OneNote in higher education: The ultimate tool for teaching, advising, and administration

About four years ago, with prompt from a dean at my university, I began offering online courses in the Classical Studies Program, where I teach and serve as director. My program was one of the first to offer online classes in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, which was a surprise to many, especially given the reputation of Classics programs for teaching dead languages with dusty old books.

Once I made the choice to start going online, I began to seek out edtech and eLearning conferences, so I could learn about best practices and see what instructional technology tools were out there.  One of the first organizations I came across was PADLA, the PA/NJ/DE Distance Learning Association. It was at one of their events, held at the Microsoft Technology Center in Malvern, PA, where I first heard about OneNote Class Notebook.

When the presenter from Microsoft began to explain and demonstrate OneNote Class Notebook, I sat up in my chair, my heart beating rapidly. “Wait, what is this? You can do WHAT?!?!” I thought.  Looking back on that moment this past summer, of realizing the possibilities waiting for me in OneNote, I just had to compose this haiku:

Microsoft OneNote

Where have you been all my life?

You can do it all. 

That pretty much sums up how I felt about discovering OneNote and I’ve been head-over-heels in love ever since.

I’d like to share some of the ways I’ve been using OneNote Class Notebook and Staff Notebook in my teaching, student advising, and program administration in higher education.




In my campus classes, I’ve started using the Collaboration Space to get students to take a more active role in working with the course material. I used to lecture in my Greek and Roman Art & Archaeology classes and I noticed that students didn’t seem particularly engaged. So, I reduced my weekly lectures to a brief overview and got the students working on researching the week’s material themselves. I broke students up into groups of three or four, and assigned a building or site to each group. I set up a section in the Collaboration Space for each week’s topic and a page within that section for each group’s building or site. I gave students guidelines for what types of information to look for, reliable websites where they could find the information, and asked them to decide how to break up the work within each group. One week during my undergraduate Roman Art & Archaeology class, one group worked on the Basilicas Julia and Aemilia in the ancient Roman forum. Students posted images, including: a plan of the forum with the basilicas labeled, photos of the remains as seen today, an image of one of the basilicas as depicted on a Roman coin, and information about what the buildings were made of, their style, their function, quotes from ancient authors about the buildings, relevant history, and a bibliography of sources.

A OneNote page is ideal for content in these classes on art and archaeology because images are so easily posted. On the final day of class each week, students from each group presented their page to the class, and all students then had study guides in the Class Notebook of all the material from the week, which they had gathered themselves. Instead of listening passively to lectures and taking notes tediously, students took an active role in the learning process. Not only did they learn the material for the week, but they also gained valuable skills: how to research, how to evaluate sources, how to summarize and present material, how to work with peers on a project.

The Collaboration Space in Class Notebook has proved to be useful in my online classes as well. In a graduate class on Greek Art & Archaeology, I had students write blog posts in the Collaboration Space, covering what they found interesting from the week’s material. During part of our online synchronous class session, I was easily able to share OneNote through our web conferencing program, Zoom, and then click on student blog pages, moving from one to another, as the discussion evolved. In my graduate classes, students present on topics and scholarly articles each week, and the Collaboration Space is an excellent tool for arranging these presentations. I set up a table with scholarly articles and topics posted for each week, ask students to sign up for their preferred presentations, and before class each week the presenting students attach a PowerPoint or Word Document, which I open and share on Zoom while the student speaks. All students then have a collection of the presentations in the Collaboration Space for reference.

The draw feature of OneNote has greatly enhanced my ancient Greek and Latin language and literature classes.  Analyzing a Greek or Latin sentence is essential for translation, and annotation can greatly help to illustrate how all the different parts of a sentence work together. As we discuss the grammar and meaning of the words in a sentence, I can annotate during class on my Surface Tablet while projecting the page in OneNote. Not only does the annotation help to clarify the complex grammatical constructions in the sentences, but all of the work we do on these sentences in class is automatically saved for students to refer to when studying later.




OneNote Class Notebook is an excellent tool for advising students. As director of the Classical Studies Program at Villanova, I advise all the undergraduate majors as well as all the graduate students in our M.A. program. Previously, I would create hard-copy Classics program handbooks and send countless emails to students (which they would inevitably lose), whenever I had to share information that either didn’t belong on the program webpage, or needed to be changed or updated frequently. I have since created a Class Notebook for my undergraduate majors and another for my graduate students. In the Content Library I list degree requirements, information for study abroad programs to Italy and Greece, links to professional organizations in the field, course listings for current and upcoming semesters, information for career paths, and more.

In the Collaboration Space I have a Who’s Who section, where students can post a bio page and get to know each other (particularly helpful in building community in our grad program, which includes distance learners), as well as sign-up pages for advising appointments during course registration week. In the students’ individual notebooks, each student and I can keep track of degree progress and advising questions, while students can post career goals, resumes and cover letters they need help with.

Using Class Notebook for student advising has allowed me to provide updated program information for students, build community among the students, and offer a more enhanced and personalized advising experience for each student.




As director of the Classical Studies Program, I hold regular meetings with my faculty. OneNote Staff Notebook has been an excellent tool to keep track of meeting agendas and minutes, and to post faculty teaching assignments each semester.

I have faculty post ideas for guest speakers and events in the Collaboration Space, where they can also add items of note to go into our newsletter and collaborate on various program initiatives. In faculty individual notebooks, I can post evaluations and class observation reports. Staff Notebook has helped with program organization and allowed all faculty to be engaged in the activities of the program.


Spreading the word


My enthusiasm for OneNote led me to apply for a position at the Villanova Institute for Teaching and Learning (VITAL). I am also serving as Faculty Associate at VITAL during this academic year. My project for the year is to train fellow faculty and staff at Villanova on Office 365 tools, especially collaborative tools like OneNote and Microsoft Teams. I was able to purchase a Surface Tablet for faculty and staff to borrow and practice on, so they can fully explore the annotation features of OneNote. I look forward to sharing more this year about my experiences with OneNote in higher education, including highlighting student and faculty/staff perspectives.