Ingenious Approach Blends LiveBinders With Blackboard

April 5, 2017

LiveBinders Case Study: One Expert Educator’s Creative Leap Brings LiveBinders Organizational Features to One of the World’s Most Popular Education Tools

Blackboard Inc.’s Blackboard Learn learning management system is used by over 17,000 schools in 100 countries, including by 75% of American colleges and universities and over half of K-12 districts in the United States. The platform allows teachers to create a cohesive web presence for courses that integrates assignment details, rubrics, readings, and other documents in a wide variety of formats.

Blackboard’s comprehensive approach to course organization, together with its back-end design, invites integration with other online systems like LiveBinders that can help fine TorriaDavistune organization to specific course and student needs. This flexibility of Blackboard allowed Dr. Torria Davis, Instructional Designer at California Baptist University, to take a creative leap and embed LiveBinders directly into a Blackboard Learn course portal, bringing the tabular LiveBinders system to her Blackboard pages. This tabular organization has helped students focus searches for resources by allowing course content to be organized in hierarchical categories, making studying more efficient.

Spatial Hierarchy of Information Facilitates Learning 

According to Dr. Davis, LiveBinders’ tabular organizational structure and capacity for embedding documents minimizes distractions and can keep students from becoming overwhelmed.

Said Dr. Davis, “As an instructional designer mentoring faculty who teach online, I encourage instructors to use web tools that support their learning objectives by presenting content in manageable segments, with easy navigation and accessibility. The LiveBinders’ interface supports these ideas. Reducing the list of items in a table of contents minimizes feelings of being overwhelmed. Tabs allow sequential organization of content, which can be helpful for teaching skills that build upon one another.”

This organizational system helped Dr. Davis’s Blackboard students avoid having to scan  long lists of links and tables of contents with dozens of items. For students, quickly finding the right resources for an assignment may mean the difference between completing the assignment successfully and becoming burned out by long lists.

Because each LiveBinder provides an embed code, Davis could integrate her LiveBinder in an *open book format on the Blackboard page. Students could then navigate LiveBinders’ tabs of content through Blackboard, further minimizing distractions caused by links that would direct students to resources away from the Blackboard site. This direct integration of LiveBinders kept students focused on the content directly in the Blackboard environment. Said Dr. Davis, “Presenting students with an ‘open notebook,’ like a LiveBinder embedded in a Blackboard page, reduces clicks needed to access content–and any reduction of clicks and links to outside pages will help reduce distractions.”

Taking Access and Updating Seriously

In line with Dr. Davis’s philosophy on minimizing distractions for students, making access to course materials easy for all students also means making content as readily available as possible, regardless of available bandwidth or access to the Web. “Because students have varying bandwidth limitations with internet access, reducing the number of clicks to access content is an important consideration,” said Dr. Davis.

And making instructor access to platforms easy is just as important. Dr. Davis found that the cloud-based LiveBinders system offers a seamless experience, no matter where its binders are embedded or shared. “When I discovered that I could update the LiveBinder on the website and it was automatically updated in Blackboard, that was a ‘whoo-rah’ time-saving-moment,” she said.

While embedding LiveBinders in other platforms like Blackboard has made course material more useful and accessible for Dr. Torria Davis and her colleagues at California Baptist University, the platform’s tab and sub tab organizational hierarchy lies at the core of its value. Said Dr. Davis, “Tabs and sub tabs are the most useful organizational feature of LiveBinders. The display of all tabs at once makes the organizational hierarchy visible to the student, and whether the tabs correspond with topics or training steps, the organizational structure is clear.”

*Tech Bells and Whistles for Student Engagement


Adding Office 365 Documents to Your LiveBinder

March 22, 2017

It is a little more work to add an Office 365 document to your LiveBinder than it is to add Google docs, but it can be done. You will need to use the Office 365 embed code in order to add the document to your LiveBinder. Here is a video on how to add the documents:

Here are screenshot instructions:

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Click on “File” inside your Office 365 document

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Click on “Share > Embed”

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Copy the embed code

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Open your binder in edit mode and click on “Add Content > Embed” and paste the embed code. Then click on “Insert”

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Your Office 365 document will be added to your LiveBinder


Honoring Women on Women’s Day 2017

March 8, 2017

LiveBinders honors women all over the world who make it happen! LiveBinders_WomensDay_3-8As you know, Barbara and I launched LiveBinders.com with the hopes of helping millions of people organize and present their digital accomplishments. We know how hard it is to launch an idea. It takes work and commitment; it takes a community. If you are a woman and have a business, project, thesis, classroom or school you’d like to promote in a binder on our featured page, let us know and we will work with you to feature it. Send us an email at support@livebinders.com,  subject – Women’s Day!


Out of the Crucible of Common Core, Unlikely Heroes and Villains Emerge

February 21, 2017

 S.U.P.E.R. (Sharing Useful Professional Electronic Resources)

The federally mandated Common Core program aims to create a clear set of nationwide education objectives. Education professionals may be years away from fully assessing its full impact on our schools, but one thing is clear–it has created a towering level of frustration for teachers by essentially requiring them to re-engineer how they approach their classrooms. New standards and curriculum only scratch the surface of the change. In addition to becoming familiar with the new requirements, teachers must rethink the resources they use with their students to ensure that they are drawing from materials that will support their ability to meet the new standards.

Beyond books and print materials, Common Core has highlighted a need for electronic resources that supplement textbooks and other traditional materials. The web is full of such resources, but to put it in librarian parlance, the task of identifying the most useful tools and content for most teachers is akin to looking for a title in a public library without using the Dewey Decimal System.

Furthermore, in the face of severe time limits, impending deadlines and rising expectations, teachers are frequently forced to rely on aging technologies that are unreliable at best. At worst, they actually make it more difficult for teachers trying to keep pace, and put an undue burden on those that aren’t as tech savvy. Considering the degree of impediment to education this has caused, it’s not hard to see how these technologies can take the form of a villain in the eyes of many teachers.

“All these new resources keep popping up–how do we organize and present them in a way that teachers can access the right resources, and understand how they apply to Common Core?” said Mary Jo Matousek, Media Center Director at Meridian Middle School. “In other words, how do we enable teachers to shift their focus from adapting to Common Core, and back to teaching? We do it by essentially curating the web for them.”

Librarians Seize an Opportunity to Make a Difference

While this problem may have been rooted in technology, it was not to be solved by technologists, per se, but by people who were thoroughly familiar with the education process, and the day-to-day challenges of teachers. Prompted by a colleague’s recommendation to pursue a grant from an organization called ILEAD USA, librarians Katie Hauser and Mary Jo Matousek sent out an inquiry through a professional organization stating that they’d like to form a team to participate. “I responded almost immediately,” said Mindy Perry of Greenbrook Elementary School. “Katie and I knew each other from Dominican University, where we served as president and VP of LISSA. I knew this would be a great group, and wanted to participate.” The team was also quickly joined by Rachele Esola, a Library Media Specialist at St. Patrick High School.

The team–librarians from varying career phases, including one who was set to retire the superteamfollowing year and wanted to make a final lasting contribution–assembled with the intent to start a project that would enhance educational opportunities across their varied school districts. Librarians are often quite involved in curating materials for classrooms, serving on curriculum committees, etc. Understanding the pain that teachers were experiencing with adjusting to Common Core, they decided to focus on developing an online tool that would offer easy access to top notch online resources that supported new curriculum requirements.

It was this focus that ultimately drew in the team’s fifth member, Marcia Brandt. “Mary Jo’s Facebook post was the catalyst for me, but the project itself drew me in,” said Brandt. “The team focus of pulling together resources for our teachers struggling with Common Core applications is something I already wanted to do for my own teachers.”

ILEAD USA Invests in a S.U.P.E.R. Team

ILEAD USA (Innovative Librarians Explore, Apply and Discover) is a continuing education program that aims to cultivate technology skills and leadership training, and provide opportunities for collaborating on innovative projects. The organization started in 2010 with grant funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and fosters the development of team projects over a nine-month period, during which it helps guide projects to successful completion.

Upon offering a grant to Hauser’s team, ILEAD USA offered access to a variety of experts in the fields of library and museum science that helped to inform the development of the project. Based on extensive feedback from ILEAD USA members, the team opted to name their project “S.U.P.E.R.”, which stands for Sharing Useful Professional Electronic Resources.

A S.U.P.E.R. Project Requires a Super Technology Platform

The first order of business, however, was not to curate the resources, but rather to select a delivery platform that was awesome enough to serve as the foundation for their awesome idea. Working closely with team advisor Donna Schaal, Illinois State Library director Ann Craig, and independent education consultant Beck Tench, the S.U.P.E.R. team conducted a thorough testing process to determine which technology platform would offer the right set of capabilities to accomplish their core objective: defeating the evil “USB Man.”

Arch-nemesis of Online Education: USB Man

Of course, every super hero faces a super villain. For the S.U.P.E.R. team, that villain was embodied in a tech device that was very common, yet antithetical to online education—usbmanthe USB drive.  Teachers, they assert, resort to using USB drives in order to access
resources. However, the problems associated with this method are plentiful, including lack of shareability, version control, easily lost documents and a host of other issues. “In keeping with our ‘super’ theme, we opted to characterize this particular obstacle as a super-villain–USB Man,” said Hauser. “After all, USB drives are easily corrupted, and they’re certainly never around when you need them.”

The team entered the evaluation process with very well-defined objectives which made it easy to identify the capabilities that they needed in a technology platform. They conducted a usability study to assess the relative intuitiveness of various platforms. This was extremely important, as the S.U.P.E.R. tool needed to appeal to a very broad range of users with extremely demanding jobs. Using it needed to require minimal effort, and offer no barriers to entry.

Furthermore, because the schools were at different socioeconomic levels, they needed a platform that would work across a wide variety of devices–tablets, PCs etc. It had to be accessible regardless of how resource-strapped a school might be. And, for similar economic reasons, the platform had to be available to the public for free—subscriptions fees were not an option.

The S.U.P.E.R. Team Finds its “Bat Cave” in LiveBinders

Every superhero needs a home base, and upon testing a wide range of technologies with a variety of document curating and sharing abilities the S.U.P.E.R. team found its ideal supporting platform in LiveBinders.

Designed to serve the next generation of content sharing, LiveBinders makes it easy to organize, find and use resources. Available for free (an advanced version is also available with a paid subscription), it enables you to organize a diverse collection of content into a streamlined package for sharing file uploads, Google docs, web links, videos, surveys and presentations. Depending on the preferences of the creator, these “binders” can be made accessible without requiring any sort of login.

In addition to meeting all of the S.U.P.E.R. team’s functionality requirements, LiveBinders made sense from a conceptual standpoint. By basing the organizational scheme on something that has been used in classrooms for centuries–binders and tabs–the team found that users were able to intuitively navigate the platform, and knew that it would translate well for their audience, which was not just tech-savvy teachers. “We have teachers who are less comfortable with technology, so we can’t go around talking about ‘the cloud’ or throwing around tech terms that would alienate them,” said Esola. “LiveBinders was conceptually easy for people to grasp–you can think of it like a physical binder that you put on the internet and use it basically the same way.”

Additionally, LiveBinders, which doesn’t require an account to view, made it an easy sell to teachers with extremely varied levels of enthusiasm for technology. “The last thing many of our teachers want is to have to memorize another password–with LiveBinders, they don’t have to!”

The final, most simple question the team asked: Is it awesome? For the S.U.P.E.R. team the answer was a resounding ‘yes’–they knew that with LiveBinders they could build something that teachers would love, use, and continue to build upon.

Introducing Binderman: a S.U.P.E.R Resource to rescue Time-Strapped Teachers

Upon selecting LiveBinders as the platform for S.U.P.E.R, the team began building out the bindermancontent that would ultimately become the “stuff” that heroes are made of—in this case, “Binderman” would provide the user-friendly foil to arch-villain USB Man.

The first step was to create a “toolkit” of online resources, and then test it to gauge teacher interest. With feedback indicating that it improved the ability to support Common Core objectives, the team then moved forward with building out what would become the S.U.P.E.R binder. They found that it was possible to essentially replicate the organization and structure of the Common Core set of standards itself–this made it easy to target areas where there was a dearth of resources. For example, they quickly identified that there are fewer resources available for high school and placed special emphasis on gathering tools for that age group.

From the start, LiveBinders’ functionality made it easy to build in a vetting process that would easily allow a consistently expanding group of educators to contribute to their work. “We have a tab with specific instructions on how to contribute to this project,” said Perry. “Our small team started the project, but it’s really everyone’s job to carry it forward. As more and more educators contribute, the S.U.P.E.R. binders will become richer in content and offer more value to students and teachers.”

The S.U.P.E.R. team knew that adoption of the platform hinged on their ability to make the binder as visually appealing as possible. Fortunately, LiveBinders made it easy to uniformly format each resource, so that it provided a textbook-level of consistency in presentation that teachers and students are accustomed to. “Everything looks the same throughout the entire binder,” said Matousek.

Additionally, LiveBinders’ features made it possible to build upon the open-source character of the project, and enable other educators to build upon their foundation and take it in new directions. “We have a page that we call the ‘Super U’ where we explain how to create a copy and make it your own,” said Perry. “LiveBinders functionality makes it very easy to do this.”

Quelling the frustrations of teachers from a broad range of schools

The S.U.P.E.R team hails from a very diverse group of schools that represents a microcosm of U.S. schools–including affluent, rural, and lower income public districts, as well as a private school. What they created, therefore, was a tool that was fit for use not only in Illinois, but in every school district across the country. LiveBinders’ free access and usability across a full range of mobile devices opens up its use to the entire audience of potential users, including low-income school districts.

Esola, who works at a private school, asserts that even in departments where there is no Common Core curriculum, S.U.P.E.R is still a high-value resource. At a school with a major technology push, where all students carry iPads to class, the teachers need resources that they can access through mobile devices. “Their brains are frazzled trying to narrow the focus of those technology tools to what’s going to be most useful. LiveBinders has provided a gateway to online education for them.”

The Word Spreads: S.U.P.E.R. Helps Teachers and Students Relax, Teach and Learn

The cohesiveness of the final S.U.P.E.R product on LiveBinders reflects the synergy of not just the immediate team that developed it, but also of the larger team of education experts that provided counsel throughout the ILEAD USA project’s duration. “The awesome thing about the S.U.P.E.R project was that we tapped a variety of perspectives, ranging from veterans to relative newcomers from a full range of school districts,” said Hauser.

Having a wide variety of readily available, fully-vetted resources that support Common Core objectives has not only made teachers’ jobs easier, it frees them to bring their full creativity to bear in the classroom. Additionally, providing such resources helps take the mystery and associated anxiety out of Common Core for the students, helping them feel more relaxed and prepared going into tests.  Consequently the S.U.P.E.R. binder has been extremely well-received by ILEAD USA members, who represent numerous states, and the education community in general, where word of mouth is spreading quickly.

The careful planning and cooperative work put into the LiveBinder by Mindy Perry and her team assisted teachers with access to new state standards (Common Core), and a manageable system for online resources,” said Brian Hereford, Greenbrook Elementary School, Hanover Park, Illinois.  “Our school is required yearly to remove or relocate our computer files and bookmarks.  The LiveBinder allows for a permanent off-site location for those sources.  It also allows for easy sharing among educators.”

S.U.P.E.R. is freely available to educators across the U.S. and around the globe (visit www.tinyurl.com/ileadusuper to access the binder), and the team of outstanding individuals who created it anticipates that users from other states and regions will build their own versions of the S.U.P.E.R. binder based on their initial groundwork.


LiveBinders Bridges Language and Culture for EU Citizens on the Move

February 8, 2017

Language and cultural barriers can make finding the resources to migrate highly daunting. With LiveBinders, the European Commission-sponsored Info4Migrants project is organizing language and job information better to help bring talent where it’s needed across the EU.

Migration in the EU

The European Union bridges cultures and languages to forge a single economic area for the continent’s 400 million residents. While the EU has overcome many of the barriers to talent flowing easily across borders, challenges of integration remain. The EU therefore sponsors dozens of programs designed to help make migration easier by providing migrant Europeans with training and resources to help them get accustomed to their new homes.

As the Finnish partner for one such project, the UK-led Info4Migrants, Veronica Gelfgren was tasked with compiling a wealth of resources for migrants to Finland alongside partners focusing on migration in Austria, Sweden, Bulgaria, and Spain. In searching for a platform on which to host these Finnish migration resources, Gelfgren wanted to reduce language and organizational barriers as much as possible, and free users from having to navigate a tangle of links to disparate web pages.

The Problem of Abundance

While most information relevant to migrants is hosted on the web, the resources are spread out across different domains and navigation structures. The problem was not a lack of information, it’s that the right information was obscured in the abundance of information. This not only posed organizational challenges for users of the Finland Info4Migrants project, but also made it difficult to track how often the material was being used, a key component for gauging the project’s success. Gelfgren explained, “For the Finland binder, there is a lot of information available online, but for a foreigner to find it all in English is not that easy. This is the reason we created the LiveBinder, to host the English pages all in one place.”

Endless Possibilities for Collaboration

Before adopting LiveBinders, Gelfgren kept track of Info4Migrants’ web resources with lists of links kept in Microsoft Word documents and with browser bookmarks. While this worked for simple cataloguing, the system reached its limitations when anything had to be shared or worked on by others. With LiveBinders, Gelfgren was able to invite others to contribute resources, opening the project to more information than ever.

While social bookmarking sites like Pearltree and Educlipper also offered this social and collaborative element to organizing resources, Gelfgren found the robustness of the tab-based navigation and the flexibility of LiveBinders made it easier to adopt, and therefore actually implement. Said Gelfgren, “The reactions from the users and my collaborators have been great. When I have presented the binders at meetings, people have been impressed with the possibilities for arranging sets of links. . . My colleagues and I often use the binders as the primary place where we find the tools we need.”

LiveBinders was the only tool Gelfgren tried that was able to bring far-flung web resources together under one roof while offering features that would make tracking views and sharing content straightforward. According to Gelfgren, “LiveBinders was an easier way for me to organize links into a simple system where all the links could be found in one place. LiveBinders was also used as a dissemination channel . . .  When working with EU projects, it is very important to show dissemination evidence, and this was easily done as you show views per binder.”

Accessible to All

Much like the EU itself, Livebinders made it possible to unify very diverse elements under a common purpose. With LiveBinders, Gelfgren was able to bring valuable but scattered resources together for users who might otherwise never benefit from them. Said Gelfgren, “The organizations that create these resources put a lot of time and effort into creating them, and I’m happy to say that, with LiveBinders, I can help them reach the people who need them most.”


National Academy Foundation’s (NAF) use of LiveBinders makes it easy for teachers to demonstrate learning success

February 5, 2017

 

In recent years, significant changes have been made to the way teachers are to be reviewed, leaving many with a substantial amount of extra work. Groups like NAF, a national organization dedicated to ensuring high school students are career, college, and life ready, have created new standards to help teachers provide evidence to support the materials and lesson plans they teach and showcase the successful work they do. NAF requires evidence from their over 700 academies, and in 2015, NAF academies reported 98% of seniors graduated, with 92% of graduates having post-secondary intentions.

According to NAF’s Director of Evaluation and Continuous Improvement, Patricia Smith, the evidence documenting process is designed to help academies self-assess to reach high standards. Said Smith, “The mission of NAF is to foster high-quality academies that will enable students to have strong college and career outcomes, and it’s important for academies to have a high fidelity to NAF’s educational design, which consists of 4 elements: Academy Development & Structure, Curriculum & Instruction, Advisory Board, and Work-Based Learning. NAF helps them reach that fidelity with a self-assessment tool that is accompanied by evidence . . . stored in a number of programs, one of which is LiveBinders.”

NAF’s educational design is centered on small learning community research that Lenovo Scholar Network Launch Event - Pathways Academy of Tech and Design (53) (1).JPGencourages project-based learning and teamwork, which ultimately lead to more efficient teaching and learning. The Academy Assessment (for which evidence is provided) is a tool academies use to track their level of fidelity to the design and to conduct strategic planning based on assessment results. These results are used to track the academy’s fidelity to curriculum design over time.

Said Smith, “Teachers, counselors, advisory board members and district staff participate in the academy assessment process. The process is one that builds community and strengthens each stakeholder’s understanding of their role in the process. For example, an advisory board member or local business person participates in the assessment process offering information and supporting data from a fundraiser or function they hosted, and can use the invitation or a sample poster as evidence.”

From hardcopy to digital

Documenting evidence should be as straightforward a process as possible, and NAF therefore sought organizational tools that teachers would be used to, and which would require the least disturbance of the organizational systems they already used. Teachers were used to creating meticulously organized hard copy binders that catalogued and showcased years of hard work to separate the wheat from the chaff in teaching materials.

When the inevitable move from hardcopy binders to online tools emerged, many teachers were understandably wary of the implications. Of concern were both their existing curriculum collections, and the ways that adopting new technology might force them to change the way they teach and manage their resources. Furthermore, teachers, as well as NAF, worried about the immense amount of time reorganizing evidence into a new format would likely require from each individual teacher. Said Smith about the challenges, “NAF has indeed had some concerns about the amount of time and what constitutes a proper piece of evidence. We’ve been concerned about the time it’s taken for teachers to upload evidence, based on their technological skillset, which is different for every individual. . . There are such quick turnarounds in schools and it’s crucial to have a place where practices and projects can be stored (such as a LiveBinders tool) as there’s a ton of information that needs to be accounted for when a new academy leaders arrive.”

Showing evidence while making organization easier

Many of the options available to teachers for achieving the transition to digital presented too many barriers to entry. Digitizing hardcopy materials would be tough enough without having to learn to navigate the complexities of another online system, and uncoordinated efforts at digitization would eventually make the situation even messier.

Up to that point, time-strapped teachers would often use piecemeal approaches for handling digital resources, like storing files on USB drives, and transferring parts of their curriculum to online services like DropBox. While this represented a step in the right direction, it still threw a wrench in the system by forcing teachers to change the way they think about and organize course materials. It also limited collaboration, cohesiveness, and the visibility of evidence for learning that is increasingly demanded by organizations like NAF.

Sharon Schueler, facilitator at the Sioux Falls, South Dakota Academy of Finance, describes how LiveBinders has helped make collecting evidence a seamless part of the school’s improvement plans. Says Schueler, “The key to the success of using LiveBinders is to add, organize, and update evidence on a regular basis. Our action plan, along with documenting evidence in the LiveBinders template, helps to maintain our focus towards continuous improvement. LiveBinders makes it so easy!”

NAF recommends LiveBinders

Recognizing the opportunity to both help teachers demonstrate the effectiveness of their work as well as give them a tool for digitization that would make teachers’ lives easier, NAF recommends LiveBinders. As a platform, it allowed teachers to digitize their coursework in a format that would enable easy organization and sharing without changing the underlying framework of curriculum organization: the three ring binder. NAF recognized that since each LiveBinder is organized like a three-ring binder, with tabs, teachers moving from hardcopy binders would be able to make the transition without fraying their existing organizational system.

Patricia Breeding, an instructional support teacher in Orange County, Florida schools notes that the platform has helped retain the organizational advantages of hardcopy binders while eliminating their limitations. Says Breeding, “The organizational system before LiveBinders was hard copy binders, and it was difficult and inconvenient to lug around those heavy binders from place to place. LiveBinders makes the organizational and preparation process much easier, and is also a very affordable option for academies.”

Multimedia resources like video and hyperlinks can be easily added to the binder, as well as digitized hard copies, allowing teachers to put everything, including evidence of their work, in one place for the first time. Storing everything in the cloud–even for those who know nothing about the cloud–would make adoption easier and increase the immediate fruits of switching to digital.

NAF offers Google, DropBox, and LiveBinders as effective options for organizing course materials to show evidence of teaching and learning success, and NAF has found that introducing teachers to LiveBinders can be a boon to their course organization overall, and to other trainings and certifications. Said Smith, “Another benefit has been that academies have been able to use evidence for purposes beyond NAF such as for Career and Technical Education reviews, or regional certifications. NAF supports the idea of academies documenting their story and sharing that story widely to increase enrollment, recruit industry partners and great teachers and to raise funds. Measuring fidelity to NAF’s educational design should benefit academy students in multiple ways.”

 


Google Sign Up and Login Added to LiveBinders

January 9, 2017

LiveBinders now supports Google sign up and login. For those of you who have students with Google accounts, this will be a real time-saver in getting them started with LiveBinders.

You can link an existing LiveBinders account to your Google email address or create a new LiveBinders account with your Google email address.

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