image of a cup next to a macbook displaying a videoconference

The current world wide pandemic has resulted in an explosion in the use of video conferencing systems. Education, business and personal use skyrocketed. However, educational institutions, faculty, teachers and students all struggled with integration. Here are some of the issues that have come up.

How many choices do I have?

The VTC market, like any technology market that prior to the pandemic was considered niche, did not have a particularly dominant actor. While Microsoft Teams, Apple FaceTime, Google Hangouts all existed, they competed with more business oriented companies such as Cisco WebEx and Zoom as well as a multitude of other smaller companies such as GoToMeeting, BlueJeans and many, many others. This glut of choice left schools and instructors trying to figure out which one met their needs and which didn’t. Institutions already invested in the support of one choice over another found themselves under assault from faculty who preferred one system over another. Trying to decipher the differences in features became a chore that was not made easy by the charts and tables provided by each company.

Which features do I need?

Another issue that faced many of the instructors trying to understand how to make the sudden transition from on the ground to remote teaching was trying to figure out what they needed to conduct their courses successfully. Breakout rooms, locked rooms, virtual backgrounds all became features that many of us had not heard off but needed to suddenly learn about.

What’s Zoombombing?

As soon as we made the transition to remote learning another term that we all had to learn in a hurry was Zoombombing (which btw, my automatic spell checker is still highlighting as an incorrect spelling). While many teachers and students were trying to figure out how to use the platforms some users decided that the best use of their time and access to technology was to hijack remote sessions with obscene or racist attacks. While the term refers to Zoom, which became the most popular app during this time, no video conferencing platform was immune from such attacks.

What’s Zoom Fatigue?

To continue the list of new lexicon with negative connotations that was introduced with the pandemic we also have “Zoom Fatigue.” Students, teachers, and everyone who used video conferencing for extended periods of time started feeling more tired at the end of the day than they normally were. It turns out that Zoom fatigue is the culprit however suggestions to combat it soon appeared as well.

So are you tired yet? I know I am.

Digital technology has long held the promise to “revolutionize” education. A quick search in Google Scholar shows articles going as far back as the 1960s. However, as much as the topic has been discussed, results have been spotty. The current pandemic has thrown both k-12 and higher education in a remote environment, trying to use digital technology to teach their students. Again, the results have been spotty. Students and faculty access to technology has been an impediment, as has knowledge of how to use digital technology to teach and learn.

So what can the future hold?

VR – virtual reality, AR – augmented reality, MR – mixed reality are terms that have been bandied about recently. While the many applications revolve around games, this virtual interaction with our reality can have powerful applications in education. Imagine that while sitting in your living room, you put on a pair of goggles and you’re instantly transported into your classroom. Every bone in your body is telling you that this is your classroom. You see your students, you see the desks, you can interact with materials on your desk, you pick up a piece of paper and you show it to the class. Teaching geography? Push a button and all of a sudden the entire class is transported to Antarctica. Teaching history? Push a button and your instantaneously transported in the middle of the battle of Waterloo, examining the unit placements of the British French and Prussian armies. Teaching biology? Be instantly transported through the human body.

With mobile technology available today, with the addition of Google Cardboard, most students can transform their smartphone into virtual or augmented reality viewers. For example, the Google Arts & Culture allows students to virtually tour museums across the world, Google Expeditions allows students to explore a wide variety of historic and geographic locations, and the New York Times VR can allow students to visit Mecca during the religious pilgrimage. How else could this technology enhance our classrooms? What potential might it have for our students’ future? What does that mean for learning and engagement?

Even though I am a Mac user, and heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, my favorite app is one designed by Microsoft: OneNote. I have been using it for a few years now, and it’s the one app that I recommend to everyone: students, faculty, and staff in academia, as well as those in the business world. It has shaped the way that I study, organize and keep track of my professional life.

As a student, I’ve used OneNote to organize and take notes for all my classes. Every time I sign up for a class, I create a notebook with the name of the class. In that notebook, I then create multiple sections. I have a section called “Class Notes” where, because I prefer to type, I type all my notes. Within that section, I have pages titled with the date of each class (e.g., February 1, 2018). If you prefer to handwrite your notes, you have two options. One, you can use an iPad or a Surface Pro and write with the Apple Pencil or the Microsoft Stylus. Two, even if you write notes in a notebook, it’s a good idea to review those notes within 48 hours; otherwise, it becomes re-learning rather than review. What better way to review notes than to type them up in OneNote and fill in what you need to fill in? When in class, if the professor writes something on the board that I want to capture (say a diagram), I take a picture with my phone and with a couple of clicks that picture is inserted into my notes.

Partial screenshot of a OneNote notebook

My second section in the class notebook is for notes that I take from the book. Within that section, I have pages for each of the chapters. In those pages I take the notes I want to take for the book. If it’s a digital book, I can also take screenshots of tables and other diagrams and, with a couple of clicks, insert them into my notes.

screenshot of OneNote notebook

Some professors also provide me with their own notes in PDF. For those classes, I have created a section called “Professor Notes” where I have pages titled for each of the notes I was provided (e.g., Bivariate Regression).

screenshot of OneNote notebook

If it happens to be a class that has quizzes or tests, like my statistics class, I also create a section called “Quiz Study Guides.” There, I take all my notes as I study for the quiz or test.

Lastly, depending on the class, I might have articles or other assignments that I need to work on, so I have sections for those as well. If it’s an article that I have the PDF for, I can easily insert it as a “printout” and then take my accompanying notes.

I also use OneNote as a professional to keep track of meetings and committees. If they are one-off meetings, I have a notebook for meetings, and each section is dedicated to a meeting. For standing committees, I create a notebook just for that committee. Within that notebook, I have three sections: Meetings, Documents, and Minutes.

screenshot of partial of OneNote Notebook

In the Meetings section, just like for the class notebook, I have pages titled with the date of the meeting (e.g., February 1, 2018). There, I take my notes during meetings. In the Documents section, I have pages for whatever documents I collected for that committee. If they are in Word, I just copy and paste the text. If they are PDFs, I insert them as printouts.

In the last section, Minutes, I again have pages titled with the date of the meeting, but there I copy and paste whatever minutes were taken for that meeting.

What is the benefit of all that? First, It keeps me organized. I don’t like having papers because they end up all over the place and I have a hard time keeping track of them. The worst, are the documents handed out in class or during meetings. I generally lose them somewhere in my bag, at home or in my office. Now, I take a picture of whatever it is with my phone and, with a couple of clicks, I insert it into my notebook. The second benefit is that I can find things easily. OneNote allows me to search within a page, a section, a notebook or all my notebooks. I can’t remember what bivariate is I need to know it for a class? A quick search of my notebook brings up all the locations where the word “bivariate” appears. I can also quickly locate all the documents I need to locate during a meeting, look at any of the past notes or meetings without having to dig around my bag/home/office to find what I’m looking for.

Another advantage of OneNote is that it can be accessed anywhere on any device. I can log in online in any web browser and have instant access to all my notebooks. I can use an iPad, a Surface Pro, a laptop (Mac/PC), a desktop or even my phone. If you’ve never used OneNote, take a look at it. It may, as it did for me, change your life for the better.

What do you use to keep your notes organized? Any other programs out there that you recommend? Any strategies that you recommend?