Digital Learning Day 2013: LiveBinders

I am so excited to offer a post related to digital learning on Digital Learning Day 2013. I am also excited to be able to share this post with and through my friends at the National Center for Family Literacy (hosts of a super web resource for students, WONDEROPOLIS), with whom we will be sharing in a chat later tonight at Twitter (details below).

Digital Learning Day always presents the challenge of trying to decide which approach, lesson, or tool do we want to celebrate. We could certainly talk about the academic usages for social media, our classroom Ning, RAW INK Online, or how we use SKYPE to interact with a host of authors right here in the classroom. But, since we are beginning our spring research project and the tool was fresh in my mind this morning, I wanted to talk about LiveBinders.

We have been using LiveBinders in Room 210 and now Room 407 for the past three years. I know it has been three years because I looked at one of my first “binders” this morning with a group of students and it was dated 2010. Oh, how the years go by. . .it seems like only yesterday that. . .(and there I go again).

When I introduce LiveBinders to my students, we talk about insect or leaf collections they may have been asked to do as younger students. This seems to always bring out shares regarding corkboards, stick pins, and how maybe the glue used didn’t really work to keep that leaf down, or how by the time the project was returned the leaf had decayed leaving only a dried dot of glue as an indicator of what an Elderberry’s foliage might look like. Or just how dead that bug was stuck ceremoniously to the cardboard, labeled neatly in its afterlife spent under the flourecent glow of the library lights.

LiveBinders works just like this. It’s a sort of collecting place for websites and web resources that can be presented in a sort of “digital binder.” The LiveBinders site actually caters to this image with each “binder” produced being represented as a three-ring binder on the user’s profile screen. But unlike our leaf and insect example, what is collected within these “binders” are “live” and “living” websites, completely intact and functioning just as they are on the web.

We use LiveBinders in Room 407 as a sort of hub for the websites and web resources the students will use in putting together their spring research projects. I offer a short walk-through of the site, sharing some of the “binders” I have made within the past three years with students in the room.

I walk through my first binder, one on the subject of “steampunk.” Then I show them a “binder” I made regarding hyperlexia. A binder for Sesame Workshop. And finally, I show them a binder I created in order to request bookshelves for my classroom wherein I collected some websites (three or four) that specialized in classroom bookshelves that I shared with my principal as a part of my request (you want to make this simple, right?). Through this short demonstration of how I have used LiveBinders in the past three years, I am able to show students how the tool might be used for personal interest, academic pursuits, and as a part of my working day. In this way, the tool becomes more of a “we” tool than a “you” tool.

I encourage Room 407 students to use LiveBinders because you and I all know how frustrating web searches can be, especially if you are relatively new to the purposeful usage of the web for the putting together a body of research vs. knocking down walls in the hopes of getting that last green pig or bringing water to the hopeful, but still dry aligator.

The Internet is the world’s largest library. It’s just that all of the books are on the floor.” With LiveBinders, we can pick up some of these “books,” the best in the pile for the research we are trying to do,” and¬†“shelve” them into a working space that we can return to with each day spent in the library or the computer lab.

Once students are on the LiveBinder site and have their username and password, we get right to work in putting materials into that binder. Each “binder” comes with three default “tabs” for immediate¬† use. I always help students learn right away how to make additional tabs so that we have plenty to work with as we do our searches. The first tab I have students create is one for the Purdue Online Writing Lab (or OWL). Since I know students will have questions regarding MLA and MLA formatting for their final research project, I want this resource right in that LiveBinder so that they may reference it as they do their work. No more searching for MLA resources or blind Google searches on “how to cite a painting.” I then show the students how to move this tab to the right in order to build their other tabs regarding their research subject.

With this approach, I have demonstrated the ease by which one adds a site to the “binder,” demonstrated how to access more “tabs,” and demonstrated navigation between the tabs and how they are arranged in the “binder” for arrangement and ease of access later in the research project.

An early task of our research project together is to identify Governing Bodies and Interested Parties related to our chosen subject (this year we are focusing on Diversity and Disability). Students are asked to compile a list of at least ten recognized organizations that represent their subject in the larger community outside of Silver Creek High School. This is always enlightening to me, as a pseudo-scholar, that a student wanting to reseach a subject like Down Syndrome may not know that there is a group out there called The American Medical Association. Or a student wanting to research schizophrenia may be unaware of the The American Psychological Association, much less the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual, which is now in it’s 5th edition (something we found out last year during our research project. . .see. . .everyone should be learning something, including the lead learner). Doesn’t this make us wonder (though most of us are already acutely aware) of what sites our students use to define their subjects and the limits of their topics? A tool like LiveBinders not only tucks resources into one workable space, the site also asks us to select the very best of what the web has to offer by way of websites and web resources into that “binder.” By way of informal conferencing over the shoulder of a student user, I am able to do some informal assessment–early on–regarding the usefulness and/or validity of a site that goes into the student’s “binder.”

There are so many super features to the LiveBinders site that were not there those three years ago when the site was still in beta. Now, student users can post their completed “binder” to Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Students can email their “binder” to other students and link their binders to their blogs. This sharing helps across learning communities when one student finds another is doing a similar research project. When one finds an excellent site, they can share that with their peers or look into the “binder” of a peer to fill in some holes in their own searches. What’s more, these digital “binders” have a quality not shared by their physical counterparts.

They cannot be dumped into a trashcan at the end of the year in that celebratory departure from the building that often prompts students to do this very thing with the resources you have lovingly given them over the course of 180 days. There is an investment here, something that the student has put together, and, because the binder exists in a digital space, it can be accessed and addended later on in the next school year and beyond.

I want to encourage those who read this blog to check out the LiveBinders site. There are tutorials that will help you to get started in building your binder. As you become familiar with how to build a “binder,” you will find advanced features like “Sub Tabs” (which I use to teach economy of space within the “binder” and to teach categorization and classification ((here is the larger category and here are the pieces that could be sub-tabbed under that larger category)). If you look at my SteamPunk binder you will find Sub Tabs under the MTV tab where I give examples of bands that employ a sort of steampunk presentation and theme.

Another advanced feature of the site is the ability to take your “binder” live as a presentation tool. Students like this, because unlike PowerPoint that affords links, LiveBinders invites student users to create a slide schematic around a live website that can be accessed on-the-spot in front of a live audience (how many times have you heard a student say, “But that link worked at home. . .).

The public sharing of binders after three years has created an opportunity for LiveBinders to create a search box that students might find helpful. By searching a subject, there may be “binders” already in existence that might open up approaches to subjects not yet considered by students. And with LiveBinders offering up the latest update of those sites within those “binders,” students could co-opt those sites for their own “binder.” In this way, our students become a sort of web curator by their collecting and sorting the best websites and web resources within their “binder.”

There is so much to say about this digital learning resource. I could have said this earlier. . .it’s FREE. So, what we are talking about is a tool that invites students to refine their searches creating a kind of “clearing house” for their searches that can be accessed vs. returning to a new Google search when they return to the library or the computer lab. We are talking about a digital learning tool that can follow the student into the next grade or the next assignment. We are also talking about resources that, with the student’s permission, a teacher could link to for future students who are doing similar searches. Imagine, “Jimmy, I see that you are researching tornadoes, here is a binder of resources that Max put together last year that you may use as a starting point for your own research.”

Check out LiveBinders. Feel free to comb through some of the binders I have built. Some are better than others. Some of these I built simply as a demonstration binder with students in the room. The site is quite durable; you are not going to break it by looking at it and playing around a little bit with the building of your own binder.

Take some time to celebrate Digital Learning Day 2013 with your students. And enjoy LiveBinders if you have not seen this site and are using it already.

The regularly scheduled #WonderChat at Twitter hosted by The National Center for Family Literacy will be February 6th at 8PM EST. Follow #WonderChat and #DLDay to be a part of this conversation, sponsored by Verizon.

Follow @LiveBinders (Tina and Barbara) at Twitter.

Follow Wonderopolis at Twitter.

Follow The National Center for Family Literacy at Twitter.

Hey. . .follow me at Twitter.


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