Strategies To Promote Deeper Student Thinking When Taking Digital Notes

The use of technology for note taking in classes, whether that is in the primary, secondary or even tertiary sectors, can still be a contentious topic amongst educators and parents alike. Today, I read a fantastic article that not only tackles some of the main areas of debate, but more importantly offers practical strategies to promote deeper thinking by students.

Read the full article here.

I am not going to re-post the entire article here, instead I encourage you to click the above link and read it in its entirety, however it  touches on some key points that I will mention below. It cites two important pieces of recent research as being detrimental to the wider conversation of digital technology in the classroom and challenges the conclusions by asking how teaching styles were adapting to use the technology more effectively. The research referenced was:

The key sections of the article are broken down into distinct strategies that students can use to improve their use of technology in classes, but importantly it emphasizes that the educators must take the lead in introducing these to students. Rather than simply tell the students to “take notes on the following topic”, providing them with strategies that leverage the full benefits of technology (such as tags in OneNote and search features across notebooks) is a more effective method of teaching.

  1. Digital Organization and Content Curation
  2. Multimodal Notes
  3. Concept Mapping
  4. Visible Thinking Routines
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Example of how a student might use a Concept Map to more effectively take notes. Digital Inking and an endless canvas in OneNote make this both an easy and efficient way to record critical ideas.

One of the telling passages towards the end of the article is:

Too often, educators project their own note taking habits onto their students, applying paper-based strategies to digital tools. With that mindset, it becomes far too easy for short-sighted studies to confirm previously held biases against technology. However, as students progress in an increasingly digital and connected world, one challenge for educators will be to view digital note taking as a unique, necessary and completely different skill set to be taught.

This accurately highlights the challenges educators face in terms of not being unduly influenced by older learning styles and remaining open to leveraging newer technologies that will benefit students. However, these new methods need to be clearly articulated and presented to students. Using the old adage, they are “taught, not caught” – in my view at least, it’s not enough to hand off note taking to students and simply hope they settle on a technique that works for them. Instead, by providing them with a range of options (like those above) and actively modelling this to them as they master the concepts, students will have the best opportunity to learn and process key information.

Again, I encourage you to read the entire article for yourself.

Nayland College Case Study: $150,000 Savings Moving To Microsoft Cloud Platforms

This blog is re-posted content from the original Microsoft Case Study that you can read by clicking here.

Nayland College was using Google Apps for Education to reduce the need for on-premises servers and software, but the solution was not meeting its needs. So the school chose to migrate to Microsoft Office 365. The new software was so well received by staff and students that the migration finished well ahead of schedule. The school now has access to a powerful suite of teaching and learning tools, and it saved $150,000 (NZD) on hardware. Microsoft partner pcMedia facilitated the migration with its cloud and education expertise.

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Taking first steps into the cloud

Nayland College in Nelson, New Zealand, offers its 1,000 students a curriculum of inspirational learning programs designed to prepare them for scholastic and professional success in the modern information economy. The school takes pride in its state-of-the-art educational facilities and its talented, dedicated teachers. Nayland has a leading-edge cabled and wireless IT infrastructure designed to provide the school community with easy access to the its technology resources.

Nayland wants to make sure that those resources include the tools that both teachers and students need to succeed. “We want our students to develop the twenty-first-century skills they need to excel,” says Daniel Wilson, Principal at Nayland College. “And we want our teachers to have strong professional development programs so they can provide students with the learning opportunities that will cultivate those skills. We also want to make sure that our infrastructure is able to keep up with technological changes so it continues to meet our requirements.”

In 2015, Nayland decided that its existing IT systems were not meeting those requirements. The school had on-premises software and servers that were costly to maintain and update, and they could not provide features like remote access to files and lessons. To address these concerns, Nayland adopted the cloud-based Google Apps for Education (GAFE) suite, while still maintaining an on-premises student management system (SMS). However, the solution proved to have some drawbacks. “The online tools weren’t meeting the needs of our teachers,” says Wilson. “The functionality of Google Docs at the time was limited, and it couldn’t integrate with our SMS, which was a problem for us.”

Finding a better solution for the school

Because of the drawbacks of GAFE, Nayland put out a request for proposals seeking a better solution. The school chose to work with Microsoft partner and education expert pcMedia on a plan to migrate from GAFE to the Microsoft Office 365 Pro Plus hosted suite of productivity applications. The initial goal was to finish the migration in 18 months, but once the school started using the solution, the timeline became shorter.

“Our teachers were extremely enthusiastic about Office 365, and they were eager to learn more about how to use new tools like Microsoft OneNote to enhance teaching and learning,” explains Wilson. “The initial rate of adoption exceeded expectations, so we were able to complete the migration more quickly than we originally anticipated.”

Within 6 months, all staff members were using Office 365 as their primary teaching and learning tool. Nayland helped streamline the adoption process by putting an emphasis on comprehensive professional development for faculty and staff. “pcMedia provided us with a Microsoft Teacher Ambassador who conducted individual and group training,” says Wilson. “We also offered video tutorials and a OneNote staff handbook, and we set up lead teachers within departments as a peer resource.”

pcMedia also made the transition easier by providing a hybrid strategy that enabled staff and students to move from GAFE to Office 365 at their own pace. To do this, pcMedia modified the Office 365 application launcher so that all of the school’s key systems were accessible from a single place, giving users time to become familiar and comfortable with the Office 365 interface. The pcMedia solution also made things easier by using Microsoft Azure Active Directory to provide single sign-on (SSO) capabilities so that users could access multiple online tools and systems without the need to log in separately to each one. This enabled Nayland to eliminate a third-party SSO software package it had been using, saving both money and administration time. The school’s applications and devices now all rely on Azure Active Directory for authentication.

Nayland is using the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to store off-site backups of the on-premises SMS. Between Azure and Office 365, the school now has 90 percent of its data and services in the Microsoft cloud with only legacy applications and some large graphics files on a single server at the school. “We have a Windows Server 2012 with ShadowProtect Image Control on it and Azure blob storage
for the back-up. We chose Azure because it provides better cost and uptime than other alternatives,” says Lee Harper, Education Specialist at pcMedia. “Microsoft is also a brand that we trust, and one that the school trusts with its sensitive information.”

Providing benefits for the entire school community

Now that Nayland has completed its Office 365 migration, the school has access to a wide range of tools that enhance communication and collaboration capabilities, including Skype for Business, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint Online. Staff and students are able to access course content and files at any time from anywhere that they have an Internet connection. Communication between students and teachers have increased, and teachers can more easily enhance and customize class materials.

“Our teachers can create more dynamic lessons through the use of video, which they can easily record directly into OneNote,” says Wilson. “They can also create more personalized and differentiated learning programs and choose from multiple modes of assessment to best meet the needs of each student. Teachers are also finding innovative ways to use tools like OneNote to support dyslexic students and to integrate field and classroom studies.”

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Because Nayland is using Office 365 ProPlus, students have the option to install the software on their own devices, so they have access to the same tools at home that they do at school.  Wilson has also noticed that students are increasingly using educational apps on their own devices. Parents are now able to be more involved in learning because they can see student work at home.

Nayland has also streamlined IT management with Office 365, by reducing the need for on-site administration and maintenance of servers and software—updates to the Office 365 tools happen automatically in the background. By eliminating all but one of its on-premises servers, the school estimates that it is saving $150,000 (NZD) in hardware over two years, and it has been able to redirect that money into classrooms for new computers and wireless projectors. Office 365 also works smoothly with the school’s SMS.

With its Office 365 project, Nayland has taken important steps on the pathway to a digital transformation of the school. Teachers are excited about the technology and exploring its many available options, and there is greater collaboration and sharing of expertise across the entire organization. The project has been a success, and its benefits are spread across the whole school community. “Working alongside pcMedia and Microsoft, we have been able to implement a robust, extremely cost effective, and innovative solution that meets and responds to the learning needs of our students and the professional needs of our staff,” says Wilson.

Case Study: Jumeirah English Speaking School & The Value Of OneNote & Surface Pro

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Located in Dubai, JESS is a full K-12 school with around 2,200 students running the International Baccalaureate program. The school has deployed Surface Pro and Office365 at a Grade 7 level and are using OneNote Class NoteBooks, OneDrive, Sharepoint, Office Mix, Sway and Microsoft Classroom (soon to be replaced with Microsoft Teams)

Read the full case study here

Some of the teachers interviewed in the video above were very specific about the value they see from Surface Pro and OneNote e.g.

The advantage of the Surface Pro 4 is that it combines the ability to write text with all the computing power of a laptop, and that is a game changer.

I do encourage you to watch the video and read the case study above and learn more about how JESS started their Digital Transformation journey.

Accessibility Is At The HEART Of Microsoft & Office365

Update 23rd June:

Since writing this blog I see that the Microsoft Garage have also released a new product called MS Dictate which is a plugin for Outlook, Word and Powerpoint that allows you to dictate text using the same speech-to-text engine used by Cortana. You can download it for free here.

Recently I’ve been working with a partner that has a school for deaf and hearing impaired students as a customer. It’s been really interesting exploring how technology is used in environments like this, where the need for video communication to enable sign language is paramount.

As a result, I’ve been digging into the accessibility options within Microsoft’s Windows 10 and Office365 products and it has reinforced the observations I’ve noticed already since joining Microsoft at the start of the year: accessibility and inclusive design really is at the heart of all Microsoft products.

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Accessibility is a priority for Microsoft for three key reasons:

  1. We cannot realise our mission to empower every person and organisation to achieve more without accessibility
  2. Accessibility is our path to innovation
  3. Our public sector customers are required to procure accessible products

At every major internal Microsoft event I’ve attended this year there has been automatic transcription / captioning of speakers so that deaf or hearing impaired employees can follow along. 5% of the world population (around 360 million people) have some form of hearing difficulty, so the need to use technology to include them in business activities is very real.

However, hearing impediments is not the only area where accessibility in Windows 10 and Office365 is helping:

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As I’ve researched more about the various accessibility features I’ve come across some great customer testimonials and case studies about how Windows 10 and Office365 are making a big difference for them on a daily basis. Below is one about Ted Hart who works at Microsoft and was part of the team that improved Skype Translator for English captions/subtitles resulting in deaf people being able to take part in conversations normally:

The next case study is entitled The Power Of Visual Communication showing how Skype video allows students with disabilities to be able to communicate with each other, even when on work experience. The visual nature of Skype means they can use both sign language and also read body language:

Finally, Al Amal School for Deaf Students in the United Arab Emirates shares how the use of tools like Office Mix and video recording in OneNote is proving valuable with their students:

There are numerous blogs from Microsoft that focus on specifically on accessibility  and Microsoft has a dedicated Disability Help Desk that supports video calling with American Sign Language:

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Marlee Matlin, the only deaf performer to win an Academy Award for Best Actress, demonstrated how the help desk works:

Translator Tools:

Microsoft have leveraged a number of translator tools that use Machine Learning and the Intelligent Cloud to provide greater accessibility support for all users, particularly those that are hard of hearing:

  1. Skype Translator: not only does this do real-time translations between different languages it can be re-purposed to provide an effective transcription of an English to English conversation to support deaf participants.
  2. Microsoft Translator phone app: Similar in functionality to Skype Translator, this app for your phone allows you to do transcriptions and translations (over 60 languages) and you can do multi-person chats on the same device or with up to 100 participants by sharing a conversation code.
  3. Presentation Translator: A project from the Microsoft Garage, this looks to be a plugin for PowerPoint that will provide real-time captioning on the PowerPoint itself from the speech of the presenter. This is not available yet but is coming soon in a beta trial.
  4. Skype Broadcast: The premier Skype meeting tool (available in O365 E5 plans), this will provide real time transcription of the Skype meeting so all participants can follow along.

Other Tools:

Outside of the straight translation tools above, Microsoft are building accessibility into a range of other products that are available now to customers:

  1. Video Indexer: This was formerly know as Video Breakdown in the Azure Media Analytics Suite and is currently in free trial. This tool allows you to automatically transcribe speech in a video, OCR scan text contained within the video, provide facial recognition and then index and search across all this content. It’s incredibly powerful.
  2. Microsoft Stream: Announced only today from Microsoft as being Generally Available (GA), this is built right into Office365 subscriptions and is a video library tool that also offers speech-to-text, facial recognition and searchable indexes. With granular sharing permissions this is a powerful tool.
  3. Accessibility Checker: Build directly into Office365, this tool scans your documents and identifies ways you can make them more user friendly for all users, but specifically those that may fact accessibility challenges. There is no need for a third party plugin to achieve this – it’s baked in by default!
  4. Learning Tools / Immersive Reader: Hugely popular in education already, this started as an extra plugin for OneNote Desktop, before being built in directly and also supported in the Web/Online versions in a browser as well. This tool will read text back to the user, highlight adjectives/nouns/verbs and provide coloured overlays to assist dyslexic users.
  5. Office Accessibility Center: The one stop shop for Microsoft accessibility content and ideas.
  6. Surface Hub: When it comes to providing the best hardware / software combination for collaboration for deaf customers, I think the Hub the best choice given the fully integrated camera experience will provide the ability to use sign language to communicate easily and effectively with remote users. Two videos below show the ease of meetings in with Surface Hub:

It is not just Surface Hub that is helping deaf students, the Surface Pro was highlighted in a video showing how deaf students playing American Football used it to communicate and develop game strategy:

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Accessibility examples from Windows 10

As you can see, there is a huge amount of work being done to support all users to make Windows and Office365 a totally accessible product. One small thing I really like is the ability to replace audio cues with visual or text notifications in Windows, an invaluable addition to the user experience for a deaf person.

If you think I’ve missed something or have other suggestions feel free to drop a note in the comments below.

 

Guest Post: Integrating technology in class for great results: 6 tips from an expert

For many teachers, effectively integrating technology into their classes is the start of a journey in transforming their teaching practices. Most find challenges along the way, however there is always successes to be enjoyed when students engage meaningfully with their learning through the use of technology. Today’s post is a link to a recent article from the Microsoft Education blog where six tips from an EdTech expert are shared.

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Technology opens plentiful possibilities for students, but for teachers it can present a unique challenge. New tools should not only engage students and fit seamlessly into lessons, but also add value without taking away from the many “musts” on every teacher’s list.

Eileen Heller, Instructional Technology Trainer and Elementary Innovation Facilitator for Omaha Public Schools (OPS), is responsible for instructional technology training at 21 of Omaha’s 63 elementary schools. As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE), she sees both challenges and opportunities in bringing technology into the classroom.

While recently working with a class of fourth-graders on Microsoft Teams (which OPS is piloting), Eileen saw first-hand how big a difference the right technology integration can make.

Read the remainder of the article here.

For those that don’t read the entire article above, below are the headings of the six tips (all expanded on in the article itself):

  1. Listen and learn from your students
  2. Shift to a student-centered environment
  3. Fall in love with the right tools
  4. Embrace instructional design
  5. Reflect and revise
  6. Showcase and share

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A Digitally Mediated Conversation

I came across an article in the Australian Independent Schools magazine today that highlighted the value of Microsoft OneNote and the evolution of interaction between teachers and students in the areas of marking, feedback and feed-forward. Technology has been a massive enabler in this process and the article references a significant amount of research highlighting the value of this feedback loop and how staff at All Hallows School in Queensland, Australia have used this. Of particular emphasis is the flexibility that OneNote provided in terms of:

  • Digital Inking – hand writing feedback directly onto student work in their Class Notebooks
  • Audio feedback – recording voice notes for students (and students in turn providing “thinking aloud” on their work for their teachers to listen to)
  • Video / Screen recording – teachers recording their computer screen as they’re marking the work and talking, providing students the next best experience to being present with the teacher when marking is taking place
  • Typed Feedback – traditional typed notes alongside student work.
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Click the image above to read the article on the original website.

(click here to read the entire article if the above link does not work)

A teacher in the English department at All Hallows even created a short YouTube video showing the progression of feedback over the years at the school, starting with the humble “insert comment” option in Microsoft Word right through to recording audio and the screen in OneNote whilst handwriting feedback directly on student work. It’s worth watching the two minute video below:

What I love about this article is that it finishes by noting that teachers at All Hallows have been active in sharing at various professional development conferences for teachers on the changes to their digital feedback processes and the impact of technology on their pedagogical practices. Being part of a wider community that is continually adapting and learning and sharing the journey is a key strength and indicator of a healthy institute, especially when it has been based on solid research as evidenced in the above article.

Thanks to the awesome Mike Tholfsen from the Microsoft OneNote team for sharing this article with me via Twitter so I became aware of it!

Harvest: Making Marking Easy in OneNote Class Notebooks

Harvest2OneNote Class Notebooks remain one of the most popular features in the Microsoft Office365 Education offerings and teachers love the simplicity of seeing all of their students’ work in one place. This is especially important when it comes to quickly and efficiently marking the work of students and providing feedback.

The One Education team, creators of the Infinity One laptop for students, recognised the power and popularity of OneNote and created a brand new product called Harvest to supercharge marking and sharing of student work for teachers. This is hosted entirely in the Azure cloud and harnesses all the power of Office365 API and OneNote Class Notebooks, demonstrating innovative thinking by helping teachers reduce the time consuming work of marking and collating student work.

I’ve created a quick six minute introduction to the product where I walk through some of the key features and you can see this below:

As you will have seen in the video, teachers can install the plugin into OneNote Online (note that for now OneNote desktop does not support the addition of third party extensions, so Harvest only works in the browser version of OneNote Online) and can get started marking student work immediately:

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Currently, Harvest supports a database of both New Zealand and Australian curriculum standards/strands meaning teachers can easily search for the standard they wish to mark student work against. This, in itself, streamlines the marking process for teachers as they do not need to manually enter the curriculum details that the student is studying.

Here is a simple example of marking a student’s Year 13 Calculus work:

On the left you can see the student’s Maths–>Calculus section in the OneNote Class Notebook has been selected and on the right the teacher has clicked “Browse” to identify the curriculum strand they’re assessing against. Mathematics and Statistics is selected.

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The teacher selects the curriculum level / year level to narrow down the selection of curriculum strands to choose from:

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The teacher then selects the most appropriate curriculum strand(s) they are assessing against:

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The teacher can now see the curriculum strand, give it a grade of “Below / At / Above Level” and can even add a comment of up to 255 characters (visible only to the teacher currently)

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Harvest Dashboard

Harvest Dashboard Link

What really sets Harvest apart is the use of existing API within OneNote to collate all of this work (essentially, these grades are Tags within OneNote) and then display them in a “single pane of glass” interface. This assists the teacher to get an overview of either a single student or an entire class based off the marking they have completed. To view this dashboard the teacher simply clicks the “Harvest” menu item and then “Dashboard” and it loads for them in a new tab in their browser:

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Some things to note in the above screenshot:

  • Teachers can select from multiple different OneNote Class Notebooks on the left hand menu
  • Teachers can also select from multiple curriculum areas within the same Class NoteBook which obviously makes a lot of sense for primary school teachers, or cross-curricular class environments.
  • Students are all listed in a grid (the columns), with a colour coded system showing whether they are Below / At / Above The Level based on each curriculum strand marked (the rows in the grid). Where a student does not have work marked against a particular curriculum strand it is grey indicating “No Rating”
  • Harvest will also generate a thumbnail of the student work when hovering over the grade in the grid – note at this stage thumbnails of digital inking is not available.

It’s not hard to imagine how beneficial the above view would be for a teacher when it comes to writing school reports or preparing for parent/teacher interviews – they would literally have ALL graded work collated into one place and able to show the parent at the click of a button. This is harnessing all the power of OneNote Class Notebooks, the associated API’s and the Azure cloud to streamline marking and reporting for teachers.

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Viewing larger thumbnails of student work in Harvest Feed, where the various grades are easily recognizable through consistent colour coding.

To top it off, teachers can choose to share selected student work directly to parents with a shortened URL (something Microsoft recently added to Class Notebooks):

Harvest Share

A teacher must first select “Student Feedback” along the top to make it publicly visible, and then simply copy the link to share with a parent.

I am really excited by the prospects of Harvest because it seems like a product that understands the challenges teachers have managing large amounts of assessment and aims to simplify the reporting process. With many schools moving to increasingly digital and paperless environments, leveraging the existing power within OneNote to support assessment and reporting is a smart move and something I’d imagine many schools will be very interested in.

For schools that are wanting to get started with Harvest straight away, check out these comprehensive set up instructions.