Covid-19 brought with it many unwelcome pedagogic developments. Classrooms became rows of 2D disks with pupils’ initials on them, discussion punctuated by awkward pauses, and questions asked into the ether of a darkened screen.
Yet, it also brought with it pedagogic opportunity. One such opportunity—one that has remained a mainstay of my own classroom—was the ability to use Microsoft OneNote in order to deliver feedback more efficiently and effectively than ever before. In this article, I’ll outline three simple strategies that have made the quality of the feedback I give better and my life immeasurably easier.
It’s possible to insert an audio recording alongside any submitted work that the student has completed by simply clicking “Audio” on the “Insert” tab. The student can then listen to this feedback, pressing pause, fast-forwarding, and rewinding as they see fit, as follows:
The audio note can be stored next to the work itself and in the student’s personal work space, meaning it’s in the exact same place where they uploaded the work. They don’t need to go searching for it. This also means that other students can’t access or listen to the audio note, but you can copy and paste that audio note and add it next to other student work if it’s applicable to more than one student. Any audio notes are then stored in this location forever and can be replayed as many times as desired.
The danger, of course, is that this just becomes a more efficient way to deliver lots of cumulative comments, or we get into the territory of a high-tech version of triple impact grading where you leave an audio note, to which they respond, to which you respond again. Being more efficient doesn’t always mean being more effective.
To mitigate against an endless loop of responses, I try to make sure any audio note is as precise as possible in its feedback, anchored to a specific section of the essay (typically highlighted). It usually includes some kind of action I expect the student to take. I sometimes ask students to make a note of a key takeaway based on the feedback they’ve listened to, typing this next to the note or at the end of the essay. They’re always given time during the lesson to listen to any audio feedback.
A really useful feature of Microsoft OneNote is that it updates and syncs in real time, meaning any work produced by a student in their personal workspace is then visible to the teacher more or less immediately. This means that if you’re monitoring or popping into these personal workspaces during a task, you’ll see what the student is writing. This of course also means that any comments written by the teacher in the same space will be visible to the student in real time too.
Consider this example. A student is in the process of completing an essay task by typing directly in their personal section of the notebook. They have been given independent time during the lesson to do this while the teacher is on hand to address any questions. The teacher is also using this opportunity to dip in and out of student workspaces and while doing so is offering live comments to help address, in the moment, any misconceptions or errors.
The student then has the ability to calibrate their work in light of the teacher’s comment, and all of this is done without the knowledge of any other student.
This kind of monitoring and live feedback can be done at any point and in response to any task, not just extended essay writing. It is a great way to offer targeted support during independent tasks.
Using the Review Student Work Function
This is an excellent way to save time when reviewing work or providing feedback and is the digital equivalent of students handing in their exercise books at the correct page. It allows you to quickly glance at a certain page of your class’s work, one after the other.
For example, if I’ve asked my class to complete work in the Macbeth section of their personal work page, I can select “Review student work” and then select that page, and the program will, one student after the other, allow me to check who has completed what. It can be used in conjunction with other feedback strategies in order to save time when jumping from one student to another, but it can also be used more generally after a lesson to get a sense of exactly how much work has been completed.
If you don’t already use Microsoft OneNote as part of your teaching, then you should. It is incredibly easy to set up and use. Not only does it replace the primary functions of the document camera, such as showing student work and live modeling, but also it can permeate other routine tasks. Some things are here to stay from Covid-19, and some for the better.