Thursday, February 26, 2009


Last year, our school began using OneNote. It is part of our Microsoft Office bundle. One of the tech coordinators started playing with it, found it useful, and soon we were using it as a team.

OneNote is a virtual notebook. It has pages. Those pages can be in sections. You can even create subpages and subsections. Information is easily moved from one section to another, or one notebook to another. Pages can contain text, graphics, audio and other items. Items can be flagged and they show up in your Outlook to-do list. Pages can be as long as you need them to be.

Adding information is easy. No need to create text boxes. Just click anywhere on a page and type. Need a table? Just start typing the top rows contents. Tab each time you want a new column. Hit enter to go down to the next row. A full range of formatting options are available such as bullets, highlighting, strikeout.

You can add your ready made documents, such as Word documents as a link (and it appears as an icon on the page) or as a printout. In the latter case, the entire document appears on the page.

OneNote has a powerful search feature. You can search that notebooks or all of your notebooks. The search feature will even search photos. For example, if you had a photo of a business card, it could find the person's name in the photo.

Notebooks can be private or shared. If you store them on a server, you can still work locally when you can't access that server. The notebook will sync with the server the next time it is connected. If the notebook is in Sharepoint, it will even update when you work on it from home.

OneNote is proving to be a powerful tool for collaboration. We can all work on it, and it keeps all our pages synced. At a basic level, think of it for agendas and minutes. However, since more than one person can edit a page at a time, it is good for drafting documents and polishing them. Anything that needs a wiki-like environment could work well in here. However, there is no history, no ability to roll back to an earlier version.

At our school, use of OneNote has grown tremendously this year because my principal saw the power of it and began using it extensively herself. Now departments and committees that meet with her regularly each have their own OneNote notebook.

Here are a few of the ways I'm using OneNote this year.
  • I'm a tech integration teacher. This year I set up my lesson plan book as a OneNote notebook. I met with each teacher to plan the semester. I gave each teacher read only access to the notebook because I didn't want someone to add information for the next class and me not notice it in time. I can work on it from home or school. Access it from any room in the building, and I no longer need to give paper copies or even electronic copies to my principal; she just subscribed to the notebook.

  • I created a Tech Help Notebook full of step-by-step directions. For teachers who are comfortable trying new things as long as they have directions, this has worked well and they haven't needed to wait for me to come help them.

  • Budgeting. I created a tab for each department. As they contacted me during the year with requests, I'd click the "Send to OneNote" button in Outlook and then move it to the correct location. As I did research on requests, I'd paste in information from the web and other sources.

  • The Tech Coordinators meet weekly and our notebook has headings such as agenda and minutes, computer builds, policies and forms, and tabs for current projects.

All is not perfect, of course. We have found that notebooks need to be kept under 5 MB or they are prone to synchronization problems. OneNote occasionally has caching problems. OneNote is only available for Windows, not in the Mac version of Microsoft Office.

There are many other programs that offer similar functions. For example, Circus Ponies makes Notebook. Evernote is available online.

If you would like a good, quick demo of OneNote, watch it online here.