OneNote in Education eBook – Chapter 3: OneNote for collective learning


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Following the launch of our OneNote in Education e-book we are running a series of blogs which look at the ways in which OneNote can be used in the classroom to help achieve better learning outcomes for students. This post looks at Chapter 3: OneNote for collective learning, but if you missed the previous blogs, you can find them here:

Chapter 1: What is OneNote?
Chapter 2: OneNote Class Notebook

This e-book was created with the help of #MIEExpert, Emma Hicks, and can be seen in its entirety here:


Chapter 3: OneNote for collective learning

OneNote enhances students’ opportunities to participate in collective learning. It is the digital notebook that allows students to actively contribute their ideas into a shared learning environment, both whilst inside the classroom and at home. For me, using OneNote in this way provides several clear strengths, lets find out more...

The strengths of collective learning on OneNote:

  • It does not require using a OneNote Class Notebook with Office 365 and can therefore be created without any prior setup.
  • Students can contribute during and outside of lessons.
  • Enables the teacher or students to effectively model their work live.
  • Supports students with low-level literacy skills by allowing for a variety of differentiated roles enabling them to contribute in ways suitable to their skills.
  • Learning is stored online and is accessible to all students at all times!
  • Allows the teacher to easily refer to previous work in future lessons to help consolidate learning gains.

…but how can I use OneNote to enable collective learning?

Modelling creativity

Modelling is an integral part of all students’ learning, but modelling does not need to come solely from the teacher or the textbook.

How to do it:

For a quick and effective set up:

  1. Create a notebook for your class.
  2. Set up a task on a page.
  3. Email your students a link.

First, as a personal recommendation, I suggest including an additional page with a mark scheme or level descriptors, to enable your students’ work to be informed by their targets. You might also decide to model a response to give your students an understanding of the expectation/ requirements of the task. This could include a variety of levelled responses to accommodate all of your learners.

In the example shown within the eBook, you will see that students have written their own messages in a bottle from the stranded characters in Lord of the Flies. This activity was a home learning task that served as an introduction to creative writing. The additional page includes a ladder of assessment criteria from a B grade to an A although these can of course be easily changed to suit the needs of any individual learner.

Why it works:

Establishing a task such as this, enables all students to see from the perspective of the characters in this novel. It also models the work of other students allowing for learners to take ideas from the work of their peers. OneNote promotes students to feel safe and comfortable when browsing their peers work, as it can be done anonymously, a challenge for any classroom teacher. In this example students could consider the different possible letters from one particular character to his friends and family back home from each other’s examples, opening their eyes to ideas and viewpoints that they would not normally have considered.

This was perfect for some of my quieter, less confident students who rarely share ideas in lessons. They hugely benefited from the different ideas and enjoyed receiving positive feedback from their classmates. I have used this process to submit anonymous and controversial responses which have led to some rather interesting and thought provoking discussions amongst my students…

Project-based learning

Project-based learning/research projects are a popular and effective tool within education. However, monitoring and assessing progress, whilst allowing your students the responsibility of not only taking their work home but looking after it and ensuring it returns, is a problem that faces all teachers. OneNote is the solution.

How to do it:

The image found in the eBook shows a pair of Media A-Level students’ mind map of their initial ideas for a coursework task. This mind-map was placed onto a page where other students in their group were tasked with identifying the texts necessary to support each idea.

If for instance, drama students were tasked with finding images that represented bravery for a performance, they could take photos on their phone, find worthy news stories or YouTube videos and instantly embed them onto their page for others to see, prompting questioning, high level thinking and the occasional good laugh.

I have found that students are highly motivated by project-based learning on OneNote. They enjoy and are highly engaged by the use of technology and are clearly driven by the ownership they have of their work. As OneNote is accessible to students on their phones it can be something they check during their daily routine. The instant nature of working collectively on OneNote has really appealed to the teenagers I work with and some of the best examples of work has stemmed from moments of spontaneous creativity captured by students on their mobiles.

Why it works:

As mentioned before, OneNote allows project-based learning to be accessible and organised for students and teachers at all times. When conducting a group research project, the expectation that students will organise themselves to meet outside of class can be too much for some. With OneNote there can be no excuses. The instant access that groups have to their members and their work allows students to contribute to projects at a time that suits them. OneNote also identifies to the teachers the levels of contribution of each individual member of the group. When making this known to my classes midway through a project, I have seen rapid increases in the levels of contribution from students who had been riding the coattails of others.

The feedback that I have received from my students regarding OneNote’s role in project based learning has been exceptional. The additional level of responsibility made them feel more ‘professional’ as they embarked on a series of research tasks outside of the usual lined paper exercise books they were used to. The accountability of individuals contributions to their group was not only a comfort for some, but a needed pressure for others.

Collective annotation

Planning for an annotation activity within learning often requires a password and an amount of time with a photocopier that teachers just don’t have. OneNote allows the full potential of annotation tasks to be realised with none of the paper work, departmental charges or frustration as the photocopier breaks down… again!

How to do it:

The collective annotation example within the eBook shows an annotated paragraph of language techniques from students on a PowerPoint slide. As the teacher I have then inserted this slide into a notebook for the whole class to use. OneNote allows me to access this work at any time. So I could present this on the board at a later date when students are annotating a different passage providing a strong exemplar to work from, or they could access this resource from home to help them when revising for an upcoming assessment.

The second example shows an exam question on OneNote which has been annotated by a GCSE class. This picture has been taken directly into OneNote from paper using Office Lens. Circling key words and deciphering what the examiner is looking for in a response are powerful and regularly used teaching techniques in the run up to exams, however using OneNote allows me to create a bank of annotated exam questions that the students can refer to throughout the year.

Why it works:

This provides a visual aid and promotes a habit of the thought process that students must go through when considering a response. Students are able to refer back to the annotations on not only this example, but potentially every past paper question ever asked. The exposure to these past exam questions in class and as home learning is obviously a regular and effective tool, however the effect of having an instantly accessible bank of annotated past exam questions provides an invaluable resource to your students.

Collective exam responses

As teachers, providing our students with a model answer to a past exam question is a regular feature of classroom learning, especially in the run up to exam times. Let us think for a second the power that this process could hold if these model answers were constructed by the students for the students.

How to do it:

By providing the class with an exam/ assessment question, using OneNote students can contribute a response that can be seen by the whole class and the teacher. These responses could be a whole answer or focus on a single point, however the impact remains the same. The teacher, or as I have found, more importantly the students, can annotate and edit each others responses. This is an active process and can take as long as the teacher deems necessary, but what is created by the end of this process is the same model answer, developed by the students. This is a high impact alternative of providing an exemplary answer and one that engages the students. I have set this task both during lessons and within none contact time. Using technology such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, my students can hand write their responses and see these changes live on the board. Activities such as these could also be set as home learning tasks to be completed as either a consolidation exercise or prior to a lesson as initial responses to gage the classes’ current levels of understanding.

Why it works:

This process enables all students not only exposure to the model answer, but an active role in constructing it. I have found this to be an engaging challenge for all abilities within groups. Their collective responses are saved and banked within OneNote, allowing these to be referred back to. OneNote provides students with a greater sense of achievement than if I myself modelled an A grade response. It also seems to jog their memory a little more when we refer back as these are their ideas and their work. As students develop their responses, the role of the teacher may be active or passive however they are always involved and can support by prompting responses appropriately.


In Chapter 4, we will be taking a closer look at how OneNote can provide a way to organise and store assessment for learning from both inside and outside of the classroom.

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