OneNote: Accessibility for EveryOne by Prof. Stephen Heppell

I’m a former Trustee of BAFTA, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. I’m still on the BAFTA Council and have the privilege of judging and voting for the BAFTA mask winners each year. This carries with it the great fun of walking down the annual red carpet, partying late with the nominees and winners, and in truth just enjoying conversations about everyone’s startling creativity. Of course, away from the public’s gaze, those conversations often take an unexpected turn. I remember a lengthy chat with Mickey Rourke, BAFTA winner and ex-professional boxer, about grandfather clocks. It transpired that we shared a quiet passion for the delicacy and precision of them. Not quite his “hell raising” public persona, but then that is acting for you.

One surprise that comes from those many delightful conversations is how many award winners struggled one way or another in education. Being special is what sets them up for awards, but being special didn’t fit so well at school. Dyslexia seems to help cinematographers to “see” the world in a fresh and visual way. The obsession with details that costumiers typically show does not sit well with 45 minute lessons and a constant change of focus in school, and so on. As we give out the BAFTA masks each year I can’t help but reflect on the many, many excellent children that education wastes, because they “don’t fit” the way we do learning.

But here comes technology with more power and capability to provide support for those children. Decades ago education tried to MAKE them fit; today’s technology ALLOWS them to fit in, but without conceding their unique strengths.

Which brings us to the wide range of support that OneNote offers with accessibility in mind. It is a great tool for making and keeping notes, because it does not lock users into a one-size-fits-all linear notational note structure. It positively encourages personalisation: multiple-media, styles, fonts, colours and unique approaches to storage and filing. With dyslexia, for example, pale colours – cream, very light yellow, even the slightest of pinks all help readability, as do some fonts. Dictation and text to speech allow inputs and outputs any which way, but combining OneNote’s tools like Office Lens and Immersive Reader gives a powerful “capture and read” capability that for some is a game changer. Again staying with our dyslexia example, some fonts are more helpful than others. Although there are free dyslexia friendly fonts like Lexia Readable, Open-Dyslexic, or Dyslexie, many simply prefer the san serif characters of Arial or Calibri. It is an individual’s choice, informed by experience and research. For the individual student, setting preferences for the colours, fonts, layouts and rich media that work best for you, allows work circulated by the teacher through Class Notebook to drop into the preferred style of each student. User-led differentiation.

We know that for effective learning, the cues and clues of the social moment of learning matter too. Learning with OneNote’s note taking gives an opportunity to embed those social markers as rich media: add a grabbed image of your teacher and that section of history which you were finding quite elusive becomes “oh yes, that was day she wore that strange cardigan” and another memory is cemented. Time is another helpful variable for OneNote users. The ability to unpack steps – in a maths equation, or a data visualisation, or a teacher’s worked example, all help some students to learn, or to remember, better.

Peeping ahead of course, the scale and power of our learning tools like OneNote will continue to grow and grow. At Learning Possibilities we believe that the ability for students to take control of their own learning, whilst their teacher’s record keeping is seamlessly (and effortlessly!) keeping track of it all in the background, is why we remain committed to learning platforms. Every student best able to make whatever learning progress they are capable of, whilst every teacher is able to best contribute and guide that learning sounds like a world where the lost talent from learning that we glimpse annually at BAFTA becomes a thing of the past. How exciting!

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