My computer was loaded with unsorted bookmarks. Websites I use for work, homeschooling and pleasure were all just sitting on my computer, many forgotten and unused. For homeschooling websites, I had notebooks filled with jotted notes of sites I wanted to visit and those we used regularly. It was not organized – not at all!
A friend of mine sent me a link to a very useful site called LiveBinders. Her homeschooling websites and documents were organized and easily accessible by anyone with the link. I loved it!
Named one of the “Best Websites for Teaching and Learning” by the American Association of School Librarians in 2010, I wanted to learn more about LiveBinders and the folks behind the company. Founders Tina Schneider and Barbara Tallent were gracious enough to grant me an interview.
Thank you so much for agreeing to share the LiveBinders concept with the homeschooling community. How long have you been around?
We launched our early Alpha version in late 2007 and our beta in 2008. Actually, some of our earliest users in 2009 were home schoolers and the website branched out to individual classroom teachers in 2010. It is now being used by many educators in K-12 and becoming more popular with home schoolers all over the world.
What is your background?
Tina: I had worked as a software researcher designing applications that addressed communication behaviors of digital natives. So I found myself in the classroom with middle school and high school students.
When I left corporate research to work on my own, I wanted to focus on teachers and how they use digital applications so I spent part of my time working with a science teacher to see how technology in the classroom helped or hindered her class productivity. What I learned was that presenting information was not a seamless experience; teachers were having to juggle many different applications to present a variety of information to the students. So the concept of a ‘live’ binder came from that observation.
It also made me realize how much we take for granted with paper. We can print out a spreadsheet, pdf, or an image and stick them in a binder with tabs. Without paper, how could we combine different kinds of documents together in the same contextual way? Email and hyperlinks do not provide the same context that a binder could provide. Where is our three-ring binder for the web? So that is how LiveBinders came about. It solves the integration problem that doesn’t exist in the digital world. It turns out that many people from different sectors of education and also the work force need to combine their documents together and there are hundreds of thousands of private and public binders that have been created as a result.
My co-founder Barbara Tallent has been in the tech industry for over 20 years, particularly as a marketing executive and as CEO for Boldfish, an email marketing company. I met Barbara at a women’s technology fundraising event and I introduced her to LiveBinder. She immediately caught on with the vision and we’ve been working together to launch LiveBinders. There are a handful of part-time people that work with us, and given the success of our beta, we are now looking to expand to a larger team.
What is the cost to use LiveBinders?
LiveBinders basic service is free, and we are currently working to launch our Premium subscription service for individuals and, later, for organizations that want more customized features, greater storage capacity and more secure storage capability.
What makes LiveBinders especially useful to homeschoolers?
I think homeschool teachers are utilizing the web more, if not as much as, classroom teachers as they move away from textbook based content. The ability to contextualize your resources, archive them, and make them accessible from any device in any location makes learning that much more flexible and adaptable for the learner. In many cases, LiveBinders is becoming a tool for differentiated learning as students can work through tabs of information at their own pace. And the ability to create your own shelf of binders and embed them on your website makes it possible to create your own library of material for your students so that they can consistently get to the materials they need from one location.
The binder format also makes it easy for students to archive their own research materials for project-based learning. In one 3rd grade class, students loved the LiveBinder format for creating their own study tools, integrating quizzes they created in Google forms, web links to particular science and social studies material, and then used their binders to study or prepare for their final tests. This student-driven learning method could also be used by homeschooled students who are all about self-paced learning.
Another thing to mention is collaboration, which allows users to add links to the same binder. In addition, the LiveBinder format makes it an ideal place to work together on Google Docs and other collaborative applications because those links can be placed inside a binder so students can collaborate on writing assignments without having to leave the context of the binder.
What are some of the more popular features?
We also have a LiveBinder It bookmarklet tool that lets you add links to your binder while you are browsing the web without having to open the binder. So when you come across interesting material that you want to add to a binder, you can do that with one click.
Because the binders are live, you can update your binders immediately. For example, if you assign a binder to a student and remember that you need to update a link or if you need to add more material, all you have to do is ‘livebinder it’ to the binder and it will update automatically. No need to republish, resend an email attachment, or resend the link. In many ways, this way of giving assignments makes it easier than adding links to a wiki or web page. In fact, putting binders on your wiki makes it ideal for updating assignments as you only need to change or add the links in the binder – not the html on the wiki page.
Thank you, Tina and Barbara, for sharing LiveBinders with our audience!
For more information, visit LiveBinders to begin setting up your own! It’s FREE and I am sure you will find it as useful as I have in our homeschool.
For a sample LiveBinder, full of free homeschool resources:
This is the LiveBinder for my oldest son: