MERLOT 101 and Beyond: A Tool for Classroom Effectiveness

Author Information
Author(s): 
Barbra Bied Sperling
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching)
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

MERLOT is a worldwide community of higher education universities, institutions, corporations and organizations, all with the same goal of improving the effectiveness of teaching and learning by sharing with one another online learning materials that can be easily incorporated into faculty designed courses. The nucleus of the MERLOT community is the leading edge, user-centered, collection of peer reviewed higher education, online learning materials, catalogued and curated by registered members, and supported by a set of faculty development support services. MERLOT’s activities are based on the creative collaboration and support of its Individual members, institutional partners, corporate partners, and editorial boards.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

MERLOT maintains its currency with its worldwide supporters through a variety of ongoing and continuing communications. These include participation in the annual Sloan-C/MERLOT International Conference, sponsorship of the Open Access, Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT), distribution of member news and publications, and support for our social networking website, MERLOT Voices.  MERLOT publishes and distributes the, “Grapevine,” and I am essentially the editor of this quarterly electronic newsletter, sent to more than 100,000 recipients.  MERLOT has a proprietary YouTube channel, MERLOT Place, which I manage.   In addition to my development manager responsibilities, I am also the Webmaster of all things related to the URL, “merlot.org.”  Thus I provide firsthand knowledge of all corners of the site in my MERLOT 101 presentations.

As the MERLOT Development Manager and webmaster, I am the lead in the design, development, maintenance, and support of all MERLOT services that are implemented on the main and associated websites.  In the past year I led my team in the redesign of the Content Builder – our instructional website authoring development tool.  This tool, originally the Carnegie KEEP Toolkit, became a part of MERLOT in November 2009 and since that time; my development team has seamlessly integrated the system into “main” MERLOT.  When social networking became essential for keeping colleagues together and connected, I was instrumental in developing MERLOT Voices –with over 50 forums for online learning, accessibility, affordable learning, and a host of other topics related to teaching and learning.

Over the past 10 years, I have maintained the MERLOT application set, and presented its features and benefits in my MERLOT 101 presentations in many venues around the world.  My presentations strive to reveal all the features and functionality available through MERLOT.  MERLOT is used by faculty, students, staff, librarians, and administrators around the world – all for the betterment of student learning.  It is also integrated into Learning Management Systems (LMS’s).  MERLOT provides interface support to all systems and administrators looking to implement our web services into their systems.  MERLOT started with a basic search web service and over the years has grown to almost 10 different web services for systems to integrate our functionality into their sites or portals.  I am essentially the technical coordinator for all these relationships.

A tremendous influence in some of the features now found in MERLOT is MEITAL, our international partner in Israel.   Meital is a consortium of almost every university and college in Israel, and were instrumental in our developing the requirements for many of the web services and international functionality that has made MERLOT of value in non-English speaking countries.  I have worked closely with the MEITAL Project Director in Israel, making their wish list of functionality, a reality for them and our international membership.

What sets MERLOT apart from other repositories or even a Google search is that we have over 20 Editorial boards that have performed peer reviews on at least 20% of the collection.  In addition, MERLOT.org provides faculty members with a wealth of options for online learning and teaching - from Personal collections, the Content Builder, Federated Search, Learning Exercises and Comments.  Evidence of the effect practice of MERLOT is its adoption throughout the world for use as a teaching and learning system.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Looking back on the usage of MERLOT from 2008-2011, all aspects of MERLOT have improved.  Visits, usage (comments, materials, and membership) have all increased.  Content Builder applications have nearly tripled since its incorporation into MERLOT.  And our web services usage, which were first introduced in 2008, have skyrocketed.

While evidence of effectiveness of MERLOT is difficult to measure, as it is for most instructional technologies and innovations, we view MERLOT’s popularity and adoption rate to be measure of its effectiveness by teachers and learners.  For example, the number of visits to www.merlot.org in the last 3 years has doubled - in 2009 from 454,187 visits to 2011, with 903,844.   Membership went from 78,000 at the end of 2009 to over 100,000 at the end of 2011.

In concert with unique visits to the website, materials added to the collection have gone up over 50% in since 2009.  We ended 2011 with 31,712 materials in the collection, all added by our members.  Content Builder, inherited from Carnegie Foundation in November 2009, went from just under 3,000 visits to over 60,000 at the end of 2011 and still growing to date.  Our suite of web services has grown over the years since their inception in 2008.  At that time we averaged close to 5,000 uses with one web service to 2011 with almost 2 million uses through 10 web services, all developed by the MERLOT development team.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

For users to capitalize on the features of MERLOT, it is imperative that MERLOT understand it’s the pulse and needs of its users.  It is important to minimize costs of education, more technology needs to be employed and MERLOT addresses that dilemma.

Access – MERLOT is a free and open online community of resources designed primarily for faculty, staff and students of higher education from around the world to share their learning materials and pedagogy. Any visitor to MERLOT can access the website and search and browse the collection.  Only members can leave comments, create personal collection or contribute materials.   MERLOT is an Open Education Resource, with virtually everything on the site, free and open to use.  MERLOT has taken great strides to provide Accessibility information on resources in the collection, providing a form and access to reviews of materials based on their Accessibility.  We have also spent considerable time having the site evaluated, implementing recommendations to make the site even more Accessible.

Faculty Satisfaction – Faculty increasingly use MERLOT, including the Content Builder to create course materials, syllabi and also engage their students in the site and its features.  Please see the analytics described above.

Learning Effectiveness – MERLOT is an open site although for full engagement and participation, membership, which is free, is required.  By the number of faculty that are members, making up the largest population of our over 100,00 members, while learning effectiveness is difficult to measure, based on the growing popularity of MERLOT among instructors and students, we are confident that we can infer that the MERLOT application set is an effective tool for teaching and learning.  
Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

A computer, a browser, and access to the Internet.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Immediate savings on textbooks and other course materials.

References, supporting documents: 

MERLOT Google Analytics and MERLOT database logs.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Barbra Bied Sperling
Email this contact: 
bsperling@calstate.edu