Expert Educator Columns, Featured
Comment 1

Kelli Etheredge: Looking for a New Year’s Resolution? Resolve to Use OneNote with Your Students!

by Kelli Etheredge
Expert Educator Columnist, USA

Happy New Year!

As it is every year, resolutions are a hot topic.  Twitter, Facebook, commercials – everywhere I look someone is resolving to change a habit.  While some center around personal goals (improving your health, de-cluttering), others are focused on work goals (learning a new skill, organizing).  I’ll admit it – I don’t think I have ever stuck to a New Year’s resolution.  Sad, I know.  Don’t get me wrong – I have changed a habit or two in my lifetime.  They just haven’t happened as a result of a New Year’s commitment.  Instead, they have spawned from some in-the-moment experience (be it January or June) that has prompted me to change.

All of the resolution chatter within the last week started me thinking about habits I have changed over the years and how they happened.  Some were resolutions I made, some were prompted by others pushing me to change, and some were happenstance.  To my surprise, upon reflecting, some of the best changes have actually occurred by happenstance.

The most transformative event in my professional career was pure happenstance.  This spur of the moment event was my discovery of OneNote.  It may seem odd that I attribute the discovery of OneNote to a pivotal moment in my professional career, but it is true.  The power of the program afforded me so much freedom with my students that it completely changed how I teach.

Let’s venture back to the summer our school upgraded to Office 2007.

It was the summer of 2008, and I was tasked with teaching other teachers the differences between Office 2003 and Office 2007 – remember the change to ribbons?  As I provided an overview of 2007 and it’s user-friendly ribbons (even though no one felt friendly because change can be hard), someone raised their hand and asked, “What is OneNote?”  I had no idea.  (When I was preparing my session, I saw the OneNote icon there among all of the others, clicked on it, but didn’t explore.  I was sticking to the basics – Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.)  I responded, “I don’t know.  It is some type of digital notebook, but I don’t think it does much, but I can look into it tonight.”   Recalling how quickly I dismissed the program that day makes me laugh, but luckily I promised to explore the program for my colleague.

That night, I opened OneNote a second time.  Three hours later, I was hooked and had begun creating a notebook for my English class and organizing my work life.  The next day in the session, I announced to everyone that I was completely wrong about OneNote.

What about OneNote made me change my mind?  It’s versatility.  Mike Tholfsen, who created a OneNote Teacher Toolkit back then, called it the Swiss Army knife of the Microsoft products.  I can’t think of a better description.  OneNote allows you to add text, images, audio, video, hyperlinks, tables, graphs, and inking on the same page.   I didn’t discover every feature at first, but I quickly learned that OneNote allowed me to use one tool to organize all of my course materials rather than the multitude of tools I was using at the time.

You see, a year before, I had elected to eliminate my textbook and use digital resources for my content. (I know what you are thinking, You did what?  In 2007?) Yes, in 2007, I eliminated my textbook and moved to online resources.  That part was easy.  My students had laptops; our readings were either online or in paperbacks; any materials I couldn’t find online I created.  The problem was organization.  I had a website for materials, my class page in Edline for assignments, school network drives for materials students needed to share, links to other websites, and a group email list to cover anything else.  For students to complete tasks, they sometimes had to jump between websites, Edline, and the school network.  I always made sure to have a clear map for them to follow, but it was inefficient.

OneNote, however, took all of the inefficiency away.  I was able to organize my course materials in ONE place.  Every unit had its own section, and every handout, assignment, and resource had a page within the section.  (For larger units, I used section groups to create a notebook within a notebook.)  Here is an example:


Organizing my course with OneNote was the first step.  It was a small step, but the more I used OneNote the more I discovered.  It seemed with every unit I found another way to use OneNote to strengthen my course and innovate with my students. Here are some of my favorite OneNote features:

Outlook – If you have Outlook and OneNote, the two programs work together to keep you better organized.  You can de-clutter your email box by sending important emails to OneNote and deleting them from Outlook.  (Or, if I email the class, I can send the email to the class OneNote notebook  as well so that everyone has a copy of the information.)  Additionally, while working in OneNote, you can email someone a OneNote page or create an Outlook task related to your work.

Tags – OneNote’s tagging feature allows you and your students to tag items of importance.  Tags such as “important”, “definition”, “question”, “remember for later”, “to do” are great ways to find materials a few days (or weeks) after the original page was created.

Templates – If you have a format you need to follow (or you want your students to follow) repeatedly, OneNote allows you to create templates for pages, saving you time.  (History teachers, there is a Cornell note template you can download.)

Print to OneNote – Anything you can print to a printer you can print to OneNote.  If you have Office on your computer, you have likely seen the “Send to OneNote” option when you print something.  When you select “Send to OneNote”, instead of printing to a printer, your computer prints the document (PowerPoint, Excel spreadsheet, etc.) to a OneNote notebook of your choosing.

Screen Clipping – Screen clipping allows you to take a picture of anything on your computer.  It is like the snipping tool, but better.  If you use screen clipping to capture information (or a picture) from the Internet it includes the url (which is incredibly useful when students are working on research papers).


Record Audio/Video – OneNote allows you to record audio and video straight onto a OneNote page.  Both are wonderful ways for students to reflect on work, to practice for presentations, and/or to give and receive feedback from peers and teachers.  Additionally, if a student has the record audio function on while they are taking notes, the audio tracks their typing.  This allows a student to play back the recording and not only hear but see on the line what information they missed as they took notes.  Amazing!

Ink to Text  and Ink to Math – If you have device that allows inking, you can use OneNote to convert your handwriting to type.  Ink to Text converts handwritten notations to text.  Ink to Math allows you to write an equation and then it inserts it on the page as a typed equation.

Search – OneNote has its own search function, and it searches everything in OneNote – text, pictures, print-outs, handwriting (yes, handwriting), and audio.  So, if a student can’t find that homework about Hercules, no worries; he just types in Hercules and every page with the word pops up in the search box.  Super amazing!

Share – With OneNote you can share a notebook with your students (or colleagues).  By sharing the notebook, students can collaborate on projects and keep all of their work in the notebook.  They can work on the project anywhere they have an Internet connection – school, home, the public library, their phone.

All of these functions add depth to my classroom.  The sharing function, however, truly transformed my classroom.  Sharing my course notebook with my students allowed us to collaborate in a way that we had never done before and created endless possibilities for our work.  (I promise more on how I share my notebook later, but if you are immediately intrigued, you can read about my first venture of collaborating in OneNote, or, better yet, watch the video about the project.)

Throughout my column, I will share various classroom innovations that resulted from using OneNote.  So, be sure to keep coming back for more posts.

Maybe, in light of the New Year, you have been looking for a tool that can transform your classroom.  If so, why not try OneNote?

What about you, can you pinpoint a tool or a moment in your career that transformed your practice?  What was the tool/event that made the difference?

1 Comment

Leave a Reply to plerudulier Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s