Creating a Knowledge Base in your Classroom with OneNote
Can and should educators use OneNote as a knowledge base?
Where do knowledge base (KB) systems fit into the classroom? In my opinion, they’re a perfect fit to help supplement content in your learning management system (LMS), because they’re searchable and they help answer or point students to the necessary information. Unlike an LMS, the content is presented in a format to help with learning, but it’s difficult to search in an LMS to find a certain answer, like how do I create a PDF? That question is hopefully addressed in the course, but the catch is that the student has to remember where that information is placed; easier said than done when you need help and you’re in crunch time.
Whether it’s for a specific course or a program major/minor or for a broader range of students, this business tool also has a practical for teaching and learning. Some instructors may already be doing a variation of this by creating Classroom Notebooks through tools like OneNote, that are used for students to collaborate or share their work with their instructor or with their peers.
The question I want to investigate this time is “Can and should educators use OneNote as a knowledge base in the classroom?”
What is a Knowledge Base?
According to Atlassian, the makers of Confluence, which is a popular enterprise knowledge base tool, “A knowledge base is a self-serve online library of information about a product, service, department, or topic.” In a business context, this information would likely consist of topics related processes, policies, regulations or other how-to topics related to an institution’s operations, that users need to be able to access to answer questions they have about the department or product.
In the example below, this IT department has used a wiki tool to create a KB for all students and employees to access.
In practical terms, what are the weaknesses of using tools like the learning management system, a website, or SharePoint or even a Teams Wiki for providing KB type information?
- The learning management system usually doesn’t have a search function that can search across a course or multiple courses.
- You also can’t search integrated systems, so content in the video management tool or pulled in from other resources will likely not appear in the search results.
- A website is also competing with other content online and maybe you’re not comfortable sharing your classroom info online publicly, so the content needs to be locked down to those in your course or specific people at your school.
- You may have content in multiple places that needs to be brought into the classroom.
- Setting up a SharePoint site can take time and be as complicated as setting up your classroom in the LMS, for a teacher this overhead may not be feasible.
- The Teams Wiki tool can only be accessed via Teams and has limited features, compared to other O365 applications.
OneNote to the Rescue?
Microsoft calls Microsoft OneNote the ”one cross-functional notebook for all your notetaking needs.” As a notebook tool, it may be difficult to imagine this tool working as a KB, in fact, I had never really considered it even though I’ve used OneNote for years. I also have experience setting up and administering different wiki KB sites too for IT, EdTech and other committee work where I serve. In each of those cases, using a wiki or KB tool is the best option because of the needs and circumstances of the roles I had when the KB’s were created.
OneNote can be used and accessed through a variety of tools, the desktop app, online through a web browser or through a mobile app. This makes it accessible to students, while still locking it down to those in your course. Of course, in order to create a shared notebook, it has to be shared in your OneDrive space, so there can be some size limitations to be mindful of, but overall, it seems like a classroom KB is easy to create and manage.
One of the things I like about OneNote in particular is the fact that you can have multiple notebooks as long as you’re within the size limit specified by your system administrator (depending on where you store your notebooks). This means you can have your own personal notebook and classroom notebooks, that create the collaboration space, KB space, a private space for the instructor, and a private space for each student.
The 7 step wizard helps you administrate the notebook, by setting appropriate permissions for you in each section too, so there’s minimal work for you to do to manage access and there are buttons in the toolbar to help add and remove individuals as needed.
Microsoft has also curated some specific resources to help educators use and manage their classroom notebooks too. https://www.onenoteforteachers.com/.
There is a lot of support and tutorials already online from others who use the tool for KB style work, but there are some things to be aware of though when using OneNote though.
- This doesn’t scale as an enterprise solution, with backups, admin access, things that your IT office may need or should require of a system when used across an entire institution. In those cases, nothing beats an actual KB system.
- Although you can password protect your notebooks, this is actually a form of encryption and should your password be lost, the notebook will not be easily recovered or recovered at all. See Some Important Notes about Passwords on this Microsoft Page.
- OneNote in the application has a synchronization process and sometimes it can get out of sync. If you tend to work on multiple devices or if your institution has file synchronization enabled on the documents folder or desktop in order to back up and store data, you could run into some versioning challenges. In those cases, it’s best to familiarize yourself with some of the OneNote Synchronization Best Practices to avoid issues and to know what to do should an issue arise.
OneNote has a lot of flexibility as an application in the classroom. With such low overhead to learn the application, instructors should instead focus on choosing the structure of their classroom notebooks. This doesn’t mean having all of the content ready, but instead knowing where that content should go. Yes, it can be moved and organized later, but this can become cumbersome because you can’t see the whole navigation structure.
I think the biggest challenge will be figuring out what content to put where and why, instead of how to use the tool or if you should use the tool at all. The LMS, video management tool, other resources and tools work together to create the classroom experience, so it’s important to not just think of how you (the instructor) will use the tools or how students will use the one specific tool, but how your students will experience and interact with your classroom as a whole.
Atlassian. What is a knowledge base? https://www.atlassian.com/itsm/knowledge-management/what-is-a-knowledge-base.
Best practices for syncing notes in OneNote. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/best-practices-for-syncing-notes-in-onenote-9c6e8fcc-3307-419c-ba77-58cadfe651d7.
Computer & Information Systems. CIS HelpDesk Wiki. https://ww.spu.edu/help.
Protect notes in with a password in Microsoft OneNote. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/protect-notes-with-a-password-in-microsoft-onenote-280af2bf-0959-4889-9191-e326b2bbedee.