Have Microsoft inadvertently created the best software application for education ever? I think so. And you may, too, after reading this.

Think of a piece of paper, the ordinary A4 stuff you use in the classroom. Currently paper allows you express yourself through writing and drawings. You can fold it to create an origami swan or a paper airplane. Or perhaps you could crumple it up and throw at someone, in an expression of frustration. Even though paper is somewhat limited in the ways it can be used, it has allowed the greatest minds in history to communicate their thoughts and views -- and these throughts and views have changed the world. (See what could be called the greatest bits of paper ever at the British Library.)

imageNow imagine if paper were smart. What if you could not only write and draw but could also have your handwriting converted to text and record speech and video directly onto a page? Imagine if you could search everyone on your pieces of paper -- even the audio and video files-- for keywords. What if you could link pages to other pages? Share and work on a piece of paper with anybody, anywhere in the world? Capture images and text from any application or website? And what if all of your work was then saved automatically and stored in one file.

What ideas would we be able to develop if all this were true?

I know this all sounds to good to be true. Yet, Microsoft OneNote 2007 does all of this and more. I am not blogging about this from the point of view of someone in product development. I have used OneNote in my teaching and it revolutionised the way I could let my 10-11 year-olds work and learn. 

I am absolutely bewildered that I have still not seen the comprehensive use of OneNote in schools the UK. Is it that I have been looking in the wrong places? Is it a perception that OneNote is an application for tablet PCs? I used it on ordinary desktop PCs and laptops, and it is fantastic on an Interactive Whiteboard. OneNote will even install a version of itself on Windows Mobile devices such as PDAs and Smartphones.

Is it that you think you have to go out and buy OneNote? If your school has Microsoft Office, chances are you already have OneNote. And if your school is concerned about its carbon footprint, as many are these days, using OneNote can reduce the amount of paper you use and the amount of photocopying you do.

The Microsoft Office and Learning Styles Community on Innovative Teachers Network has a wealth of information, videos and links about OneNote and its use in education. A good place to find out more is by reading the MS OneNote blog.

If you can't believe that all of this could be possible in one product, try Microsoft OneNote for yourselves. Download a trial version here.

From my own experience using OneNote, I honestly feel its has education at its core and is the ideal tool for teachers, pupils and students to utilise and develop 21st century skills. But if I'm wrong, tell me. Have you tried MS OneNote and agree or disagree with me? Are you using MS OneNote and have some great ideas you would like to share?

In this world of digital lifestyles, isn’t it about time the exercise book caught up?