Lament for OneNote

My husband is in the process of applying for the RCMP; to say that it is a rigorous and document-heavy process is an understatement.  One of the pdf forms is 21 pages long.  The pdf from the RCMP site is not fillable; print it and fill it out by hand.  Then scan. Thinking that there has got to be a fillable pdf out there somewhere, I did a quick search.  Lo and behold, a fillable pdf form was easy enough to find.  We went through the whole document, and then pressed print.  Not so fast, did I really think it would be that easy? I was directed to register and pay for the privilege of using the fillable pdf form.

At this point, I felt like a sucker.  If the organization was going to get my business, it would be under duress.  No, forget it.  I’d rather fill it out by hand and then scan it.

That leads me to OneNote.  I’ve been putting off writing about OneNote for a few weeks to gather my thoughts, and to take a breather.  My relationship with OneNote began slowly.  Over two years, I got to know its functions.  I always thought the layout was visually appealing.  When I stumbled onto its multi-user collaboration functions, that was it for me.  I had been searching for a planning tool for so long, and finally I found one that would work.

Using OneDrive to store OneNote notebooks, users can share and edit entire documents. Within my circle, I like to think I was at the helm in bringing awareness to this robust tool.  OneNote organized my work lessons. OneNote organized my Masters program. OneNote organized my committees.  OneNote organized my life.

I was the first in my school board to use OneNote with adult ESL learners as an e-portfolio. I presented no fewer than three workshops on OneNote.  I tweeted with enthusiasm about my OneNote experience.  I convinced others to explore OneNote.   OneNote, for me, was the planning, organizing, and sharing tool bar none.  Give me the purple cape.  I was firmly on board.

Then they pulled the plug.

If you want to make use of the multi-user collaboration functions, or if you need to use OneNote on several devices at different locations, you need to use OneDrive.  About two weeks ago, Microsoft decreased the space available in OneDrive by two-thirds.  Because my notebooks are so dense, this meant that I could no longer access my notebooks across devices.  The e-portfolio notebooks contain lots of data, rubrics, documents, photos, and voice-recordings.  5GB (edited – I had said MB, which is nothing; it is actually GB) is all that remains in your personal OneDrive.  Unless, of course, you want to pay.

I get that Microsoft is not a charitable organization; they are a business.  I don’t feel entitled to free stuff.  I do, however, feel entitled to know what I’m getting myself into.  I guess eventually you have to pay for the milk, or the cow walks off, bovinely, into the sunset.  Now the question is, do I commit to the OneNote/OneDrive cow?  What happens if a newer, better app is released?  (Wait – wait, oh, I didn’t see *that* one!!).

What this means for me is that my committee members won’t want to pay to use OneNote.  Thus, I can’t share and use the committee OneNote notebooks.  My adult learners can still use OneNote in the classroom, but won’t be able to share and save on the cloud because the data is too large.  I can’t ask my learners or committee members to pay for the space.  It simply won’t happen.

To be fair, after I realized that my space was gone, I did some research.  As it turns out, Microsoft had been telling users since December that they were planning to decrease the free space on OneDrive.  I’m just not that much of a techie that I would know that, or be attuned to the news until the carpet was yanked from under my feet.

You know that old adage, that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is?  I may ante up and buy more space for myself, but now I feel like I’ve been duped, and that I’ve played a part in duping colleagues about OneNote’s potential.

UPDATED: Like I said in here, sure I would consider paying for the product if it had been more apparent that this would be happening.  As for the email messages that Microsoft had sent, the only reason I have hotmail is for OneNote.  It is so full of spam and junk that it has been rendered virtually useless as email (and I have played with the junk mail filters, etc.  It just doesn’t seem to work.)

I think I also said that I’m not that much of a techie.  I have been using OneNote with OneDrive since 2014 and had no idea that it would be changing.  Sure, that’s my fault.  I also probably couldn’t tell you whether or not any other app that I use will start charging.  My point here is that the way I have been using OneNote/OneDrive in my classroom can no longer continue the same way because the files my students have created are larger than 5GB, and for the students to access their files across devices, collaborate etc, they would have to pay.  Many of my learners don’t have credit cards, so they couldn’t have access even if they wanted to.

Let me also say here that what has happened with OneDrive, and my subsequent loss of a major teaching tool in OneNote, is *exactly* why many of my colleagues are anti-tech in the classroom.  Why bother investing in a tool that will go obsolete, or will start charging for usage that was once free?  I know that when I return, these are the comments I will be hearing.

That hasn’t turned me against tech in the classroom; it is a lesson learned.  That’s it.  That’s the message of this blog post.  There is a responsibility for any teacher using tech to investigate it, and to stay on top of updates, or come up against what I have.  You can’t get too comfortable with any educational technology.  There’s always got to be a Plan B.




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Adapting texts for use in the English language classroom

Nathan Hall


The other day, Jen Artan was asking me about finding authentic reading material for my class that wasn’t too difficult. The comment was from a blog post I had written about Frequency Level Checker and so I thought it might be a good time to go through my steps in adapting material for my classroom. I know there is a lot of debate about adapting authentic material for the language classroom, but I feel there is a balance here that needs to be maintained between giving texts that are too difficult for students and needing students to be exposed to authentic language in use. I don’t believe that adapting a text has to take away from the authenticity and will make it better for students.

Step one: Copying the text

There are a few options here. If you already have the text in a document, there’s nothing more to do than just…

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Technology & SLT (Small Busines$)

I have just started one of my favourite classes – SLT Small Business.  I began the course in 2014, and each iteration has infused appropriate and usable technology.   The adult learners in this program are interested in exploring entrepreneurship in Canada, and/or the Canadian workplace culture.

To begin with, learners need to navigate our course LMS (   Relevance to the Canadian workplace?  Definitely.  Canadian workplaces are beginning to offer staff training via LMS’s, or at least some online version of what used to be offered face-to-face, lecture style, in a classroom.  Logging and tracking workplace training is becoming the norm.  Even though I’d be the last to advocate losing the face-to-face training altogether, I know it’s coming.  Online training is more economical.

My learners, within the course, use online fillable PDF forms to apply for business licenses, permits, etc.  They access the internet, use search engines, email, and communicate with each other in group forums.  That last sentence is basic; if our learners can’t at least use the internet, email, or chat then they are at a considerable disadvantage in the workplace.

More advanced technology that the learners use in this course includes using to set up a free website, using Microsoft templates, Publisher templates for business cards, using Powtoon to create a short internet commercial,  and exploring how social media is used in the Canadian workplace to address customer service and marketing.

That said, I’ve only got my learners for 450 hours.  Above and beyond course content, I’ve now got to factor in the mandatory PBLA requirements.  I’ve decided to do my PBLA entirely online with my group.  At the very least, folders can be created to contain each element of the portfolio, and then uploaded to a flashdrive or saved to the cloud.  I’m planning to use OneNote as a save and display e-portfolio option; the entire file can then be uploaded as one massive zip, which can travel anywhere with the learner.  Also, it’s very easily backed up by the instructor in case of accidental deletion.

This won’t be my first crack using OneNote for PBLA.  Last term, I did both (used the paper and the e-portfolio version).   The paper version was essentially the e-version printed off, minus the language companion (we hadn’t yet received the binders).

How It Works

I have a skeleton OneNote folder already created, which has the tabs and language companion material already laid out (like the binders).  Students are given instructions on how to access the file, and download to their specific student drive.  Students are also shown how to export completed assignments from to their folders.

Understanding how to access an use the files, how to export, how to save to a flashdrive all takes repetition and practice.  I have access to a lab 3-4 times per week.  I have instruction sheets printed off, clearly outlining the steps.  I’ve even created a PBLA assessment task based on the instructions – with screenshots for the lower levels and without for the higher CLBs.  The “skeleton” is pictured below…

If you’re interested in more details about how to use OneNote in the classroom, join my webinar coming up in March.





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To Tech, or Not to Tech…

monika and theresaI’ve been thinking a lot lately, yes, I know, that’s unusual.   Yesterday, I had my learners out on the track blindfolded, taking part in a trust activity with a partner.  No tech was involved whatsoever.  I watched this group lead each other, giving encouragement, providing instructions, (Go slowly, go right, no, no, other right…). They competed with each other to find an object with only the voice of their partner leading them on, encouraging them.

This task was a modification of a trust activity I learned while taking a post-grad HRM course, meant for managers and leaders.  Part of the idea was to reflect back on the activity.  While blindfolded, how quickly did you move forward?  Was your progress incremental because you preferred to use your stick (pointers or metre sticks) to feel your way around yourself, or did you burst forth down the path, fully confident in your partner’s protection and guidance?

The activity generated a good deal of discussion back in class.  We have just finished our “leadership” unit, and have begun AODA training.  The objectives of this task were both to reflect on one’s leadership style, and to put oneself in the shoes of someone with low to no vision.

The reason I’m adding this to my tech blog is to show that I’m not all about technology.  There are times when a non-tech teaching method works better, and is more fit for the task.  That said, I love the challenge of taking a new piece of technology and breaking it down to see how it can be applied to make either my or my students’ learning process smoother.  I’m always on the lookout for edutech that can elevate a lesson, or at least, help keep me organized!

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Recycling Bin Dumpster Diving

I have to admit it: I have been known to dive into our massive recycling bins if some material or discarded resource catches my eye.  (Ooh, shiny!)  When I first started out, raiding recycling bins was a great way to gather material, and to see what the seasoned professionals used.  The fallback, though, was that I might find a great resource, but would have no idea from which grammar book it was copied.  

Our photocopiers are, shall we say, mature, and have been digesting print and copy jobs in progressively creative ways.  After I reached into the bowels of the infernal machine and retrieved the jam, I dutifully placed it in the bin.  That’s when I noticed the paper copy of TESL Ontario’s Contact magazine, Spring/Summer 1999.

Intro to the Canadian Language Benchmarks

Curious, I opened it up to see what articles, issues, etc. were relevant to the pre-2000 TESL professionals.  The front page story was “Problems and Issues in Using the Canadian Language Benchmarks to Develop Curriculum Materials” by Robert Courchene.   The majority of these problems and issues have since been addressed (listening/speaking was once considered a single skill, sociocultural considerations hadn’t been explicit). The article is fascinating.  It’s something like reverse engineering for PBLA.  Courchene’s analysis was bang on; the article is a true artifact and I’m glad I came across it.

Technology Articles – Care to Concordance with Me?

However, it wasn’t the opening article that caught my eye; it was a piece on technology in the classroom by John Allan and Judy Kelly, “ESL and Electronic Age: Data Driven Learning…” John and Judy had access to a computer program known as a “concordancer”  which would essentially allow them to analyze electronic text, make word lists, count frequencies,  with the goal “to produce data that the teacher and students use to resolve a linguistic query.” (Allan and Kelly, 1999). The idea was to use corpora in teaching, for the students and teacher to use data to show patterns and to gain insight.

Allan and Kelly wrote that some of the challenges in taking on this data-driven-learning challenge was having enough computers, training teachers and students on how to use the program, and figuring out a way to make effective use of the concordance printouts (it was the 90s, I wonder if they were still using dot printers.)

Allan and Kelly didn’t know it at the time, but they were pioneers.  Corpora in language learning and teaching is a hot topic, and a recurring one at TESL conferences.  It is growing traction in the TESL community, and there are now online concordancers that instructors can use (

Online in the 1990s

The only other technology article was a short summary of a conference presentation “ESL On-Line” by Sharon Rajabi and Joan Reynolds.  Navigating the internet for appropriate ESL material can be time-consuming.  One can spend hours just building up one’s online resources.  Rajabi and Reynolds guided instructors through a set of pre-selected websites, and introduced Clarity Tense Busters software.

Except for maybe the Clarity Tense Busters software, Rajabi and Reynold’s presentation could be done today at any TESL conference.  As for using DDL to create corpora, I can see its value, especially in academic ESL classes.  I would like to know what Allan and Kelly think about concordancing today, given that they have now had 15+ years to experiment with learners.

Technology + Language Learning

This printed issue of Contact magazine sitting here in front of me is a piece of history, an artifact.  Technology is changing the way we process information, the way we learn, teach and communicate.   Some of the questions raised in 1999 are still present today.   How do we get our learners to be more culturally competent?  How do we shift from the teacher as “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” (and avoid just being there, on the chair)?  How can we use technology to guide our learners’ language journeys and to help develop essential skills they need to be successful in Canadian post-secondary institutions and in the workplace?

I’m a PBLA Cohort II graduate.  I’ve had a chance to briefly skim a program that is being developed to help instructors design their courses, produce outlines, generate rubrics, track competencies, etc. (Quartz).  The CLB was piloted in the late 90s, and has evolved.  Critical analysis and review ultimately contributed to its improvement.  That’s how we grow.  I see PBLA and the tech to support it as being in the early stages.  I wonder what it will look like in 15 years?

It’s amazing what you can find in a recycling bin.

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Summer of Tech…

My last day with the students was a week ago.  I am without a class until after Labour Day.  You might think that I’d take a breather, step back, shut down (or at least reboot), but nah…  I see the next 5-6 weeks as a prime opportunity to jump online and take a close look at what’s going on in EdTech.

Twitter – What Would I Do Without You?

This morning I went right to Twitter (I sometimes go to Flipboard, but usually I check my Twitter feeds first thing).  An American educator that I follow had just tweeted about attending an online EdModo conference, beginning immediately.  So, that changed my morning.  I had been following Edmodo, and it was on my list to learn more about it.  Edmodo is essentially a Learning Management System but one that keeps current, and has more to offer than other LMS’s.   Had I not been on Twitter, I wouldn’t have known about this online conference.

EdmodoCon 2015:  This is What I’m Talking About

I love being connected to a group of like-minded educators.  The keynote speaker opened by talking about Edmodo community, and how the system has been evolving.  They even distributed EdModie awards to deserving instructors and teachers around the world.  It was inspiring to hear what others are doing in the classroom.

I just finished attending a panel discussion where panel members discussed current and relevant issues like how the learner has evolved, how important it is that curriculum drive technology (*), how educators need professional development and support using technology in the classroom… Really, we are all experiencing many of the same issues regardless of where we are.  Professional Development has to be meaningful and have direct application for the teacher in the classroom.  There should be some hands-on component in a technology PD workshop.  Sounds logical.


I’ve just finished another couple of Edmodo Con workshops, both with featured teachers (John Choins and Kari Salomon).  Both of these teachers are K-12, but again, I can definitely find practical use for my learners.  Some things, obviously, don’t apply (like having a relationship with parents) (kind of glad, though!), but most of it does.  Some great ideas about structuring debate via a LMS and keeping class videos to 8-12 minutes.

MOOC – Some Progress

I’ve mentioned that I’m taking a Coursera MOOC called “Foundations of Virtual Learning” run out of the University of California.  Completion rates of MOOCS are low; most people start them out of curiosity but then don’t finish.  I vowed to complete every part of this MOOC.  MOOCs are designed to be flexible, so I had planned on doing the majority of the work really beginning last week, and then completing it all this week.  I’m almost exactly where I want to be, and have scored over 90% average on the weekly quizzes on my first attempt.  (You get at least three attempts).  I just won’t get any credit for this MOOC because I haven’t paid for that.  But I’m in the course for the knowledge, not the credit.

Summer of Tech

My plans for my “time off” are to work on my fall curriculum, investigate Edmodo as an alternative LMS site, develop my OneNote – PBLA e-Portfolio PD workshop, and update some TESL O webinar training materials.   I also want to put together a technology workshop dreamlist for my workplace, focusing on the technology that fits the immediate demands of the learners, and that will improve student achievement of learning objectives.  Also, I want to spruce up my WEEBLY webpage, and upload some modules.

* Yes, I know that I’ve said before about teaching the specific technology, and exploring how it can be used by Adult ESL learners, but that said, I do recognize that the pedagogy has to be the primary focus.

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MOOCs – Keeping Up the Motivation (or Somebody Notice Me, Please!!)

I have to be honest; the first MOOC  I tried, I didn’t finish.  Started off well.  Read the required articles.  Watched the Rick Mercer-like instructor videos.  Eagerly participated in the online discussions.  And then tuned out.  I think I know at least 4 reasons why.

1. The material was too basic

I knew it already, for the most part, but thought I would try the MOOC regardless, figuring I could always learn something new.  The MOOC was offered thru Canvas.  The course I was in was called “Learning to Learn Online”.  My objectives were to gain some insight into how my learners feel about online learning, especially those encountering the technology for the first time.

2. Pat on the head – NOTABLY absent

I hadn’t realized prior to this MOOC that I need recognition.  I admit it, I am a bit of a Lisa Simpson in that I want to be assessed and then receive the double gold star…  With a MOOC, that’s impossible.  There are too many learners, so attracting individual attention from the instructor is rare.  The “M” does means “massive”, by the way.

So I’d put in extra time and effort, and when I thought, ha! This answer will surely get a nod!  And nothing happened.  A virtual speck in the online galaxy.  

Maybe I’m not as brilliant as I thought I was… I know about effective feedback, and I know that, as instructors,  we ought to avoid mindless “good job” responses on their own. But to get no feedback at all made me feel like I was writing in a vacuum.   You know what MOOCs are missing?  That “like” button from social media sites like Facebook.  Even getting a virtual atta girl would have kept my motivation up.  

3. iPad App malfunctioning 

I was doing the entire MOOC on my iPad.  There was an app for that.  However, the Canvas app froze out and went non responsive half the time.  I would have then had to find an alternate online resource.  It was too much effort to figure out.

4. Time

Like any adult learner, time is always going to be a factor.  I did not plan my MOOC into my weekly schedule like I should have, so I began falling behind.  Plus, the app was unreliable, and no one ever noticed my outstanding class work so, gradually, I let the course get away from me.  

I’ve since gone back and have viewed the videos, and reviewed the discussions.  I think I got out of that particular MOOC what I wanted.  I’m now in another MOOC through Coursera, Foundations of Virtual Instruction.  I have MOOC time twice a week, for 2 hours each time.  I’m already more invested in FVI than my first MOOC.  More intrinsic motivation.  I’m not behind, and I’ve aced the quizzes.  The discussion groups are a little more active.  They even offer a way to receive recognition badges…however, you need to pay for them.

MOOCs are a way to keep on top of recent innovations in your field, whatever that field may be.  It’s a way to connect with MOOC users worldwide, and start building a network.  MOOCs are self directed, and learner focused, and are really just beginning to connect users globally.  I think I will be taking advantage of MOOCs in the future, even though it’s highly unlikely the instructor will ever give me a virtual fist bump.

Man, some students are so needy, eh?

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