Art and #OneNote ? My 5 responses

So a colleague posted this on a Yammer conversation the other day and I didn’t want to try to post to it without some explanations, for which Yammer did not provide sufficient space.  And since Microsoft encouraged us to post “5 point articles” I feel constrained to continue in that fashion 🙂

I’m not sure I ever would have suggested digital inking to create art in OneNote… there are FAR better tools for that!  Brief sketches, initial designs perhaps but a full art curriculum deserves far more than OneNote can offer (and that’s OneNote’s biggest advocate talking!)
Amongst OneNote’s strengths (see a 5-point rundown here) are its sharing abilities and ease with multimedia. My ideas, then, are based on that understanding … how easy it is take take anything and share it — and then build on it. I am not sure it necessarily enhances Art but it does bring Art and the learning of Art into a richer environment.
These also require no more than what is available with the free version at http://www.onenote.com — and the vast majority within the simple OneNote Online app available in any web browser.  Using more advanced tools like the OneNote Class Notebook (see http://www.onenoteforteachers.com) bring in even more opportunities 
1. OneNote as a digital portfolio
For art students, developing a rich portfolio of their work is important.  OneNote provides a way of easily collecting pieces of work and allowing others to access them read-only.  Images of student work are easily inserted but if the art work is digitally based, the source files can also be included.  If the art is 3 dimensional, video can be embedded in the page alongside text-based descriptions.
We do the development of a digital portfolio across all of our courses, not just art, and it changes the conversation amongst teacher and student and parent.  Having a continuum of student work helps describe the student’s learning far more than the mark on any test.
2. OneNote as part of the creative cycle

Art is a process — have the students take snapshots of their work each day as they proceed through the creative cycle.  Each section is an art piece, each page in that section a snapshot and a conversation.  Describe and reflect on what changes they see in their work and make their progress meaningful; have them develop a vocabulary and a facility with purposeful reflection — and then have them reflect on their overall evolution as a student throughout the art piece and throughout the year.
Feedback can be collected through an Office365 survey link on the art gallery page (umm, #3 below) and copy/pasted onto a page within the appropriate section to which the student can respond either privately in their space or publicly back on the gallery. 
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). The Ontario curriculum grades 9-10: The Arts. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/arts.html 

3. OneNote as a public art gallery
Create a OneNote; each Section tab is a particular assignment and so throughout the year, a page is added for each student.  Create a sharing link for View Only and send it around.  The public (other students, parents) can then flip through pages and see the students’ work develop across a variety of pieces without worrying that the tape will fail and let the piece fall to the floor.  

Recording audio & video is
built into OneNote Desktop

Students can write their motivations and intents with their work on the space below the art or include audio or video commentary.  No names need to be attached to the pages but viewers can comment via an Office365 Survey Link and the feedback can be (filtered and) posted on the appropriate art piece.  The centre of the Creative Process is feedback and OneNote and the Internet provide the opportunity like no bulletin board ever could.

4. OneNote as an art history/critique reservoir 
While I’m not sure what or how the art teacher teaches, I do know that the culminating course at our school is the AP Art History.  The course requires a tremendous amount of familiarity with art forms throughout the centuries and the writing of a standardized exam that includes multiple choice and free response questions — so it is not solely the creation of art but a great deal more reading, writing and analysis that one would find in a History or English course.  OneNote excels at the organization, distribution and re-organization (era versus artist versus media, etc) of this type of information.
College Board.  (2012). Art History Course Description.  Retrieved from http://media.collegeboard.com/digitalServices/pdf/ap/ap-art-history-course-description.pdf
It is easy to have each student have a OneNote filled with all the art they discussed this year, their commentary and your feedback.  It’s not a massive tome (I’ve seen Art History books!) that they can access and add to any time.  
What’s nice is that they can tie it to their phones and, while walking around, find “art” in their surrounding world and bring it back to the classroom without any more effort than snapping the original picture.  
5.  Do nothing
Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing.  If they’re a good teacher without OneNote, that’s great!
I know my faculty rather well, having worked here for over a decade.  I usually know what I can get away with.  Some teachers I would never enter into a discussion about their use of technology in their classroom beyond the occasional hint.  
That said, I can suggest the use of technology to make their administrative tasks better.  How using OneNote in their department, in their extracurricular activities, in the required pieces of our assessment process — these are processes that are outside of their expertise in the classroom can be improved.  What has always happened is that as they see how OneNote changes how they work with information, how they collaborate and communicate, they see how that can be adapted into their classroom.  Our biggest OneNote advocate was an insistent naysayer in our first year but saw how meetings and PLNs were using OneNote and, through her own understanding of teaching & learning, found her own purposes for it.  She’s been pushing for improvements ever since.

Top 5 reasons to use #OneNote in your classroom

Microsoft asked if we could put together 5-point tip lists.  As it happens, I had started to scribble down some thoughts on a recent snow day (a Rumspringa for teachers) and never got it completed so while I’m on March Break I have the time to finish it up.

This is just basic, free OneNote — without any special add-ons like Onetastic or the OneNote Class or Staff Notebooks.

Screenshot of shared Notebook for the 3-week PCMI PD workshop.
Since we didn’t use paper, everything was continuously updated
 and accessible by the participants

1. OneNote is sharing

Even before the amazing classroom space of the OneNote Class Notebook was created, OneNote was always about sharing.  You create a notebook and share it (via an emailed or web-based link) with anyone you want to either view or edit.  They don’t need to have OneNote installed and, depending on how you share it, they don’t even need to sign in.

You’re only three clicks from sharing your Notebook
… either view or edit.  Individuals or the world…

I’ve used it with in and out of school with colleagues to develop and deliver Professional Development, with various groups of students to work on Model UN debate planning, and at conferences to both share resources (in the place of paper handouts) and get participation during the session (see #5).

Now, lots of applications allow for sharing but it’s been built into OneNote since 2003 — it’s part of the ecosystem from the ground up.  When you’re in your Notebood, click on FILE and then SHARE and choose your options.  Be careful, if you choose a Sharing Link and Edit, the entire world can edit your Notebook (fortunately, you can disable the link after the conference is over so there’s a read-only copy).

2. OneNote is free-form and accepts ANYTHING in any location (and is re-arrangeable)

OneNote accepts you as you come.  It’s a blank page you can click anywhere and start typing or writing.  You can drag & drop any file onto the page or print it out to see the contents of your file as if it were paper.

A OneNote Page can contain text, embedded files of any type, digital ink,
images, audio/video and links to external content

If you’re working and you want to insert something, it makes space (either vertically or horizontally) — as a mathematics teacher, this is remarkably convenient when you need space between questions!

If you want to drop a picture somewhere you do it.  Or maybe it’s an audio or video recording.  Make a link to something else, done — it’s a wiki without any restraint.  Want to type a list?   Leave a post-it note? Tag something? (Really, I need a whole post on how to use Tags inside OneNote).

And everything OneNote takes in, it indexes so that you can find it when you want it.  Although there’s a nice heirarchial structure to the NoteBook–>Section–>Page–>SubPage, you start to have a lot of content in some Notebooks so having your own personal search engine makes life more manageable.

What amazes me is that it indexes your handwriting!  Which brings us to #3.

3. OneNote is built for digital ink
For me, this is the any-other-notetaking-option-killer — being able to sketch, doodle, draw, graph, design with a pen anywhere on the page, or over existing content, has no equal.  There’s a reason cavemen didn’t type their work, and Archimedes wasn’t killed protecting his ENTER key.  Be able to free-hand matches our natural inclination to think graphically.

Once you get used to using ink (on an infinitely long page) you have the option of changing your pen’s colour, thickness and transparency.  We tie our OneNotes to our wireless projectors and so everybody gets an interactive whiteboard with a multitude of markers.

If you’re the formal type, you can have OneNote change your Ink to Text or your inked Mathematical Equations to Text.

4. OneNote is structured


We’ve found that OneNote has a metaphor that people accept readily… it’s a Notebook, broken up into sections like the Hilroy coloured tabs we always used to use to break our binders into sections.  Just like our binder’s sections, each section could have as many pages as you’d like.

And, just like your binder-of-old, you can put blank paper, lined paper or graph paper into your OneNote using the Templates.

And you can make your own templates — we made staff paper for music classes — by designing the page you want and then making it a template.  

While #4 and #2 seem to be in opposition, it is precisely this balance of being open and structured that makes it so useful in a classroom.  Depending on the task, the environment and the teacher’s pedagogical approach, having access to differing levels of openness and structures makes OneNote a great choice for developing, distributing and assessing content..

5. OneNote is free and on almost every device
OneNote is FREE to EVERYBODY which means teachers, students and parents can get involved in learning right away.  And it’s available not only as an application on most devices (iPad, Mac, Windows, Android) but on any device with a modern web browser.  Head on over to www.onenote.com and get started.

There are some variations to capabilities (Windows Desktop is the most powerful) but in the past year Microsoft has increased the functions on all platforms by leaps and bounds.

Remember than any student and teacher has free access to Office365: Link
If it isn’t set up be sure to contact your IT administration!

The 5 Next Steps a Teacher takes with the #OneNoteClass Notebook

We’ve had almost four years with our OneNote ClassBinder, having rolled it out to every class from 7 to 12, math to languages to phys-ed every year.  In the first year we had 85% of classes voluntarily use it — that’s the power of handing teachers the open structure of OneNote!  (People always ask about training… here’s my notes on that topic.)

The easy part is already done by OneNote and the OneNote ClassNotebook Creator (get them both free here http://www.onenoteforteachers.com/ !) OneNote gives you a wide open canvas for any type of content and the ease of automatically syncing across any device.  The ClassNotebook Creator creates the structure that teachers & students need to use OneNote effectively, without having to think about it.

So, here’s the Five Next Steps once you have the OneNote ClassNotebook Creator run:

1) Put the important stuff “Above the Fold 
Take over the introductory page and make it your Announcements/Course Plan page — put what’s most important right there as soon as you look at the Notebook.  And it’s always just a green up-arrow away (if you keep clicking the green up arrow, you get to the top of the Notebook…)

When you first open the Notebook, the “top” of the Notebook is a series of pages meant to provide a tutorial for OneNote.  You can edit this with whatever you want.  We even rename it to “CP”.  You may notice that we keep our Section Names as short as possible to conserve horizontal space.

We made ours a Course Plan common across the school so that students, parents and other teachers (including substitutes) would know what was being done each day as well as a history and future plans.  It’s been very successful!

This is what the opening pages look like when you first use the OneNote ClassNotebook Creator…

… we get rid of them, add a table and fill in one cell for each class.  We broke it up into terms (1) so there’s a minimum of scrolling.  We also track the Curriculum Expectations for each day (a requirement of our Ministry) on the sub-page.  We’ve standardized this Course Plan so that the HW is bolded at the bottom of each cell (2).

2) Tag… you’re now Link-ed 
One metaphor that can be useful to new users of OneNote is that it’s similar to a wiki — you can create pages, as many as you want, put anything on them and link between and beyond them.  In OneNote, you can link internally to paragraph, pages and sections — just right click the object and it will give you the direct link to that object! — as well as to external resources.  You can see an example in the Course Plan in row (2) above but in the screen shot below you’ll see that the teacher has both external links to webpages AND internal links within her Teacher Content Library (1).  She links to the homework pages that are in her Teacher space in (2) and (3) and both to the outside web and her HW in (4).  This makes it a lot easier for students to find their work.

This teacher takes the additional step of tagging all her notes… she create a DATE tag so that all of her work is catalogued by date (more on that in a minute).  She also tags external resources that will prove useful (notice the “globe link” icon next to (1) ).  She also uses invisible tags that are actually the highlighted homework and the deadlines (2).

Why does she tag by date and invisibly tag her homework & deadlines?  Because OneNote not only lets you search by Tag (well, honestly, it indexes everything so that’s actually nothing special) but it also lets you pull together a summary of Tags in your Notebook.  So she can click FIND TAGS button (on the Home Ribbon) and the right window shows a Tag Summary for the Notebook, the Section, the Page (see the granularity?) … 
She can then ask for a Summary Page (button at the bottom) which makes a new page of this Summary, linking every tag to the page/paragraph from which it came.  Want all the Homework for the entire year?  All the websites you’ve asked students to visit?  Tag them when you put them down and then ask for the summary!
Of course, students can use the tag function in their own notes… and, as I mentioned, you can make your own tags.

3) Set up individual group space
The Collaboration Space in OneNote is a great opportunity for the whole class to come together and share and create knowledge.  But sometimes, you know, you just want the students (or faculty) to work in a separate group that offers some privacy & security.  With a little hack, you can have individual spaces for smaller groups.  Here’s how we do it:

What’s nice about this is that you can have groups of any size AND also bring in other participants … we’ve created ClassNotebooks between classes, courses and grades to allow for cross-curricular and multi-age assignments.

4) Define a space for assignment collection
When the first sketch of the OneNote Class Notebook went up on our whiteboard, we made sure there was a defined space for students to put the work they wanted to formally submit to a teacher and where a teacher knew they could “collect” it from.  We call it _A (for Assignments).  Now, a teacher can go into any student’s section and provide feedback on the student’s work but we still wanted to be able to have work we specifically want to look at, formally provide feedback and return it.  And we didn’t want to have to look for it — even searching for the work (which works really well because OneNote indexes everything, including handwritten work and audio) adds another step.  Remember our overall goal is to always reduce clicks — one click across 120 faculty each day adds up!

There’s no work to do this … hopefully when you run the OneNote ClassNotebook Creator you named a section in each student for this purpose (we use _A as I said).  That way, it’s automatically there without any work!  Of course, if the horse is already out of the stable, you just have to have each student right-click in their Section to create a Section called _A and move it to the front of their tabs.  That should work for 90% of your class and for the 10% you can create it when you notice it missing.

5) Create a digital portfolio
Once you’ve collected student work and provided assessment, you want their legacy of learning to be documented.  We used to use file folders or binders to keep student work in but that kept it out of the student’s hands (no offence to students but if you asked them to keep the file folder a certain percentage would go missing).  With the OneNote ClassNotebook you can define a space in the student section where students know they can go to to see their formally assessed work.  We’ve set it up so that they can read but not edit the pages — but they can drag a copy of the page back to their section to keep working on.
We call it the _R section (for Returned) – what’s really nice is that as the teacher I can reach back into previous year’s OneNote ClassNotebooks for exemplars for present students.  I, and of course the student, can also survey the development the student has made over the year.
Here’s how we set it up: A digital portfolio

That’s the first five … the amazing thing about OneNote is how flexible it is in the objects it can contain and how you can structure it.  In the past year Microsoft has moved mountains in making different versions to work more like the Desktop version — and folks like Darrell Webster (web page) are adding layers on top of that.  We’re only at the beginning of creating an incredible learning space that builds on what students, teachers and parents are familiar with and, through digitization, makes student and teacher knowledge construction connected and usable.

Hacking the OneNote Class Notebook Part II : A digital portfolio

So as soon as I posted the previous blog on changing permissions, I was asked how I would create a Digital Portfolio section inside the student’s section; that is, a section that the teacher can add content to but the student can’t change.  (Yes, it’s not the full spirit of a DP but it has aspects of the footprints of a DP.)  It’s a bit of a challenge to get at the files (and there’s likely a quicker way) but here’s how I get at it…

Go to your site. As I mentioned in the previous blog, when you first look at OneNote notebooks in Sharepoint/Office365, they appear to be one single file.  They’re not, though … what we’re seeing is analogous to a zip file and we need to see the individual files inside.  Each section in the Notebook is an actual file so we can base our permissions on each tab.

So… how to get to the files?  There likely is an easier way… but here goes.

Head on over to your site and click on the Gear for Site Contents.

You’re looking for your EDU OneNote document library (i.e. folder).  It’s NOT the purple OneNoteNotebook Creator!  Click into it to get the file listing.  It should only show one folder.

Head on up to the LIBRARY menu and choose LIBRARY SETTINGS.

Now we’re going to change the PERMISSIONS FOR THIS DOCUMENT LIBRARY

Here’s where we can get at the individual files that make up the OneNote Notebook.  Click on SHOW THESE ITEMS.

The pop-up will show you all the Section Groups inside your OneNote Notebook… you’ll notice that there’s not many in mine since I’m only using our Test Student for this exercise.

We’re now going to dig inside Test Student to get at the individual sections.  Click on Test Student and then click on Test Student again on the next screen (you of course would click on John Doe and then John Doe again on the next screen – or whatever the student’s name it).

Voila!  We have all the Sections that are in this student’s Section Group.

Now to deal with the permissions.  Let’s pick on Quizzes and make it a read-only “marked quizzes” section.

Click on the 3-point menu next to Quizzes and then in the pop-up window click SHARE and then in the next pop window click SHARED WITH and then click on ADVANCED.

Notice how in the picture below the Quizzes Section is inheriting its permission from the top level, since all the Sections in the student’s Section Group are based on the student — they’re all Contribute on the student’s part and Full Control for the teacher (me, Calvin Armstrong).  We’re going to change this!

Click STOP INHERITING PERMISSIONS.  Here’s where things get dicey… if Microsoft ever modifies their app to change permissions after Notebook creation this may cause problems.  Be warned.  (Although, in our first year this is how we experimented with sections a lot and we survived.)  If you understand the risk, click OK on the warning popup.

We’re going to change the permissions to Read for the student so click on the student name, then EDIT PERMISSIONS.

On the next screen we get to choose which level of permissions we want for the student.  Since we want this to be a collection of all their quizzes but don’t want them to edit it, we’re going to remove Contribute (turn it off) and make it Read only (turn on Read).

And once you click OK the student can no longer change the contents of this Section.
So now, the teacher can mark the student’s quizzes and drag it into the Quizzes section and while the student can see the result, they can’t change the mark.  They can drag a copy into their own section and work on it again, but the one in Quizzes will remain.

Again… no warranty on this process and test, test, test on your own sample Notebooks to make sure it works well on your system.

But now… if you create a section called Private in the Content Library, you can go through these steps for the Content Library folder (replace “Test Student” with “Content Library” in these steps) and you’ll be able to edit the permissions on that Section to be only the teacher having access and none of the students.

Let me know how you’ve used it!  We’ve already added a Parental Contribution page to our Middle School student’s course notebooks so that the parents can engage in a conversation with the teacher and the student within the OneNote Binder.  Lots of options!

Hacking the OneNote Class Notebook Part III : Planning in _Private

I realized the other day while writing Parts 1 (link) & 2 (link) that I’d never talked about the Private Teacher Section Group in our OneNote Binders…

During our first year with the OneNote Binders (our initial design that ended up becoming the OneNote Class Notebook) we quickly realized we needed a private space in the _Teacher section of the Notebook… teachers were having to create additional Notebooks to do their planning and then copying the material into the class Notebook for students to get access to.
So during our first year we trialled with a few teachers creating a _P section group within the _Teacher section group (the “Content Library” of the #OneNoteClass) that students had no rights to — and it worked perfectly!  Teachers could not only prep lessons & units ahead of time and keep them within the appropriate Notebook but they could also use them for assessment notes, markbooks, exemplars, etc.  The next year, the teachers moved the entire contents of the year’s Notebook into the _Private section of the current year’s Notebook… they could then reflect & refine without having to worry about where to find things.

So now when I go into my _Teacher Section Group, far off to the right I see _P … that’s the Private Section that the students and parents cannot see (our parents can see all of my content).

When I click on in to the _P Section Group I see all of my preparation for the entire year, all of my anecdotal comments on my students as well my archive of all the previous times I’ve taught this course (well, all the previous times using OneNoteClass).

One of the teachers gave us the hint to put a special section at the beginning called “Private” so we would know at a glance whether we were in the Private section or not.

We also have to be careful because we use OneNote as our whiteboard through wireless projection so we need to be paused or not projecting before we move into the Private area.

Now… how do you get this in OneNote Class Notebook?  We’re assuming this will be something Microsoft eventually adds but here’s the how-to… (no warranty, of course, and you should always try this out on a test Class Notebook before jumping in on a live Notebook).

My very patient colleague Graham AlthamLewis is testing the OneNote Class Notebook with students and parents for his Advisory Group (instead of our on-prem Binders) and he wanted a _P section like his OneNote Binders… so here how’s we did it…

And a HT to Darryl Webster because I always forget how to adjust the web address to get at the full structure of the OneNote in Office 365 (our programmer was far too nice and made a button for me to “explode” our OneNote Binders that are on-prem).

Hacking the OneNote Classroom Notebook

So the amazing Marilyn Steier, an educator from Alberta I met while in Barcelona for the Microsoft Global Forum last year, asked a question on Microsoft’s Canada Education Yammer group (Link) about removing students and teachers from the OneNote Class Notebook.  And it got me thinking … we’ve been using the OneNote Binders at Appleby College school wide for the past three years — it’s a pretty sophisticated tool.  We happily showed Microsoft our framework and they created the OneNote Class Notebook Creator … it lets anyone use something similar to our OneNote Binder for free!  If you’re not already using it… go to www.onenoteforteachers.com and get it.

But our OneNote Binder has a lot of features that the Microsoft Class Notebook doesn’t yet have.  We have a group collaboration section where teams of any size can work in private (so Janey and Johnny can work in their section while Tommy and Tammy work in theirs, unlike the Collaboration Library where everyone sees everything).  We also have a Private section in the Teacher Section (or Content Section) where teachers can plan things and students can’t see them (and I just realized I never blogged about that!).  And in the student section we have a private space just for teachers (that the student can’t see!  in their own section!) as well as a section that the student can see but can’t change — a “marked work” space that pulls together a digital portfolio.  More info is available here: Link or check my blog for articles tagged OneNote.

We figure Microsoft is making a beautiful interface that will eventually provide similar functionality but in the meantime, if you’re up to hacking a bit, you can have many of the same features.

This comes with no warranty. Do not use on functioning class notebooks.  Test. Test. Test.  

The challenge is that Office365/Sharepoint Online shows OneNote Notebooks as one purple-icon’d file.  There’s no way to get at the individual files.  (This article starts to explain the why & how.)  Going in through the back door shows the individual file permissions… and from there you can remove student or teacher permissions OR and more importantly you can create layered permissions within the Notebook as Appleby has.  Want a section that a teacher, a parent and a student only have permissions to?  But the parent can’t edit it? Here’s your chance!  Or a dept. head should be able to read all the content but not edit?  Yup… change permissions will get you that.

Now we’ve automated this “individualizing permissions” process at Appleby College and I expect Microsoft will eventually do the same thing for everyone.  But if you’re up to the experimentation process (which will involve failure and screw-up so fore-warned is fore-armed) feel free to start poking around!

I felt this tingle while shoveling snow…

So we had a snow day Monday.  I won’t go in to the gloriousness that a snow day is here in Canada.  Suffice it to say that they’re as close to heaven as you can get without dying.
It came at a cost; there was 35cm of snow across my neighbourhood.  My neighbours are not teachers, they tend to be young families or retired folks — so when I get a snow day, I grab my shovel and start clearing the snow from their driveways and steps.  I know how privileged I am to get the day free and not have to drive, slowly and dangerously, to work on snow-covered roads.
As I was shoveling through five different driveways, I was using my phone to play music.  I kept getting this buzz of messages coming in, though… which is unusual on a snow day.  It turned out that students, safely tucked away at home, were using Yammer (our conversation space) to ask and answer math questions unbidden by their teachers!
Now, we had great success at Christmas prior to exams as students used Yammer to post their questions to the larger group and have answers given by their colleagues and a variety of teachers.  But this was another step altogether… on what is clearly a “day off” they were building on a space, making it their own, and learning at their own pace and of their own desire.  And these are students who are separated by what could be considerable distance, say 50km at most and not planning to engage in a synchronous manner, like Skype.
Now, Yammer messages are written in text but our students readily used OneNote and their pen-based tablets to write out their mathematics when it was convenient and post the images — they’re not limited to trying to tap out mathematical expressions.  Being able to sketch makes all the difference in the world when you’re trying to learn through problem solving.
Overall, Yammer usage continues to grow — we are making a concerted effort to move away from inefficient emails to a more elastic, searchable, shareable and analyze-able information and discussion site.  It’s been great to see folks post their pictures of their pets in response to a student request and for another student to post his computer science project for any student or faculty to experiment with and offer feedback.  I love that a digital environment is lowering barriers to communications between parties — although we’re a close school family, there is still reluctance of students to talk to teachers just because they’re teachers.  Yammer provides a less onerous way to talk that doesn’t exist often in the hierarchical physical space of “school”.  And they’re obviously not held back waiting for a teacher to say something!

If you build it, they don’t always come.  But, if you coach and model the behaviour you want to see, as we did at Christmas, they will stand on their own.

There’s no I in TEAM (there’s an _A, _M and _R though!)

When we first introduced the OneNote Binders, amongst the immediate requests was for group collaboration spaces.  For the first year, we had the teachers request them through our IT request system and manually created them and assigned the permissions.  But, given the convenience of OneNote, we knew we wanted a dynamic solution… and so we rolled out a webapp that would create groups of any size or shape!

The teacher goes to the webapp and decides on a name for the Project and then assigns students to groups.  Some teachers will create only one group and then they have a section that everyone can contribute to.  Groups can be of any size and students can be in more than one group.  The groups can also change as needed, so if you need to shuffle a person to a different group, once you do the permissions are changed to reflect their new position.

Inside of each team’s section group are the regular sections for Assignments, Marking (that is private to teachers) and Returned (the digital portfolio). see description here
Unlike the regular student sections, the group sections are not available to the student’s parents since parents would also see the work of other students.

Teachers have been very creative in using these collaborative spaces… some have used them for discussion boards, for script writing, for Minecraft project development (since screen clipping and sketches work so well in a pen-based tablet environment), math exam review.  Really, whenever you want students to work together.  And since it’s so easy to copy content back into their personal sections, you can still tease out what they’re contributing after the group work has complete.

While dynamic groups aren’t yet (January 2015) a part of Microsoft’s version of the OneNote Class Notebook given the success we’ve had (and the general clamouring for collaboration) I’d expect to see it appear relatively soon.

Facebook question on “tablets”

A friend asked the following on Facebook so I thought I’d provide my response to promote discussion more generally.

Who all is in a one-to-one tablet school? How’s that going? Use them daily? Weekly? Monthly? Blue-moonly? Curious if the tablets are making a difference or just a thing.

I’m going to make the distinction between a tablet (iPad or Android slab) and a tabletPC (Microsoft Surface Pro or Dell Latitude, amongst others). The former are really personal consumption devices and their long-term viability in a classroom are limited relative to the latter, which are desktop replacements. You will likely see more success through implementing BYOD with student personal mobile devices (i.e. smartphones) than with a 1:1 slab program.
We only saw intensive & continual up-take and use of technology by faculty & students when we moved to a pen-based tabletPC which allowed for free-form input (i.e. “writing”) on a digital surface with sufficient computing power to keep up with mathematical work and allowed for easy movement of ideas and digital content (ink, text, images, audio, video) between applications. (I would emphasize that Microsoft OneNote helped create the environment to facilitate this process).

Once students & faculty could treat their tabletPC as we would paper, almost all our content is digital — this means it can be shared and collaborated on with ease. So groupwork is not based on physical or temporal proximity (although really, it still is but we are no longer constrained). Neither does feedback depend on a physical or temporal imposition — I can add suggestions to a student’s work when I am free to do so, not by collecting their work from them since everything is in the same “cloud”.

What about Chromebooks?

The challenge with Chromebooks (and any non-inking-device) is that mathematics is not meant to be typed. To do mathematics is to doodle & sketch — and you need to have digital ink to allow that free form input. They may help to change the learning space in humanities & languages but in the maths and sciences they’re less likely to have an effect.

Having said all that, starting the process of experimenting with teaching and learning with technology is the right step .. use what you have. But I think it’s important to recognize the desire of mathematics to be free and not limited to the device’s nature.  🙂

Lync in a Snowstorm: Video-conferencing the Music Classroom

Okay, so it’s not Buffalo, but one of our teachers lives out in the country and due to the recent snowstorm was unable to come to school.  Normally, that isn’t a great emergency as we do our own coverages for missing teachers internally so students tend to get a teacher who can keep them moving in their subject areas.

But I was chatting with our snow-bound music teacher while she was at home and she was worried about one of her classes that she wanted to touch base with.   I mentioned that it wouldn’t be a problem to quickly throw together a Lync video-conference with her students and I’d be happy to do the physical setup at the school end.

So she went to Outlook and created a Lync meeting — it’s easy if you’ve ever made an appointment in Outlook… click the NEW LYNC MEETING in the toolbar and it creates a conference room that everyone is invited to.  Although you set a time, it exists as soon and as long as someone logs in.

So, she sent the Invitation around to her students and me and waited for class.  I arrived with my tablet and had all the students enter the Lync room and mute their microphones.  I plugged in our Yeti microphone and set it as close to the conductor’s stand as possible and turned my tablet’s camera to face the students (next time, bring external camera!)
I also use the projector to display my screen.  This way the chat window and teacher video was visible when the students were performing for the teacher (and thus had tablets closed) and when the teacher was sharing her screen to go over the OneNote every student could see.
In fact, the teacher started the class by going over her Course Plan with the students, reminding them about upcoming assignments and the December Exam.  The teacher is an advocate of tagging (in fact, she’s a master of it!) and so you can see how different items in the students’ course calendar are “hashtagged” with meaning.  The students would unmute their microphone and ask questions and then re-mute and the teacher would respond by video. 
After discussing her plans, she turned to performance… while she couldn’t conduct (she is on a slow rural wireless connection and there was too much lag) she had a student mark the time and the students played for her.  The clarity of the video and the sound was sufficient that she gave direct criticsm and praise to each student — I have to admit to being surprised that she could see and hear how students were mis-playing.  They played and replayed a couple of pieces for her throughout the class and she gave feedback each time.  By the end of the class another music teacher had dropped by to see how things were going and he was quite taken with the setup. She concluded the class by returning to the OneNote Binder and going through reminders and then signed the students off.
Now, it’s important to note that this will not be our approach to Snow Days.  In our context, Snow Days are a rare and special thing — a Canadian treat to a boarding school that cannot be tampered with.  But in a situation where a teacher wants to directly interact with her class, the opportunity to use technology to facilitate that needs to be met.
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