I have used OneNote all through high school and college, and it seems like every update brings more and more exciting features. I have low vision and dysgraphia, which makes traditional note taking difficult. However, OneNote provides many different tools for students to take great notes in class. Here is my review of Microsoft Office OneNote in the classroom.
What is OneNote?
OneNote is a free Microsoft Office software that allows users to create multimedia notebooks filled with text, images, videos, files, and more. It’s much better than taking notes in Microsoft Word because it’s easy to flip through pages and draw on notes using a stylus. The app can be downloaded on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, though a (free) Microsoft account is required.
The OneNote interface is very similar to other Microsoft Office products. One of the more unique features is that text can be added anywhere- just click and type. It works amazing with touch screens and the iPad app is compatible with the popular Pencil by FiftyThree stylus, which I use most frequently in my math class.
There are many types of content that can be added to OneNote notebooks. Of course, users can input their own text, just like any word processing software. However, users can also add pictures and videos, audio recordings, graphs, links, files, PDF printouts, and even OCR scans of whiteboards.
OneNote has lots of accessibility features, including large print and high contrast displays, as well as the support of alt text and screen readers. My favorite thing though is the whiteboard camera setting, which allows users to take a picture of a whiteboard, and the software automatically crops the image and turns it into an OCR file, which can be converted into searchable text that works well with screen readers. It’s not perfect though- glare on the whiteboard can cause text to be harder to see or it may not read text correctly. I also use the audio function to record lectures, with instructor permission.
Easy to access
OneNote notebooks sync across devices using a Microsoft account. I have the app downloaded on my laptop, desktop, iPad, and Android phone. I use it on my laptop and iPad the most frequently, though I also review my notes on the other two devices.
Default page settings can be edited in the Microsoft settings section- I set my default text size to Arial, size 22. Users can also change the page color, or choose to add lines or grids to the display. In addition, I change the app color to dark gray to decrease the blue light display.
Because of the point and type interface, it’s easy to create many types of different pages. Normally, I type out all of the information first, and take whiteboard scans while I am in the classroom. I also write out data to convert into charts and add links as need be. After class, I go back and convert data into media, rearranging it so it fits in a logical way, often using audio recordings for reference.
What I’ve used it for
I have used OneNote for many years, especially in college. Here are some examples of notebooks and documents I have created:
- Writing notes and adding symbols with a stylus in math class
- Taking a picture of the whiteboard in programming class to understand a diagram
- Creating an outline with sources inserted for a project in global health
- Taking notes from a website for English
- Combining my notes and the teacher’s notes in one document for environmental science
How my teachers have reacted
At my first high school, my teachers hated that I would use OneNote, because it seemed so different to them. My second high school embraced technology and I used OneNote in all of my classes, even doing a presentation on the software with two friends. My college professors don’t care what software students use, but I did have one professor that was fascinated with the whiteboard camera feature.
I love using OneNote and it has helped me with keeping large amounts of files organized for my classes, as well as making documents accessible. Every student should be using OneNote.