I have used the OneNote app in the classroom since I was a freshman in high school. I first used it on my laptop as an offline notetaking software. When I transferred schools, I started using OneNote on my iPad in conjunction with Notability and other apps. As a student with low vision that uses large print and that has also been diagnosed with dysgraphia, I have appreciated all of the features that OneNote has to offer. Here is my review of the OneNote app, a tutorial on functions that can help students (especially those with low vision) and how I use it in the classroom as educational technology. This review is for Microsoft OneNote 2016, the latest version.
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. It integrates wonderfully with Microsoft Office apps as well as other apps on the iPad. The OneNote app can be downloaded on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, though a (free) Microsoft account is required for use. I strongly recommend integrating the app with OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage software.
The OneNote interface is very similar to other Microsoft Office products, with a toolbar at the top that can easily be hidden, and that supports large print in Windows. One of the more unique features is that text can be added anywhere, not just at the top of the page- just click and type. It works amazingly with touch screens and the iPad app is compatible with the popular Pencil by FiftyThree stylus, which I used when taking notes in my discrete math class.
- Low Vision Accessibility Settings For Windows 10
- Five Websites That Help Students With Low Vision In The Math Classroom
- Five Calculator Apps That Help Students With Low Vision In The Classroom
There are many types of content that can be added to OneNote notebooks, making them great ways to store multimedia and several different file types. The types of content that can be added include:
Pretty self-explanatory, users can input text easily by clicking anywhere on the screen. Font size and style can easily be changed from the toolbar, and text can also be copy and pasted from different sources.
To make the copied text the same style as other text:
- Select the other text
- Press control-shift-c on the keyboard.
- Highlight the copied text
- Press control-shift-v.
This is a format painter and works in other Microsoft applications.
Pictures can be inserted from the device easily, but users can also choose to insert images from online sources. I prefer to insert images from my devices so that I have a backup of the image and can resize it easier.
Video can be inserted from online sources as a link from within the iPad app, or online from the desktop app, with no limit on video length- though an internet connection is required to access it.
Users can use the drawing tool to draw complex symbols or write with their finger or stylus. One cool thing is that OneNote can recognize handwriting and convert it into searchable text so that information can be found easily.
Like most Microsoft Office products, graphs and charts can easily be inserted onto the OneNote document pages, and be enlarged as needed. I highly recommend adding alt text for graphs and charts so that they are accessible with screen readers.
Audio can be recorded in real-time and attached to OneNote pages so that users can read along with their notes, which is great for people with print disabilities. The audio recordings can also be inserted from other sources, in case the user prefers to use another audio recording software.
My favorite function, users can attach printouts, which are carbon copies of other Microsoft Office files and PDFs. This way, I can attach copies of classwork, presentations, graphs, or teacher provided materials. I also will attach documents I made in other apps such as Popplet and Notability.
- Common File Types For Vision Impairment and Print Disabilities
- My Eight Favorite Free Fonts For Print Disabilities
- How To Create High Resolution Images For Users With Low Vision
- Using Popplet With Low Vision
- Notability and Low Vision Review
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
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 feature 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. However, 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.
My second favorite accessibility feature is Immersive Reader, which provides a simplified reading display for users with print disabilities. I like to use Immersive Reader for reviewing my notes or when collaborating with someone else.
Tips for teaching OneNote
The OneNote app can be learned quickly and easily, and a student can be trained to use it in an hour.
- Students should first set up accessibility settings if they are using it as a desktop app (see “options” below for my settings).
- After that, students should learn how to create a notebook and save it to their OneDrive or their device.
- Next, students should add tabs and organize the structure of their notebook, as well as practice adding pages.
- Then, practice adding text and file printouts/images, which is as easy as uploading a picture.
- Finally, students can use the more advanced features such as audio recording, drawing with a stylus, and integrating with other applications.
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 my desktop computer after class. When I’m on the go or the internet is out, I use the OneNote app on my Android phone.
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 the “view” settings. In addition, I change the app color to dark gray to decrease the amount of blue light on my screen.
- Colored Paper and the Readability of Text
- Ten Ways to Reduce Eye Strain With Technology
- Seven Accessibility Features You Didn’t Know Existed In Microsoft Office
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 Java 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
- Creating an interactive study guide for finals
- Making a portfolio of my assistive technology articles
Integrating with other Microsoft apps
It should come as no surprise that OneNote integrates great with other Microsoft apps.
- Printouts/copies of Microsoft Word documents can be inserted into pages, or as their own page, so that students can reference materials without editing the original document
- Links to PowerPoint presentations can also be added so that students can review copies of teacher notes
- The OneNote app on iPad also has technology for Microsoft Lens built-in so that users can scan in images, documents, and whiteboard images
- It’s easy to add in links to Microsoft Sway presentations, which are screen reader-friendly and easier to access than PowerPoints
- Text inserted withing Microsoft OneNote can be read with Immersive Reader so that the display is simplified
- Designing Accessible Documents With Microsoft Word
- How To Create Accessible PowerPoints
- Microsoft Immersive Reader Review
- Microsoft Office Sway
How my teachers have reacted
At my first high school, my teachers hated that I would use OneNote. This is because it seemed so different to them and they had no training on how to use the software due to limited technology resources. I would frequently be asked why I couldn’t just use Word.
My second high school embraced technology and I used OneNote in all of my classes. I was invited to do a presentation on educational technology for my school district my senior year, along with two of my friends. We talked about how we use OneNote and other note-taking apps in the classroom, and how I specifically used it as assistive technology.
My college professors don’t care what software students use to take notes. However, my professors have spoken positively about OneNote and how much it can help students. One of my professors was especially fascinated with the Microsoft Office Lens integration and how I could scan in images of the whiteboard with complex diagrams.
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. It’s my favorite app for notetaking, and I highly recommend it for students with print disabilities and visual impairment.