A tool for teachers (and students): livebinders

Note: While this is a positive review of a resource, no one paid me to write it and I would not know the founders of livebinders if they charged at me with a sharp stick. I just thought I’d provide a helpful suggestion to readers of this blog who are teachers or students.

If you’ve never had the experience of being half-way through a course and then realizing,

“Rats (or your preferred non-profanity exclamation) ! There is this really cool thing I thought of doing when it’s too late for this class! Rats!”

… then you just haven’t been teaching long enough.

I had one of those forehead-smacking moments just yesterday. Here is why and what it has to do with livebinders, an online resource for pulling together all of your educational materials – web sites, videos, pdf, your own notes.

I’ve taught statistics of many flavors for many years. When I taught psychometrics, the course grade was based on a student notebook – yes, we had actual binders. In each section the student would have a definition of, say, internal consistency reliability, SAS code for computing that statistic, output from a test the student was analyzing, and an explanation of those results. The notebook including pretty much all of the basic statistics for assessment – item difficulty, distribution analysis, correlations of pre- and post-test, factor analysis with various rotations.

Here is the main point – most of us take courses and completely forget most of what we learned in a very short period of time.

What if you needed to know that information, later?

I can’t tell you the number of students who took Psychometrics from me that I ran into years later who said,

That notebook you had us do was the greatest idea ever! I needed to run a ### statistical analysis last month and I remembered we’d done it in class. I pulled out my notebook and there was the code and everything!

Students remembered because they had done it. They almost never remembered HOW to do it, mind you, but they had a vague memory of having done whatever the analysis was at one point, and because the code was right there and explained in words that made sense to them, it was easy to pick back up and run with it.

I’m teaching Epidemiology right now and the students learn a lot of concepts like sensitivity, specificity, standardized mortality rate, relative risk and on and on which are going to be important to understand, and sometimes calculate, in a career in public health. I thought, “I should have had as an assignment for this course that they created a binder with the code for computing each of these statistics, the results and an explanation of what the results mean.”

I don’t expect that a year from now they will remember how to compute relative risk using SAS or how to interpret a relative risk less than 1. If you think differently, let me tell you a little story …

I was a doctoral student applying for a fellowship. Because she was a sweetheart, the dean’s assistant was helping me pull together all of the required paperwork including questions on how many courses I had in different fields. She said something about Industrial/Organizational Psychology and I said, “I never took a course in I/O Psych.” She explained, very patiently, “AnnMaria, it’s right here on your transcript. Not only did you take it, you got an A in it.”

Funny thing, I created a couple of livebinders of my own just to keep track of some videos I’d done on different SAS procedures, so I could refer students to those, copies of the assignments I give to students, videos by other people that I thought explained a concept well – and I noticed that each one has been viewed over 1,000 times. I guess it is not just me that finds these useful.

Here is a copy of my biostatistics binder, just to give you an idea.

Recently, students were discussing a licensing exam, and it occurred to me that this type of binder would be really helpful to students who need to study for comprehensive exams, whether for licensing or qualifying for a degree.

You might wonder if this would be useful for something like documenting our code base for 7 Generation Games. Not really. It may not be evident on the surface – or maybe it is, if you read my last post – but educational games take a pretty huge amount of moving parts. We use an internal wiki for our documentation.

However, creating your own wiki isn’t a task most teachers, or students, want to tackle and really, for the usual study guide or portfolio, livebinders is the next best thing.


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