Empowering the BYOD space with OneNote

One of the most challenging debates in education revolves around the issue of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in the contemporary classroom. BYOD is a policy which enables students to bring their own devices to school for use in their learning. While this sounds like a great opportunity for learners, the practice is not universally supported. Teachers are concerned that devices will result in distraction and reduce learning, while administrators ask valid questions about who is responsible for BYOD devices if they break in a teacher’s care or during classroom use. I understand the concern and completely empathize with these issues.

I grew up in a world where students with special needs had to carry around large devices that stigmatized them, making them targets for behaviour that lacked empathy and often resulted in bullying. I envision a learning environment where the device is simply a tool for all students to use to enhance their abilities and empower their learning experience. My hope is that no student is ever marginalized because they make use of a device that levels the playing field. Clearly, most school systems share this view and are working to create these inclusive, supportive systems.

At this point, the philosophical question arises: should all students have the ability to bring a device to school that supports their learning? While we all agree that students who have an IEP and require a device have the legal right to access that technology, the question of whether other students who want to bring devices to support their own unique ability-levels is less clear. It generates significant discussion.

There are many valid points. For one, the teacher has total control of the learning environment and has the power to make that decision within their own classroom. Second, learners are exposed to so much screen time already that it may be important to reduce this type of learning. There are many other arguments against allowing students to bring their own device if they so choose. In spite of these concerns, I’m hoping that as people learn about the power of OneNote, they’ll see how students can empower themselves as learners and digital citizens.

OneNote is the most empowering tool in education for K12 learners. It provides student-voice opportunities that few other tools provide. OneNote provides the ability to easily document using photo and audio tools, as well as digital inking in the learning space. My first focus with delivering this tool in professional learning revolves around the simple ability of students to document their own learning as they annotate, ink, and reflect. Giving students the ability to store learning artifacts that demonstrate their strengths, literacy and numeracy skill, and their values and beliefs is one of the most empowering things that we can do as educators. And it’s all within an accessible learning environment.

How does this connect to BYOD?  The answer is simple. OneNote is a tool that supports all abilities and learning needs for the student and can be used in a learning environment where educators promote digital tool use. It’s also suitable in an environment where the educator knows very little about technology-enabled learning. Learners can come to class with their own device and document the learning they do throughout the day while applying their abilities to observe and reflect. In learning environments that use OneNote, the educator’s voice can be connected to the learning easily. OneNote empowers BYOD, it empowers students, and where school systems integrate it deeply, it will empower educators and learners of all abilities.


Jeff Cummings is the Technology Enabled Learning Coordinator for Wellington Catholic District School Board. In this role, he is responsible for e-learning, blended learning, assistive technology, and new technologies in the classroom. He is also the co-lead for the Math Knowledge Network in Computational Thinking in Mathematics and a strong advocate for modern, flexible learning environments and design thinking in education. As a former e-learning teacher in social science and humanities, Jeff is dedicated to supporting student learning through educational technology. Follow Jeff on Twitter here: @MrJCummings

Learn how you can integrate OneNote into your teaching for here. For more Microsoft classroom tools and training, visit microsoft.ca/education. You can access free courses, resources, and a network of educators at the Microsoft Educator Community. Bring free PD on classroom accessibility or other topics to your school by accessing a Microsoft Learning Consultant in your area.