want easier ways to review student work, we want to quickly create small collaboration groups, and we want one-stop marking and grading of assignments. Since we’re asking, then we must also beta-test and pilot the pipeline of new development. The tricky part is being able to authentically use the beta-pilot functionality with our students. If it works, then other teachers hear about the “new app” and want access to use it. The “new” creates excitement, hype, and conversation. Early adopters are always willing to share what they have learned and when it will be available for everyone. But if the new pilot doesn’t work or goes a bit sideways, then teacher-student access or work may be affected and this can be tough. It is a positive when your administration understands the early adopter role and supports piloting ed-tech tools. As a pilot teacher you need to give timely feedback, which within the busy school day can be difficult, but ultimately this is why you offered to pilot in the first place. The rewarding part is when you realize your feedback has been incorporated into an improved teaching tool.

Working out the details one add-in at a time.

Initially working with new add-ins you have to think like a science teacher (which I am). You have to teach colleagues and students the specific variables that are being tested, what the new add-in can or cannot do. Once the testing is complete and the new add-in or tool is officially launched, then you do a happy dance and look for the next new “shiny” beta app to test. As we prepare for next fall I will be confirming for our district IT department that we want two new OneNote add-ins included in the updated school image. We want Learning Tools for all students and staff. The beauty of this tool is the ease of immersive reader and dictation capabilities. I am impressed with the speed of the dictation and considered dictating this blog into OneNote. For teachers we want Class Notebook so we can fully utilize reviewing student work and distribute class assignments. It is a powerful tool that is becoming more responsive to the needs of teachers and students in the classroom.

As we wind down the school year, a few of us are piloting Microsoft Classroom in hopes of being ready to go with a digital classroom space next fall. The purpose of this platform is to provide a “homepage for managing all of your classes. Organize multiple class sections, create and grade assignments, collaborate with other teachers in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and provide feedback to students.” The potential to have one landing page for all of my classes to promote easy student communication and collaboration would be wonderful. My students are adept at navigating OneNote and Outlook, but what we miss is a free-flowing digital conversation.  Is Microsoft Classroom there yet? Maybe, but it will take a few early adopters to help guide authentic use in the classroom.


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