Surface and OneNote – Episode 1

Surface and OneNote – the perfect combo for teaching and learning.

Ysgol Bae Baglan is a brand new, state of the art, all-through state school which will open in September 2016 for 1600 3-16 year olds. The information technology and computer systems at the school have to live up to the ambitions of the school to deliver sector leading teaching and learning.

There was always going to have to be an innovative solution which reduced costs and space requirements, and now we have just that. We will actually see the number of traditional PCs in school start at a very low number and then fall. Instead, teachers and pupils will be using the very latest Surface hybrid devices.

Each teacher will be using a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 which brings all the best tools for teaching and learning together in one device. As well as a keyboard, the Surface has a digital pen which can be used to write on device just like a traditional pen – this is known as digital inking. This means that teachers can directly comment in their own handwriting on work created on a computer and save their written comments, drawings and diagrams for future reference.

With the Microsoft wireless video adapter fixed in all projectors, teachers will connect their Surface tablets directly to the front of any classroom and show the content to the class. As the teacher writes on the Surface, it appears projected to the whole class. Teachers can draw together traditional ways of working alongside new digital multimedia content making lessons more engaging and interactive.

Pupils will be working on a Surface 3 device, the little sibling to the proud Pro 4. We believe that digital inking will offer our pupils new ways of working and we avoided the cheaper devices that were keyboard only.  There is plenty of research out there that emphasises the importance of writing and we want to find new ways of engaging pupils in doing just that.

Both Surface devices work in perfect combination with Office 365 cloud technologies, which means that work that the teacher creates for the class is no longer saved in school, but instead securely on the Internet.  This means that work in class will always be available for pupils at home.  As well as supporting homework and communication with parents, this new way of working will be of great benefit to those pupils who need extra support and in stretching the most able learners by enabling out of the classroom learning.  And of course, we have installed the latest version of OneDrive which sync content directly to the Surface, which eases worries about internet connectivity.

The Surface devices connect through a hybrid Azure AD which means that users can login at home and continue working as if they were in school.  The hybrid AD means that we can still apply policies and manage the devices, but by making all users administrators and reducing the lock downs on the machines, we hope to ensure that users really feel ownership of their device and it becomes part of their personal toolkit for teaching and learning.

One of the most important aspects of the technology infrastructure is the use of Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is the perfect tool for collaboration and the perfect partner for the Surface.  I have set up collaborative OneNote notebooks for each department in a OneDrive space and shared with all members of the department.  This means that teachers in a department can easily collaborate and combine resources, something we want to encourage right from the start, but the notebooks are not held in any of the teachers’ personal OneDrive spaces.

Alongside their collaborative, staff only, resources OneNote notebooks, staff also have access to a department administration notebook. This has been made possible from the use of Outlook Groups which I have set up for each department. Outlook Groups really is a world-class tool for teams, and together with their Group OneNote notebook, each department has a group conversation email, calendar and files area. Access to the department OneNote notebook is really easy if you are using the latest version of Outlook 2016, but even easier if you then open the notebook in OneNote 2016 and keep it open there…forever!

The ease with which OneNote 2016 manages all of your notebooks, allowing you to have them all open at once, means that everyone can easily access their work. And of course, each notebook is synced to your Surface so you can continue to work even when you don’t have the Internet available.

Just when you start thinking ‘enough OneNote already’, sorry, there is more.  Alongside their collaborative resources notebooks and Outlook Group notebook, each teacher is also provisioned with OneNote Class Notebooks. These are personal notebooks for each teacher and each class. The Class Notebook creator tool manages all of the permissions so that one teacher and all of the pupils of a class have access. Content can then be easily copied from a department collaborative notebook, adapted if necessary and shared with pupils. Don’t forget of course that by using a Surface, work can then be completed, and marked, anytime, anywhere, with a digital pen.

More tools are sure to be in the pipeline to make the management of these Class Notebooks even easier – if they weren’t easy enough already!  Oh, and I have to mention the latest learning tools that have just been added to OneNote because they are another reason why we know we have chosen the right tools.

One of the greatest challenges will be in ensuring that all of our staff and pupils are fully trained and digital-ready for the opening of  Ysgol Bae Baglan in September. In the first teacher training day in January, all teachers had a day with the new ICT systems. Last Saturday, the Surface devices, OneNotes and cloud working were rolled out to around 50 teachers, school leaders and support workers.  Along with the school’s two Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts and digital leader group, the staff were joined by two inspirational experts; trainer Jennifer King and Surface Business Development Manager George Isherwood. More about that another time!


The rollout now continues to the remaining 60 teachers, 100 support workers and 1600 pupils and we couldn’t be more excited!

Look out for Episode Two in May.


A bright Outlook. Much more than group email.

For the last couple of weeks I have been using Outlook 2016 on my Surface device. I am impressed.

Firstly, is the familiar look and feel to previous versions of Outlook; it doesn’t feel like an entirely new experience, but it does feel better.  There are more layout options or at least, they seem easier to find.  It may well be the case that some of the features below were always there, but the interface in 2016 has encouraged me to click around more. Things seem easier to find.  Moving from Outlook 2010 has been a very positive experience.

Let’s take a couple of features that I think will increase my productivity.  I have switched on the people pane – it was always there showing a group of ghostly heads, but now I am using it much more.


When I am sent an email it now seems much easier to see the other emails from the same person or anyone in the group. I can easily find attachments and scheduled meetings. It is a great feature.

Taking about attachments, another thing I am loving is the add attachment button which now suggests recent documents I have been working on. I think this feature might save me about three seconds, but beyond the time, it now feels like the software is working for me rather than against me.


The calendar views are as good as they every were, but whilst looking around I found this button:


Pressing this button not only sets up the meeting, but provides the link in the email for people to join.

This is so easy.  Was it always there? I can now set up a group skype meeting with a single press and the suggested times bar points out the conflicts.   Just when I thought that this was good, I discovered you can add a Skype call to any appointment right from the appointment ribbon.

skype2Whether this was there or not before isn’t really an issue for me.  What is important is that now I have found it and as time goes on and become more and more content with the idea of meeting via skype rather than face to face. I will definitely use this feature.

But I want to move on to something that is definitely new.  I have been using Office Groups for a while now, but through 365.  For my school, Ysgol Bae Baglan, I have set up groups for each subject area.  Groups give you the basics such as group email conversation, and a group calendar, and a group files area. But groups go one step further in providing a group OneNote notebook.  These group notebooks are accessible to all users in the group and mean that  collaboration across the group is easy.  Now Outlook 2016 has made it even easier!


My groups appear within Outlook so now I have instant access to my group conversations and calendar without going via the website. Even better, the groups ribbon gives easy access to all the group features.


From the ribbon of course, you can create new private or public groups from right within Outlook. I can start a new conversation with my group, add calendar items, edit the group membership, edit the group features such as the name, description, group image and subscription options. But even better, right there are the buttons to access group files and the group OneNote Notebook. This Notebook provides a natural, easily accessible place for teachers to store and share department documents and resources. I have made the groups teacher-only groups, so I see documents such as specifications, assessment materials, developing resources and meeting notes all being stored here. This Notebook is a perfect partner to the OneNote Class Notebooks that departments will be using to share resources with pupils.

The reason I love Microsoft is that it is all about productivity. I know when I introduce Outlook 2016 to the rest of the staff they will be able to use it with very little training, and these new features feel like meaningful additions rather than prettification.

I suppose whilst I am raving about groups, I should mention the Office Groups app. It is a great partner for Outlook because I can unsubscribe from group emails meaning that my inbox will not be continuously bombarded, but I can still keep up on group conversations through the app or through Outlook.

The social ‘like’ features available in Outlook or on the app are also a nice addition. No more smiley face replies!

I should mention before I finish that our 365 tenant is the all-Wales National Tenant called Hwb. This means that now I can create groups made up of any teachers in Wales. Great for collaboration. We have also created a public group for ICT Technicians around the country to join.

As Outlook develops, I would like to see the Notebook open in OneNote 2016, or at least have that option, and I would love to see the files open in an explorer window rather than a webpage, but the people at Microsoft listen, so I wouldn’t be surprised if these developments come.  I would also be interested if anyone was using these groups with OneNote Class Notebook Creator because to me that makes sense.

If you haven’t already tried Outlook 2016 and Office Groups you should do so.  I can’t wait till the rest of our staff have access rather than going through Office 365 to access their groups. I’d love to hear how other schools are using it too.