A nice letter from a teacher using OneNote

This email comes from a math teacher in BC, Canada. I asked his permission to post it, and he agreed. Thanks, Kelvin! I thought it was a unique viewpoint and worth sharing:


I'd like to take this opportunity to get on a soapbox here, if that's OK.  Feel free to use any of this in conversations at work or on your blog.


I teach Math and Physics in a high school just outside of Vancouver, BC, Canada.  Four years ago I bought a Windows XP tablet.  I began using it in my classroom, hooking it up to a projector and basically using it as a glorified overhead.  I annotated my notes by sending them to Onenote.  If students were absent, it was a simple matter to print up the notes for them.  The first year I was using my tablet with a Trades Math class.  It was a class for kids who found math difficult, and basically had negative attitudes towards the subject.  I realized that I had stumbled on to something by using my tablet in my classroom when I had a student who was sick first block in the morning.  By 10 AM, I had received an email from the student asking me if I could email him the notes from that day as a pdf file.  Simple!  Open Onenote, Save As PDF, done!  What impressed me more, however, was the fact that this previously unengaged student was sick at home and had actually shown enough interest to email me fairly early in the morning (for a teenager) and request the notes.  There was something about the technology that was hooking the kids.


At the beginning of the next year, I used the tablet in every one of my classes.  I set up a website and began to post my notes online at the end of each day for students who were absent.  Then I began including handwritten answer keys that showed all of the steps required to solve a question.  When a student asked my a question from the previous day's homework, I would immediately ask them if they'd checked out the answer key online first.  It became a rule, and the students bought into it.  "I learn it way better if I figure it out for myself by looking at what you did while I'm at home, Mr. Dueck, and I can do it in my own time!" one of my students told me.


In November one of my top students became seriously ill, and missed 4 months of school.  Previously this would have meant dozens of after school tutorials, changing and modifying the learning outcomes of the course, and little chance of success.  When the student returned in April, she simply printed out the notes, quizzes, and answer keys that I had created using my tablet and Onenote.  She would work in my room after school each day while I did my marking and basically ignored her.  Occasionally she would ask a question.  Once she felt she had mastered the topic, she would do the review and mark it using the online answer key that I had created.  She would then write the test for that topic, and usually scored well above 90%.

After missing 4 months of Physics, she was able to finish with a final grade of 95%, and all it took was for me to post my notes online at the end of each day, which takes maybe 60 seconds.  Thanks to a Windows tablet and OneNote.


This past year I decided to take the next step.  Still using my tablet, still using Onenote as my primary annotation software, I decided to try and find some freeware screencasting software.  I began recording my lessons and posting them online as videos.  I emphasized to my students that if they were ever confused after a lesson, rewatching it that night would probably clear up their confusion.  "Hey, most of us need to be shown how to do something more than once," I would tell them.  At the end of the first unit, our first test was going to be on a Monday (the topic was Logarithms, in case you are interested).  On the Friday before the test I did my usual after school tutorial, and after all of the other students went home, one student stayed behind.  He told me he was completely lost, and broke down in tears.  He had decided to drop the course.  I suggested that he should at least write the first test (but I was only saying this so that he could feel like he had given an honest effort).  John, he was completely lost.  If I had put the test before him right then, he would have been lucky to score 25%.  He agreed to write the test on Monday.


Monday night I marked his test and he scored a B.  "What happened?" I asked him the next day.  "Mr. Dueck, on Saturday I rewatched all of your video lessons.  It took around 8 hours, but I figured out that I'd completely misunderstood Lesson 3, and that had continued to make me get everything else wrong.  When I watched the rest of the lessons, they suddenly all made sense!"  He finished the course with a B.


Since then, I've had students and teachers from all over the province email me.  Apparently my video lessons and online notes are getting referred from student to student via social networking.  Students who are living in small communities where they are trying to complete Physics or Math online (since their schools are too small to offer the courses at the 12th grade level) are finding my video lessons and notes hugely useful. 


This is not to trumpet my own horn, but to tell you what an incredibly useful educational tool a Windows Tablet combined with OneNote can be.  I've done numerous seminars for teachers around the province, and once they see what I'm doing, how easy it is, and how non-labor intensive it is (it's some of the best bang-for-my-buck that I do), their eyes light up, and they go back to their principals and request funding for a tablet.


While the Ipad is a nice product, I really believe that the educational future of tablets has to include a pen to write with.  Many of my university bound students see what I can do with OneNote and ask their parents to buy them a tablet for graduation.  I recommend one to any of my students who are going into science or math, for the ease with which you can take notes that include graphs, diagrams, and equations. 


I have to admit, I'm a little concerned by the direction that the tablet has taken.  I really feel that the Ipad is missing a significant educational use.  Can you imagine a future where a student has a electronic copy of their textbook that they can mark up in Onenote with a pen?  Highlight, color, add doodles and pictures to help explain key concepts.  Insert an MP3 recording of the lesson.  Drag in an HTML link from a relevant website.  All of this is made much easier WITHOUT multitouch, using a pen as your input device.  Please continue to encourage Microsoft to pursue the Windows tablet model.  Rather than try to compete with the Ipad, create an entirely new market among educators and students!


A colleague of mine who is a die-hard Apple fan (he loathes PC's with a passion) spent an hour in my classroom, saw how I used my tablet and Onenote, and purchased a Windows tablet the next week.  In his words, "Onenote is the type of program that Apple should have made a long time ago."  This brings me to my only criticism, John.  Microsoft has done a very poor job of advertising Onenote.  Most of my teaching colleagues have it on their laptops and have no idea what it is.  Once I show them, they are almost always impressed and become converts.  So, how about a Onenote commercial sometime?  It's the one program that Apple currently can't compete with!


Sorry for my long soapbox rant, but I wanted to let you know how your software is being used.  It's literally changing lives for some of my students.  Two years ago, a student who missed 4 months of school kept her mark high enough to apply for scholarships.  Last year, a student who was going to drop my course ended up getting a B and going to university.

Who knows what will happen this year!





PS By the way, if you have people who are using tablets in the classroom and they are asking questions, I've [Kelvin has] created a number of tutorial videos on using a tablet with Onenote.  They are available at:





Thanks for the letter, Kelvin, and thanks for the kind words (and even the “could be more kind” words Smile ).


Questions, comments, concerns and criticisms always welcome,


Comments (3)
  1. Charles says:

    I think that tablets should definitely include Touch, with pen as an optional extra. The iPad's omission of any kind of pen input is a bit dissapointing to me. While I type far faster than I can write, it would be nice to just make a quick note or annotation using a pen.

    Also, bad time to point out that Microsoft has just released OneNote for the iPhone?


  2. Ape-Inago says:

    One feature that would make OneNote the standard for interactive whiteboards and related teaching, would be to have the ability to playback inking and sync it to audio recording.  Having to screencast this is just a hack because it isn't built in.

  3. John says:

    Interesting suggestion – I forwarded it to our designers.

Comments are closed.

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