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Three-ring binders - a little rant

When a former superintendent used to ask me (jokingly? hopefully?) when I was planning to retire, I always responded, "The day every student in school has a computer and all the skills needed to use it effectively." I'm still fine with that criteria, but I am going to add another one: "When there are no more three-ring binders used in the district."

I hate these things, but if you are like me, you have at least a half dozen lining your book shelves. Curriculum guides, emergency plans, technology plans, vendor proposals - heaven knows what else. I've even been the perp in creating a couple. My best was the mega Y2K preparedness notebook that seemed to take up much of my year 1999. Nothing like impending disaster to bring out the three-ringbinder mania in people.

How simple and how common-sensical to transfer the contents of all three-ring binders to a wiki, GoogleDoc folder or even a repository of PDF files where the content can be linked and searched. I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that 99% of the material in most binders was printed from a computer file anyway.

Just think - no more finding, dragging to meetings and updating, page-by-page a print binder. Everyone would have access to the latest updates and from anywhere. No more cooridinating multiple editors.  Extra shelf space in the office for pictures of grandchildren or pets or golfing trophies. Think of the time and resources saved in not printing, collating and binding. Somebody new needs the information, just send'm a link.

If the information is important enough to gather, organize and update, isn't is also important enough to make available, uniform and current by placing it online?

This, like so many technology changes, is less about technology and more about mindsets. Based on binder use, I don't think I will be retiring any time soon.

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Reader Comments (14)

AMEN!! You are so right on about the binders!
I think your goal of banning binders need to spread to all schools in the world! Take care of yourself, you have a long way before retirement!

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermeg ormiston

I agree... to a point. The problem is that if the technology isn't working, you can't get at the plan (and at MPOW, that's often the case).

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLazygal

Given how change is so difficult, I think you and binders will be around for a long time. Lazygal has a good point about when the technology goes down. Two thoughts about that...1) it isn't usually down for that long 2) one copy of the important material could be kept rather than one on every administrator's bookshelf collecting dust. Hopefully, the latter could be phased out!

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatty

I totally agree and what is worse is that the school district I work for (and the school I work at) is rolling out this new program called AVID for students that is totally based on these 3 ring binders as a tool of organization, on the one hand I get it but really is that the way of the future? My children were both required to buy these binders-one had to buy 5 and the other 3 and they had to be this certain size and had to have certain dividers- we spent more on those things then almost any other back to school gear!

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaura


I am surprised that the Livebinders people have not been all over this post. I have not used their product so I am merely pointing out the connection, but I have thought about investigating it since it ties for number 68 in this Emerging Top 100 Tools for Learning.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Straube

A couple of years ago I met with a team of teachers during their PLC time. The assistant principal had told them each to create a binder for all of the items they were learning about. I suggested a wiki instead and they were floored at how easy it was to use and create and how much more likely they would be to get online to check out a document or link than drag a 3 inch binder off the shelf. I think we will get there.....someday.
On another note: My university just sent out a challenge to reduce copying. Think before you ink. With the budget cuts as they are in schools right now, this is a perfect time for them to stop wasting paper and ink when they don't have to.

October 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDottie

If my job had to rely on 3 ring binders I would be in trouble. I hate paper as it is very hard to organize, search, and tag. Collaborate? How can you collaborate with paper? Google Apps, Infinite Campus, Wikis, ect...has opened our eyes and many processes (including information) are no longer kept by a single person - "The keeper of the paper".

I absolutely LOVE Dottie's "Think before you Ink" and am thinking I may pass that idea on to our schools "Go Green club"! Between Moodle and Google Apps for our students - I think they will be game for this type of campaign and maybe, just maybe, it will help our staff become less dependent on paper.


October 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen Hegna

Hi Meg,

I suspect the threat not to retire until binders are gone is just a way of saying I may never want to retire. Isn't it nice to have job one loves?


Hi Lazy,

This is why we keep a few horses and oil lamps around in our district - just in case the buses break down or the electricity goes out.


Hi Patty,

Good points about having a print back-up. Not really a bad idea for any important information. But does EVERYONE need a copy?

Thanks for the comment,


Hi Maura,

I'm afraid if we were adopting AVID, I would be LIVID.


Hi LInda,

Livebinders may do well since there is an easily understood analogy between the tech site and the real world. Now why didn't I think of this!


Hi Meg,

Seems like I always have half a dozen binders being thrown out during my annual office cleaning each year too. I think at night they breed.


Hi Jen,

Let me know if there are any strategies you find effective in helping people become less paper-trained!


October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Yesterday I cleaned out a bunch of 3 ring binders from my previous schooling and my previous place of work - I had some nostalgia when I thought about how much I miss working at a high school - right up until the time I found the literacy committee binder I was asked to collate and organize for everyone and remembered that it never got looked at!!!! Then I remembered why I left that site. This is one of my 3 ring binder issues - just how many of them collect dust and take up shelf space. But like lazygal I know at that particular workplace the tech (had a binder for that too - ironic) wouldn't work anyway........ BTW my recycling is full!! So much waste.

October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary Ann

Ok, we are a little late to the party here, but this is what LiveBinders is all about. I personally have a bookcase full of 3-ring binders, but since I switched to LiveBinders, I find less use for my physical binders. But several of the posters are completely right, if you have a power outage, you need your emergency info in a physical 3-ring binder.

But let's say you are gathering information on 21st Century teaching techniques to share with your district. How are you going to do this? Print all the websites? Try to share bookmarks? LiveBinders puts it into an nice package for you so you can email it or present it at your next meeting. Additionally it enables a whole new set of lesson plans, like some of the "planning a trip" lessons we have seen on the site.

The worst part about physical binders is that they go out of date, as Mary Ann points out. But with on-line binders you can constantly keep things up-to-date so they continue to be useful.

Anyway, there are times when you still want a physical binder and there are times when on on-line binder can provide some additional benefits. So take a look at and see if it might work for you.

October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara Tallent

Barbara, thanks for the amazing LiveBinder resource! I love that binders can easily be kept up to date and are collaborative.

October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatty

Thank you, Barbara. Good luck with your product.


October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Putting in another vote for your emergency plan in a binder since you may really, really need it when power is out. Also, at our (non-school) reference desk, we have found it faster to use a small binder for information we use constantly. Emphasis on "small" -- too much and it becomes useless. I'm way into selective use of technology rather than blanket bans.

I concur totally that the vast majority of them should go away, though. I am no good at organizing physical paper items, so I'm all for putting stuff online rather than in a binder. I love wikis, although it seems to be hard to get people to get the comfort level to collaborate on them as much as I'd like to see. I've set up a few of them for various collaborative projects, which usually means everyone emails me with stuff to put on the wiki. I end up repeating "you can do this and you won't break it" a lot.

August 30, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterksol

Hi Kathy,

So how you gonna read your emergency binder without lights? ;-) I will allow there are some exceptions that prove the rule!

All the best,


September 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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