OneNote as a textbook alternative?

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image courtesy of Microsoft Corp.

In my last post, I raised some concerns that I had around textbooks in the 1:1 environment.

They’re expensive and I couldn’t – and I still can’t – see the benefit that come from students having them in all subjects.

Being responsible for the eLearning program at my school, I see this issue as being one that will potentially become the “sleeper”, just waiting quietly to emerge and smack me on the head.

So in the search for a solution to this conundrum, I set myself some holiday homework – to write a Year 9 Maths textbook. The idea came from a colleague – Brad Kersing (@MrKersing) – who had been looking at and testing a new way to deliver the Australian Curriculum to years 7 – 10 students. In some of his classes, he was using Microsoft OneNote to support this.

In my conversations with faculty leaders, it became clear that the conventional textbook was a convenient resource for practice problems (particularly in Mathematics), experiments (Science) and really, not much else. These leaders saw the benefits of moving to an ‘eBook’ structure, but I felt that they were unclear on how this would change the dynamic of the classroom for the teacher and the student. Common questions were, ‘Will students still have to write?’ and ‘Where will I get questions from?’ Teachers are still using the textbook as the primary resource of their class – even with 1:1 computer access, giving this up may be a challenge.

To my mind, a OneNote textbook could be one solution. So I wrote one.

It has been a remarkably simple undertaking. I have tried, as much as possible, to create a ‘safe’ notebook that does not include too many bells and whistles. This is deliberate as I do not want to this to scare off those teachers and students who are not comfortable with technology. The notebook is structured much like a regular Mathematics text, with ‘Chapters’ broken into topic sections, worked examples and standard ‘exercises’ (see below)

image courtesy of David Simpson


OneNote lends itself to our 1:1 program because we have been able to use the NSSCF (aka “Rudd money”) to purchase the Lenovo X220T for each of our Year 9 and Year 10 students (500+ students). These devices are convertible laptop-tablets that are multitouch capable, making the functionality of OneNote as a digital notebook really come alive. I see students annotating their own version of the textbook, creating a dynamic document that becomes so much more than just a source of questions.

Each area has the Learning Intentions detailed, these having been taken straight from the new Australian Curriculum. This allows a greater level of transparency for students to see where the topic fits into the greater scheme of their learning and also supports teachers in meeting their reporting requirements. Integration with the Ultranet Learning tasks has also been achieved – each group of ‘exercises’ or individual activity can be assigned by the teacher as a learning task, requiring students to submit their completed work into the Ultranet for assessment.

image courtesy of David Simpson


Students can use the writing functionality to take more detailed notes directly into their text, meaning less time copying notes off the whiteboard and more time applying the knowledge with their peers and teachers.

image courtesy of David Simpson


In attempt to move this interactive text a *little* deeper into the Web 2.0 world, links to video tutorials have been included at all opportunities. These links open to YouTube clips from the school’s channel (Jing tutorials made by teachers), Khan Academy, plus many others. There are also links to interactive activities that exist on the Web so that students can apply their knowledge in different ways. Ideally, I’d like to be able to insert these videos and activities directly into an i-frame system within OneNote – allowing students to complete them without leaving the Notebook – but this ability is not yet supported. 🙁

Overall, I am happy with the OneNote text as it currently fits together. In the new term I will sit down with the Math faculty leaders and seek their feedback on the document and hopefully have it available to students for the 2nd Semester of 2012 for a real test of its effectiveness! Any feedback, questions, comments are warmly welcomed!

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Angus McPherson Recent comment authors
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Angus McPherson
Angus McPherson

Hi David,

I too am a Highschool maths teacher in Victoria interested in setting up a text book on one note. My question is related to copy right. Did you snip/copy elements of a text book into your ebook? if so then legally wouldn’t all your students still need to purchase a text book too?

I’m keen to hear your thoughts. It’s been over a year since you wrote this blog. How successful have you been?