How I Use It
Before learning about OneNote's Class Notebook, I distributed a lot of handouts that got lost in students' cluttered binders, and used composition books for students to take notes and attach reference sheets. Now, in a 1:1 classroom with the digital notebook, not only can I distribute materials with a few clicks, which saves time both in class and the copy room, but those materials don't get lost.
The Class Notebook is set up with three sections: a content library, a "read-only" section for teachers to create pages to distribute to students that can also be used to provide backup notes to students; students' individual notebooks, which can be viewed by the teacher; and a collaboration space, editable by everyone. There is also an option for a teacher only section, which students cannot view and can be used to develop materials in advance. To keep their notebooks organized, I generally set up their sections and pages myself, but as students become more familiar with how the notebook works, they have the ability to create their own. (But be aware: if students change a section name, they do not receive pages distributed to the original section.) It does take some time to set up the notebooks to begin with--I've learned to start simple with only a couple sections since you can always add more later--but as extensively as I use it throughout the year, the investment is worth it.
I use the notebook not only for whole class, teacher-led note-taking, but small group and individual, student-driven work as well. For small group work, the collaboration space can be used to share work with the class. However, it has difficulty keeping up with multiple users working on the same page at the same time, so establish firm guidelines on its use. Work can also be easily lost in the collaboration space by a malevolent or unconscientious student; fortunately, there is a history function to track previous page versions and recent edits, but it is better not to have to resort those options. Individual work can be quickly reviewed using the "Review Student Work" function; however, I was admittedly disappointed when I found that the review features were not more similar to those on a Word document. Comments can be added by inserting audio or using the drawing tools, but I have not fully adopted those methods.
Admittedly, even after using OneNote's Class Notebook for a few years, my page design is still rather bare-bones, formatting organizers using tables, but files, pictures, and links can easily be inserted to present multi-media content and heighten student engagement. What I like most about the notebook is that every year I use it, I learn something new about it to implement it in new ways since it is such a versatile tool.
Overall, I think OneNote's Class Notebook is a great organizational tool that streamlines the distribution of materials and facilitates collaboration between students. I like being able to exert some control over students' organization and having access to notebooks from previous years to reuse materials. I never have to lug home a class set of composition books again and can largely avoid unreliable copy machines, not only saving me time, but reducing my use of paper.
However, after using OneNote the past few years, I am partial to the 2016 version and was not pleased when my students' computers were updated to the new 2018 version. Not only am I not familiar enough with the new interface to help my students use it, there also seem to be more issues with syncing delays this year with the new version. While I am normally prepared with paper backups for those who aren't able to access the materials in the notebook, I worry that if the syncing delays become pervasive enough, students will become frustrated with using the notebook and resist adopting it despite its many benefits, and finding another tool to organize students' materials as well as I have been able to with Class Notebook would require a significant shift in my teaching practices after using it so extensively the past few years.