Pushing your classes online using OneNote, an iPad, Zoom and Piazza

It’s March 2020 and MSU Denver has pushed all of its classes online in the interest of curtailing the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). 

Since I’ve been acquiring some modicum of skill in ‘hybridizing’ my classes, I thought I’d share my workflow for moving my classes online.  To be fair, much of what is below is not original, and, in fact, is learned from many of my existing and past colleagues.

What you will need:

        • Office 365 Educational Subscription
        • iPad with stylus (you *may* be able to do everything I’ve talked about by using only your computer, but no guarantee)
        • A willingness to host office hours virtually using Zoom and Piazza
        • A YouTube account (instructions on such provided below)


First, I talk about how to get your class onto Microsoft OneNote using the “Classroom Notebook.”

Second, I talk about how I construct my virtual lectures. I do not require students be present for them, since that may defeat the whole purpose of being flexible in the time of COVID-19.

Then I talk about using Zoom and Piazza for virtual office hours.

Setting up Microsoft OneNote Classroom Notebook

Step 1: make sure you and your students have an educational subscription to Microsoft Office 365.  If this is case, then proceed.  If not, then it may be enough for everyone involved to have a copy of OneNote, but I cannot confirm that will be sufficient to do what I describe below.  In fact, this is what Microsoft says you need:

      • An Office 365 subscription for Education that includes OneDrive for Business. If you’re not sure you have this, please contact your IT administrator to verify.
      • An organizational account for yourself (the teacher) with permissions to use the OneNote Class Notebook app to create the class notebooks.
      • Your students must have an Office 365 organizational account.


Step 2: Install OneNote on your computer/tablet.  You may also use the web version of OneNote, but it has some limitations.  Truth be known, the MacOS version of OneNote is not equal to the Windows version of OneNote and, even still, the web version is also lacking in ways. 

Step 3: To set up a Classroom Notebook, follow the directions here: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/getting-started-with-the-onenote-class-notebook-a-walkthrough-for-teachers-28666b8e-b0ae-48fe-b001-1874f5f6db58?ui=en-us&rs=en-us&ad=us

The key to Step 3 is making sure you have at your disposal all of the emails of the students in your class.  Have this ready when you are adding students. And save it for later when creating a Piazza site for your students; see below.

Tip when setting up your Classroom Notebook.  When you create what is called a Page and push it to your students, make sure you push it as a Page and not a Section.  From my experience, if you push something to the wrong category, you must delete it from each individual student.  Though, as pointed out by Debbie Gaydos at Penn State Greater Allegheny, you can rename a section for each student en masse by clicking on “manage notebooks” in the browser/web version of OneNote or by clicking on such under the “Class Notebook” menu and then “manage notebooks”.  So, if you don’t want the pain of deleting individually, you could simply rename it as “empty” or “neat things for you” and fill it with whatever.

Once you are in your Classroom Notebook, there are a number of things you can do.  I’ll tell you exactly what I’ve done and why.  If you modify anything, please share in the comments below how you have modified my approach.  I’d be curious to see what others are doing.

Homework, quizzes, exams, basically anything hand-written in OneNote Classroom Notebook

If you’re using an online homework system, then you’re already taken care of here.  If not, then here’s how I collect homework using OneNote.

      1. I assign problems from the text
      2. Students write out their solutions like it’s 1899 (okay, maybe that would have meant they were writing on slate).
      3. Once students have finished their assignments, they scan each page with their phones using an app:
        1. CamScanner (basic account is free) https://www.camscanner.com/team/price
        2. Adobe Scan (free) https://acrobat.adobe.com/us/en/mobile/scanner-app.html
        3. Microsoft Office Lens (free with Office 365 subscription)
        4. Many others (tell me your favorite!)
      4. Before students upload, create a Section in your Classroom Notebook called “Homework”.  Don’t push it YET!
      5. In the Homework Section, make pages for each homework assignment you know you will assign, e.g., Homework Week 1 or Homework #1.
      6. Once you have the Homework Section set up, push it to each student.
      7. Students then upload their PDF (as a single PDF) to the designated Homework Page.
        1. What is key here is that students upload their PDF as a “Printout” (with this verbiage varying across the platforms.  I know on the web version, you click “Insert” on the menu, then “File” and then “Insert File Printout”. The last one one produces a PDF that you can immediately see and comment on.
      8. So, what do I do once the PDFs are in the right spot?  I use my iPad (any tablet with OneNote app installed) and my Pencil (any stylus, really) to hand-write comments.
        1. You also have the opportunity to insert audio clips.  You can make use of this when it may be too much to write/type comments.  Students can then play the audio file that’s embedded in the OneNote document from any device with access to OneNote.
      9. Once you have finished, there’s no need to ‘save’ in the sense you may be use to.  All will sync automatically across your devices and the ‘cloud’, which is why you need a OneDrive account set up, as well (which is probably universally the case if you have an educational MS Office 365 account set up through your institution).

This work flow works for anything hand-written.  I use it for homework and I will soon use it for the students’ second exam. 

How does one then do an ‘online OneNote-uploaded take-home exam?’ The honor system, quite honestly.  I plan on releasing the exam via Blackboard at a certain time, making it difficult enough so that students will not be successful in Googling their answers or getting their friends to help, but not so difficult that everyone is crushed.  I will then stipulate that the exam must e uploaded to the “Exam 2 Page” of the “Exam” Section that I will soon create.  They will have 2.5 hours to both take the exam and upload the exam, where two hours is meant for the test and the half hour is for making sure they can work out any technical difficulties.  As a back-up, I would suggest allowing students to simply email you the exam at the 2.5 hour mark.

Lectures shared through OneNote Classroom Notebook

My particular workflow goes as follows:

      1. Screen capture various theorems, definitions, key ideas, examples, etc., and save them as individual files.
      2. Insert the various screen shots into a OneNote Page titled, for example, “02-01-2020 Lecture” so that the pages get ordered correctly (truth be known, the automatic ordering is determined by when something was added, or so it seems). If you manage to see these pages somewhere in Finder (MacOS) or Explorer (Windows), they’ll be ordered according to filename if that’s your default way of viewing files in your respective file browser.
      3. What I do next is make a video on my iPad.  This video is not of me doing something on a white/chalk board, but rather, of me doing something on the iPad using some app as a digital whiteboard
      4. This is where it gets interesting.
        1. Using your favorite tablet and note-taking app, you can record a video using built-in screen-recording.  A video might like something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rzRtj7s5rQ
        2. So, how do you gain access to screen-recording?
          1. Follow the instructions here for the iPad: https://support.apple.com/guide/ipad/take-a-screenshot-or-screen-recording-ipad08a40f3b/ipados
          2. The situation with a Surface is less than perfect, but a Surface can screen one app at a time. Follow the instructions here for the Surface: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOxzIeIUKjY
        3. Once you have gained access to screen recording on your tablet, you are almost ready to start.
        4. Since we’re already using OneNote, you can create a Page in your own personal Section in the Classroom Notebook.  It is here where you start the screen recording on your tablet and begin writing.
        5. Since I am familiar with the iPad, I’ll say what to do next with such a device. When you are done with your recording, click the red camera/recorder looking icon at the top of your iPad (top-right corner). You will be asked if you want to stop recording.  Say yes and then proceed to the Photos app.
        6. The Photos app stores movies AND photos.  Once here, you can export the video to your favorite cloud service or nearby Mac computer with OS X using Airdrop.
          1. Similarly, if you have iCloud syncing set up, then in a matter of moments, the file will appear on your Mac computer.
        7. At this point, you want to create a YouTube account at YouTube.com: https://www.dummies.com/social-media/youtube/how-to-create-a-youtube-account/
          1. The Dummies article is filled with ads, but is exactly what you need to set up an account.
        8. Watch this series of videos on how to use the so-called YouTube Studio. They are perhaps a bit more than you need, but they are thorough: https://creatoracademy.youtube.com/page/course/bootcamp-foundations
        9. Once you have an idea of how to use the YouTube Studio, you’re ready to upload your video
        10. Return to your tablet and download the YouTube app.  Again, I’ll be talking about the iPad.
          1. Once you have the iPad app installed on your iPad, you can upload videos to YouTube according to this tutorial: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/57407?co=GENIE.Platform%3DiOS&hl=en
          2. Pro-tip: make the video ‘unlisted’ if you’re not one who likes your videos being found via a search. I’ve done this to all of my videos so they remain embedded in my OneNote Page.  I want to keep the lecture self-contained and you’ll soon see what I mean by that.
        11. Now that the video is uploaded to YouTube, go to your computer and open up Safari (again, I’m using a Mac, but you can easily do the same on a surface).
          1. Go to your YouTube account, log in and select to watch your video from the YouTube Studio.
          2. You are now watching the video in Safari (that’s important).  Click on the ‘up arrow’ icon at the top of the Safari Browser to share the video with OneNote.  No other way of sharing will accomplish what we want, this being embedding the video.
        12. Once the video is shared with OneNote, it shows up as a Page in your Classroom Notebook.  Go to the video, select it, right click on it and then select ‘cut’.
        13. Go to your “Lecture 1” Page and ‘paste’ in the video next to whatever the video was explaining.  You’ve now got part of your lecture built.

Here is a link to a finished product: https://msudenver-my.sharepoint.com/:o:/g/personal/niemeye1_msudenver_edu/Ev-OvctOUYdGvZ_SUCIvMNcBP8lGnH_35mizCj_cRu9rmA?e=Aft9g4

You’ll notice I made a mistake in one of the videos if you watch it (or you notice the text around the video saying there is a mistake).  This will happen and OneNote gives you the opportunity to write freely around items, as you can see.

Some added notes: YouTube automatically provides closed-captioning for hearing-impaired. This makes you ADA compliant. Yay!  Embedding your videos this way allows students to reduce the quality or increase the quality so that they can watch the video without any hiccups (remember, not all students have internet or high-speed internet).

Using Zoom and Piazza for virtual office hours

Now, onto Zoom and Piazza. 

Zoom is great. It’s the new Skype and better than Skype.  There is a free account that allows students to join your meeting.  You can also create a basic account, but it’ll cap your meeting to 40 minutes.  Now, in the interest of being flexible and generous, Zoom seems to have removed this cap for anyone with a .edu email address.  Also, if you’re familiar with Microsoft Teams, Zoom is built in and apparently has not cap for those with an Office 365 subscription.

      1. Check out this for creating a Zoom account and getting started with Zoom: https://youtu.be/-ik5o6WptX0
      2. Once you’ve done that, you should download the client for your iPad/Surface/Computer.
      3. Once you have the client installed on your device, you’re ready to Zoom.  Open the app, start a meeting and choose to use your personal meeting ID.  From what I can tell, this doesn’t ever change and is a perfect way to let students into the virtual meeting. Just give them the ID number in an email or posted in Blackboard, etc.
      4. Once in the app, you can share your screen. This is particularly useful if you have a document you want to discuss with the student or if you’re using a tablet and  you want to return to your favorite note-taking app (or, OneNote) to write out an example for all of those in the meeting to watch.
      5. You share the screen by selecting “Share” at the top of the screen and selecting “Share Screen”.  You will see that you can also select a digital whiteboard, but I find this a bit limiting, as I like to go between apps on my device, sometimes writing, sometimes graphing using GeoGebra or Desmos.


That pretty much should do it for Zoom meetings.  Questions on that, comment below.

Now onto Piazza. You can view my Calculus III Piazza site here: https://piazza.com/demo_login?nid=k5frei3habg717&auth=e743a7d

      1. Basically, go to piazza.com and create an account using your .edu email address.  In the process of doing this, you have the option to enroll students.
      2. Use the list of email addresses you used before when creating a Classroom Notebook.
      3. Once set up, students will get an email letting them know that a Piazza site has been created.  This is where you and others can collaboratively answer questions.
      4. This is a great alternative to Blackboard (or any LMS, really), since all of them tend to be very clunky and unfriendly to mathematics.
      5. You will notice when testing it out that you can type in LaTeX using $$ surrounding your code.  Students can also point and click in a menu or they can simply upload a picture of what they’ve done and where they are stuck.
      6. Again, look at my Calculus III guest preview above for more insight into how to use Piazza.

For more on how I got to this point in my teaching, see the blog on “Hybridizing your classroom.”

Questions or comments, please post below.

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