Using OneNote with an online class at Coursera

Every so often I check back in to our different user scenarios we design to make sure I still "get" how everyone uses OneNote in their lives. One of our core scenarios is that of a student who wants to use OneNote to take notes about a class. About the time I was thinking about this, I also found, and online class site that offers close to 20 classes (as I write this). Udacity and Udemy offer similar online formats, and there is also the Khan Academy. There was a Model Thinking class that looked interesting to me so I signed up and created a section to hold notes.

I used my Personal notebook on Skydrive to hold this section. This way I can access it via my phone or notebook, and even any kiosk I can get to if those devices are not available. This made me think about how I wanted to add my data to the page. My first choice was how to take notes. I wanted to avoid ink for 1 simple reason more than any functional reason – it’s hard to read my own writing. I could potentially convert my inked notes to text but Coursera offers a full transcript of the audio for each lesson and I decided to use that instead of my own notes. Why settled for some small percentage of the ideas expressed in the class when I can get the entire transcript?

The only other sticking point was how to store the pages in OneNote. I finally went with this:


Each set of talks takes about an hour, but is divided into smaller sets of 5-20 minutes each. So I created an Overview page for each of the lessons and added a single page for each talk within the lesson below it. So for lesson 3, I can see there were 5 total videos and what each was. Each page has a copy of the slides and the transcript of the text. I did not download the video to add to OneNote simply because I did not want to spend the time downloading files that large after seeing it streamed. I indented the pages so I can collapse the page tabs as well.

The last decision was whether to add the slide deck as a printout or as an attached file. Again, since I have the full transcript, I decided to just add the file as an attachment. Since I was not taking notes, I did not need each slide available.

Without that full transcript, though, I would have done 2 things differently. I would have downloaded the video and dropped it on a page, then taken notes as I played the video. That way my notes would be synchronized to each lesson and I could use that when playing it back. Second, I would have printed the slides so I could take notes alongside them as the lesson was playing.

The class itself is fairly interesting and has a pretty low entry barrier (a little algebra is all you seem to need). And for what its worth, there are about 89,000 folks around the world enrolled in this course. Oh, and for the math in the class, I use OneNote’s "napkin math" feature to solve the problems.

Next up I am going to think about how OneNote can be improved to work with online classes like this.

Anyone else doing this? Feel free to sound off!

Questions, comments, concerns and criticisms always welcome,


Comments (2)

  1. Another interesting scenario of using OneNote says:

    Hi. I think this approach of using OneNote  is interesting too:

    (the automatic notes text parsing and linking pages with each other)

  2. John says:

    Wow – that is a detailed guide I will share with our team!  We've heard from a large number of people studying scripture and using OneNote so it is nice to see how you are doing this.