Monday, March 23, 2015

Yammer : 5 reasons to explore a new space

Continuing on the Microsoft Expert Educator suggestion to make 5-tips-articles here's one on Yammer.

Yammer is part of Office365 and is free to schools, faculty and students as part of their free Office365 subscriptions.  On first glance, and in general discussion with faculty and students, its best approximation is a social networking conversation space like Facebook.

So why not just use Facebook?  For Facebook there is the explicit danger of using a personal space for professional work between & amongst students and teachers, Instead, Yammer is built in to the Office365 structure (so security and consistency of passwords).  And, for the data hungry, Yammer allows you to do analysis on the posts (everything can be downloaded into Excel) -- we're looking forward to a longitudinal analysis of student writing as we move year-to-year..

5 ideas on how to maximize Yammer's effectiveness:

1) Use Yammer school wide for announcement and discussions.

Email is notoriously misused as a one-to-many announcement tool.  Abusing email this way leads to spamming of mailboxes and important messages get lost in an advertising noise.  By moving announcements to Yammer, students and faculty know where they can go to determine what is going on.  Tagging helps readers to find and filter what they find interesting.  And you can target your message better since besides the ALL COMPANY there are smaller subgroups for Faculty and he Middle School, say.

What I particularly like is that people can ask questions about your activity and others can see the response -- or you can add information without having to send around yet another email.  Yammer also lets you insert images, video and links quite easily.  Yammer also has excellent mobile apps across platforms ... but that is relevant to all of these tips.

It takes some training on how to categorize messages by tags to make filtering effecting but, like OneNote, Yammer also has an excellent search capability!

2) Use Yammer as a reflection/blog space for a student and their advisor

We have tried a variety of approaches to provide student and advisor (homeform teacher) a private space to set goals and reflect on progress.  While the blog app within Sharepoint has worked well, using Yammer has meant a greater convenience and a more realistic discussion space since replies build on one another.

To create a private space (or really any space) you merely click on ADD A GROUP, choose INTERNAL GROUP, name it, and in Group Members include only the advisor and the student and then make it Private.  It doesn't even show up in the groups that people can join.

What's particularly useful is that in a particular conversation (not the whole "group" of advisor/student) you can add a third party, say a guidance counselor, teacher or external specialist (provided the student approves).  It allows them access to only that particular conversation and no other.  So its a private space but others can be brought in on an occasional basis.

Off topic, but you can set up external networks that include people from outside your school, but there's no mixing between your School network and the external one.  At present we only have one, the OneNote Water Cooler.

3) Use Yammer as a course review/question space

One of the prime motivators for using Yammer has risen from faculty's desire to have an additional space for students to discuss questions that began in the classroom.  During Exam Preparation time we've seen considerable activity as students ask and answer each other's questions.   As I mentioned in an early blog post, our teachers have found it so useful that they've installed the mobile app so that they can answer questions whenever they're free, rather than relying on being near to their tablet.

Our biggest focus now is to encourage student-to-student interaction rather than relying on the teacher to drive the discussion.  And again, this is where Yammer's analytics  come in handy... we don't have to guess, we have the data to show that students are provoking and answering questions more and more as familiarity with the space has increased throughout the year.

And our biggest ask is that Yammer smooth the way for OneNote content to be embedded easily into messages.  At the moment, our students do a screen capture-->save-->drag&drop to get their content into their Yammer messages and we just think there must be a more elegant way!

4) Use Yammer to praise student/faculty/employee work

One of our Prefects had the idea to allow people to publicly thank and praise people for things they'd done well; those random acts of kindness or those accomplishments that often are announced only to themselves.

In Yammer, besides the typical posts you see above, you can categorize a post as a PRAISE, which provides the additional phrasing & iconography that automatically promotes your message.

And again, because you can easily analyze what posts have been made you can begin to develop a well-rounded picture of who is finding great success in your school.  For me, though, the question is always who is getting missed in the praise, and why aren't they being mentioned.  Sometimes, the data that's missing is more important!

5) Use Yammer to tie in every other Office365 document, spreadsheet, PowerPoint and video

When you're working online in Word, Excel, PowerPoint or the O365 Video Server, there's a Yammer sidebar included (denoted by an asterisked "Y" as shown below)!  Click on the sidebar and it expands into a Yammer conversation -- you can specify the group you want to discuss the document with, include external participants and tag the conversation like any other post.  It allows people receive the document to discuss its contents without having to resort to an email (which removes the conversation from the object of the conversation!).

Thursday, March 19, 2015

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 -- 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 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 

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
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 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!

Monday, March 16, 2015

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 !) 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.