Class Portfolios – Arranging and Curating Knowledge

I am a CTE (Career and Technical Education) teacher. The subject that I teach (Information Technology and Networking) prepares my 11th and 12th grade students for their first job as a computer or network support technician or to continue their education in computer technology.

Part of what I would like my students to learn is how to start and keep a personal knowledge base of things that they learn. I read and researched “class journaling” but found I needed to extend the typical concept of class journaling to better fit what I teach and what is expected of computer and network technicians.

In the first few years of teaching CTE, I quickly discovered that traditional notetaking (journaling) is becoming a lost art. Very few of my students show up in class with a traditional notebook (much less a pencil or pen) to record what they are learning. They do however show up with portable computers (e.g. Chromebooks) or phones and our school has free and open wi-fi with access to the web.

I asked around to other teachers (inside and outside of CTE) and found that the absence of note taking is something they have also seen. I suspect (with no scientific evidence to back it) that since my students are so used to quickly and easily finding what they need to know from search engines, taking notes and building a personal collection of knowledge doesn’t seem important to them.  Their attitude is “I can search for what I need so why bother to write it down?”

I decided (based on my long time experience as a technical support engineer) that electronically recording what you know in a way that lives beyond school, can be personalized and can quickly be retrieved is a valuable skill that can be used to replace traditional paper-based notetaking. 

I now require that my students create a Digital Notebook / Portfolio for my class. When giving this as a requirement, I use the following to explain the how, why and where of keeping a personal knowledge base. I include the write-up I give to my students here. Feel free to borrow, adapt and re-use as needed.


Creating a Personal Knowledge Base For This Class

Your class portfolio (also called a personal knowledgebase) is a collection of the work and knowledge you collect from this class.

It should contain the following sections:

  • Personal notes that you take during class lectures
  • Vocabulary and terms that you need to know
  • Copies of class handouts
  • A Weekly Summary entry that summarizes what you learned for the week.(one for each week of class)
  • Copies of work that you turn in (either to Google Classroom or to the Net Academy Learning Management System). This includes labs and processes that you write. A copy of every assignment you turn in should be in this folder.
  • Any other items that you want to keep as part of your “knowledge base”
I started my electronic class portfolio for the following reasons:
  1. I found that what I learned in a class at school had a longer life than the class itself. I actually went back and referenced what I learned later on outside of school. (In the second part of this course that you take next year, you will need to recall and remember a lot of what you learn in the first part of the course.)
  2. I kept a lot of pretty detailed written notes but found out it was really hard to locate specific information or processes from all the notes I had taken. When notes are kept electronically I can search them by subject or keywords to quickly retrieve what I need.
  3. As a computer and network technician, I was collecting so many procedures and new knowledge that I needed for my job (that’s the nature of technical information) that I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) keep it all in my head. I needed to “expand and extend” the storage capacity of my brain and recording things in a personal knowledge base was the only way I could do it.  I needed what is often called a “second brain”.
  4. It was a very efficient way for me to study for exams and review what I learned.

Over time, I rearranged and curated this personal knowledge base so that now, I have my “personal Google”  arranged the way I like it that contains only information that is important to me.


When a customer asks a technician for help on a problem, the last thing they want to hear is “give me a second, I’m going to Google it). Anyone can Google (or You Tube) an answer to a problem. You are hired for your experience, knowledge and expertise. You won’t be hired simply because you can “Google it”.

Outstanding computer and network technicians need quick access to knowledge and solutions to problems. That’s what makes them successful. Still, I often get asked “Why do I have to do this? Google will tell me whatever I need to know”

Sure, Google and other search engines can give you “everything about anything” but there are a few things search engines don’t do when they give you answers to your queries.

  1. Search engines have no way of knowing if the information that they give you is the best answer to the question you ask and if it applies to the technical problem you are trying to solve. Only you can decide that. Because of this, you still have to search through all the items that the search engine delivers to decide what is applicable.
  2. Search engines don’t allow you to personalize, edit and add notes to the answer you get so that what you learn can directly and expertly be applied to your problem. For example, if  you are looking for a procedure to remove an update from Microsoft Windows, there is a general set of steps that Google will deliver but in your situation, you may have other notes to add or procedures that you need to do or not do depending on your environment. 

As I said before, a “superstar” computer and network technician is good at quickly and accurately retrieving the best information needed to solve a specific problem. That is what a personal knowledge base helps you do.


First of all, you should choose the technology that is suitable for you to create and maintain your Class Portfolio (personal knowledge base).
The following things might help you choose the technology you use to build your personal knowledge base:
  • Don’t store what you learn using technology that allows someone else to copy or delete your information without your permission.  I strongly discourage the use of your school Google account to store knowledge and encourage the use of accounts tied to your personal email address. Why? Because the day you graduate, it’s highly possible that your school account and all it contains will be deleted and two or more years of your work and what you learned will be lost forever! 
  • You may want to store your knowledge and work in a personal Google Drive account. That way, the knowledge you collect over two (or more) years will always be available to you. This is especially helpful when you start work or start college.
  • Arrange your knowledge anyway you want. It’s your personal knowledge base so you should arrange it the way it works for you! Below is a suggested method I use to start the process. I have found that this works if you start with an organization and you are willing to rearrange it and experiment as needed. Eventually you will arrive at an arrangement that suits you and feels comfortable. (It’s kind of like personalizing your desk). 
  • Selecting the technology you will use for your “second brain” and how you will arrange it is a very personal process. It will take many iterations and arrangements to match how you think and how you work. Don’t expect to get it right the first time and don’t get discouraged. The final structure of your knowledge base should reflect how your life is organized and how you think.


When I start a portfolio for a class, I do it using my personal Google Drive or (other cloud) account. 

Here is a suggestion about how to arrange a personal knowledge base. (Note: This may or may not work for you as you get better at building and curating your personal knowledge base but this is a good point to start from.) . How you arrange knowledge is called a “taxonomy”

  1. I created a folder in Google Drive called “Class Digital Notebooks”
  2. Under the top level folder, I create a folder for each class I’m taking. This takes all my knowledge and places it into “collections” that make sense to me. It also reflects your “school life” since this is how school arranges the knowledge it is providing you.

For the rest of this example, I’ll use the class folder that I create for ITN (because you can replicate this structure into a folder for other classes or collection of knowledge as you need it).

  1. In my ITN folder, I create the following sub-folders
  • Class Notes: In this folder are my class notes for ITN that I create using Google Docs. (I also scan to PDF and save any drawings or diagrams that I create during class in this folder). You can choose how to group and arrange your notes. You might want to have one Google Doc for each Unit / Subject we discuss in the class or create a sub folder for the unit and store notes and handouts (see below) in this folder.
  • Completed Work (PDF): This folder contains a copy of everything I turn in for the class. I keep these documents as PDF documents because PDF is the closest thing to a universal document format that can be read by many different applications. This is important for longevity and will make sure that you can access your knowledge no matter what future applications you use.
  • Handouts: Although paper handouts for a class are rare these days, this folder allows you to store handouts in electronic form. When I receive a handout, I scan the document to a PDF then store it here (or maybe in the appropriate subfolder in class notes). I then can toss the paper handout because it is now always available on-line.
  • Vocabulary and Terms: This folder contains documents that record vocabulary and terms (and their meanings) that you need to know for the class. I keep these in a separate folder so I can quickly search these documents if I run across a term or acronym and need a refresher as to what it means. 
  • Weekly Self Assessments: This folder contains a copy of Weekly Self Assessments that I turn in every week as part of the class. Keeping  these in a folder allows me to quickly recall what I learned in class, as well as what worked and what didn’t work for me and what learning goals I set for myself.
  • WIP: WIP is an acronym for “Work In Process”. I use this folder for assignments and documents (for examples labs) that I am in the process of working on. That way, I can always locate them when they are needed. When I complete an assignment,  I save it as a PDF and move it to my “Completed Work (PDF) file. Once it in in my Complete Work folder, I then turn it in to Google Classroom,  Net Academy or other LMS that is being used in my class.

As I previously mentioned, as you get better building your personal knowledge base, you might need to re-arrange it by creating new folders and moving documents and notes from one place to another. The most important thing is that your personal knowledge base should reflect how you see the world and how you think.

Your personal knowledge base is a personal collection that is ever living and ever changing and is shaped by your experience and needs.

// September 03 2021 // Post ID: 420