Wednesday, February 1, 2012

LiveBinders: An interesting way to share online content

While link hopping the other day, I stumbled across this little Web tool - with some interesting potential for the classroom.

Basically, it allows you to create tabbed pages that resemble a digital standard accordion binder:

In each tab, you can upload or link to content that is thematically related to your binder's topic - up to a total of 100MB per account (this is the free version - it's still in Beta, and they will eventually have a pay version with more bells and whistles).

Consider this example:

Here, the teacher has created a binder for students in a social studies class.  Each tab covers some aspect of the unit, and - within the tab - you can even have subsections if you choose.  Some tabs contain images, links, and videos... others can contain handouts and guides. 

What do you do with the binders you create?  You can store them on your digital "shelves"  What is a shelf, you ask? A shelf is where you can save any binders you find interesting - whether created by you or others - making it easy to access the content that most interests you.You can then embed either binders or entire shelves into your webpage.

 Creating a binder is easy, using their fairly intuitive interface (the first item on your shelf when you register is a how-to manual that walks you through the process).  You can quickly embed webpages, images, videos, sound files, text documents... of course, with the 100 MB limit, you'll want to use more links than actual uploaded files - put the videos on YouTube and the docs / presentations on Google Docs and you'll save yourself a ton of space...

So, how is this different from just creating a regular webpage or blog, and why should you use it in your classroom?  At first, I wasn't sure I'd want to incorporate this - after all, there are always new things bubbling up, and many of them really don't add a whole lot to the table.  However, as I played around with the site and searched through the content, I found that it has some potential:
  • Within a tab, you can embed a live webpage, with text next to or beneath it - this allows you to guide students to the facets of the webpage which you deem important, or to post questions for them to answer as they explore the page.  
  • The new Livebinder tool allows you to add / change binders on the fly, with a single click in your browser, making it very convenient to update your work and share it.
  • There's a new Ipad app, so LiveBinder works quite well with the tablets that many of our students will be using.
  • The format is more visually appealing than a standard page of links - with a caveat: I saw a number of binders where the author was a bit excessive in the use of sub-tabs - so, underneath the main tab, I'd find three lines of sub-page titles - visually confusing and entirely overwhelming.  SO, when used judiciously, it can be a nice way to draw students in.
  • Looking through the binders created by others, I've found they cover a wide range of topics - with some careful searching, you can find some very good resource binders for your students or yourself. 
  • By embedding a binder into your webpage, you can create handout or research collections that are well organized and easily accessible, without cluttering your main page with links.

Overall, I think this tool can have a place in classrooms - when used well.  As with any online content, a binder only as good as its author - so make sure to really cull through a binder before you decide to add it to your page or shelf and, when you create one, make sure to keep up with the content!

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