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MERLOT announces Smart Search, a significant upgrade to its searching capabilities and a new UI to Content Builder, the web development tool

March 29, 2017

MERLOT announced the release of the MERLOT Smart Search. This search extends access to online learning materials well beyond MERLOT’s curated and peer reviewed collection.  Smart Search helps to answer the pervasive and nagging question, “Where can I find OERs?”

new hitlist pageSmart Search searches the World Wide Web specifically for the kinds of learning materials that typical MERLOT users seek. It uses a proprietary MERLOT user profile design to find the newest and most popular learning materials available in learning materials libraries and also on the WWW.  While these resources are not peer reviewed or curated, users can contribute materials that show up in the hit list, to the MERLOT collection for subsequent curation and peer review by our 25 MERLOT Editorial Boards.  And materials discovered by Smart Search can be added to users’ MERLOT Bookmark Collections.  Smart Search is easy to use: just click on the tab that describes the universe of resources you want to explore, and MERLOT does the smart searching for you.

Watch for more exciting extensions to the MERLOT Smart Search in the future.  We intend to make MERLOT your first and last stop when you need to find quality and up-to-date OERs for your teaching and research.  MERLOT help provides more information on the new Smart search.

A New user interface experience for MERLOT Content Builder.  MERLOT is releasing a new interface design for its popular Web development tool, Content Builder.  Originally built and supported by the Carnegie Foundation, MERLOT adopted and integrated the system into “main MERLOT” about 10 years ago.

new CB screenshot
Since then we have refined the functionality of the Content Builder, and with this latest release, have made the user interface even more intuitive.  Join the thousands of Content Builder users and try it!  Simply click on the “Create Materials with Content Builder” tile on the MERLOT home page (www.merlot.org).  For assistance in getting started, check out the Content Builder User’s Guide.

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Innovate 2017 – A Joint Conference Presented by OLC and MERLOT

March 16, 2017

Education innovation. It’s how we, as a community, continue to thrive in this rapidly changing learning environment. It’s how we respond to and guide student success and satisfaction. Whether embracing emerging tech, incorporating intelligent learning management systems, or designing blended classrooms, now more than ever it is imperative that academic leaders, faculty, and administrators alike come together to ensure that our pedagogies are progressive and continually break new ground.

Join us at Innovate 2017, April 5-7 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  There will be a series of engaging hands-on workshops aimed at promoting interactions and collaborative cross-disciplinary problem solving.  You’ll have the opportunity to explore emerging technologies and adapted teaching behaviors aimed at informing policy, inspiring leadership, and evolving practice at all levels impacting institutions, universities and colleges. Advancing education innovation begins with you. And it all starts at OLC/MERLOT Innovate. Please be there. New Orleans, April 5-7, 2017. https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/innovate/.  And if you are unable to attend, consider the Virtual option.  Find out more at https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/innovate/register/#virtual

MERLOT and OER

January 23, 2014

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We are often asked where the materials in the MERLOT collection come from. After all, there are more than 44,000 “open” learning objects there that can be discovered, shared, and often modified for reuse.  In fact, while practically everything in the repository can be labeled as “open,” in one way or another, the MERLOT system itself is not open.  That is, it is not “open source” as I described in a previous blog. The MERLOT software is proprietary.

Nevertheless, users accessing the MERLOT system may copy and reuse any of the webpages that are displayed by the system. Our Acceptable Use Agreement delineates how various webpages that are displayed by the MERLOT system can be used by our community Members who may wish to reproduce those pages as screenshots in presentations or journal articles. In general, our webpages can be reused and even modified, provided proper attribution to MERLOT is included in the reused material. You can even reuse comments and discussions that you find on the MERLOT site, provided that you don’t modify the wording of those items. This makes sense if you consider that quoted comments or discussions should never be modified, whether they are discovered in MERLOT or anywhere else.

But getting back to the MERLOT collection of materials itself, virtually all the contents are contributed by our community of registered Members who have either discovered the material somewhere on the web and want to share their discovery with colleagues, or have created new materials using any of the many web development tools, including our own Content Builder.  (Alert: If you want to use the Content Builder, you have to register as a MERLOT “Member.”  Membership is free, and you can get to it right from the MERLOT homepage.)

Whenever a material is contributed to the collection, among the descriptors (metadata) that we hope the contributor provides is whether or not the material has a Creative Commons license.  If a material is created with the Content Builder, and the developer wishes to make public that material, either by submitting it to the MERLOT collection or by posting the link somewhere, the developer MUST include a Creative Commons license. After all, MERLOT does subscribe to the philosophies espoused by Creative Commons and will take every opportunity to promote them.  For more information on Creative Commons, go to http://creativecommons.org.

Other sources of materials in the collection have been harvested from other collections under some kind of agreement or memorandum of understanding with the owner of the collection.  For example, there are many high-quality but smaller collections created and supported by for- and non-profit organizations around the world. Often times those organizations decide that they would like to have their collection Incorporated into MERLOT’s more publicly visible repository. In such cases MERLOT has software and procedures to enable the “batch” input of those collections into the MERLOT database. For example, we have imported hundreds of foreign language learning objects this way from our international partners, Meital and INACAP.  Also, sometimes organizations, formally or informally, wish to partner with us in order to synergistically promote more widespread use of Open Education Resources. As an example, MERLOT has used its batch import methodologies to input many of the Open Education Courseware Consortium’s (OCWC) open courses into our collection. This enables the MERLOT community to access a wide selection of open courses all identified as coming from the OCWC.

So you see, when you visit the MERLOT website to find reusable learning objects for a course you are developing, or to contribute new materials to the collection, you are participating in a worldwide community and network of colleagues with interests similar to yours. As individuals or as organizations together we foster a global cause of improved teaching and learning through the use of OER.

Blatant Placement Advertisements.  In addition to making even more OERs available to the MERLOT community, MERLOT tries to promote the activities of our partners.  For example, because of our relationship with OCWC, an organization whose philosophies are perfectly aligned with ours, we encourage you and your institution to participate in the OCWC-initiated, Open Education Week 2014, March 10-15.

The month of April too, looks to be a very exciting month for educators interested in OER.  For starters MERLOT and our partner Sloan- C are hosting our annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning conference in Dallas, April 9-11.  And later on in the month (April 23-25), the OCWC Global Conference entitled, “Open Education for a Multicultural World” is being held in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

So, If you’re not already a Member, search MERLOT, join MERLOT, and start participating in the world of OER.  If it’s not in our collection, maybe you’ll find it in Dallas. Or Ljubljana.

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MOOCs, MERLOT, and Open Educational Services: A Message from the MERLOT Executive Director

September 16, 2013

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MOOCs, MERLOT, and Open Educational Services:
A Message from the MERLOT Executive Director
  

The appearance of massive open online courses (MOOCs) may seem sudden, but for those who have been laboring in the vineyard learning to use technology to create and distribute content, mediate pedagogical interaction, and facilitate the business processes of education, MOOCs are the just the next stage in the development of open educational resources (OER). The evolution of OER began with open learning objects (LOs) in the late 1990s. These LOs crawled from the primordial technological sea and continued evolving with the OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiatives in the early 2000s, which were then followed by open textbooks (OTs) (see Figure 1). MERLOT’s new student-centered portal, MERLOTx, provides easy access to this wide range of OER species.

Explanation of MOOC's

Figure 1. MOOCs as a recent evolution of OER

Educators welcomed each of these OER species happily and without much threat to the ecosystem of higher education. But at this early stage of MOOC evolution, there are different reactions. Optimists see synergy in the open online character of MOOCs that is a panacea for expanding access to affordable learning, developing new pedagogical techniques, and enabling global learning communities to create knowledge together. Pessimists see instead an invasive species that will destroy institutions, demobilize faculties, and dilute learning to a fast food, virtual drive-by experience.

Realistically, MOOCs are too new for there to be compelling evidence of their value, cost, and risks. The potential benefits and threats to academic quality, student outcomes, institutional integrity, and administrative processes are not yet known. However, the emerging features of MOOCs that have made them distinctive from the other types of OER are the services integrated with the content. The MOOC platforms for organizing and delivering the multimedia content, integrated with the social media tools for engaging individuals, and the assessment and analytic tools for providing feedback on learning and teaching are critical services that manage the content delivery within a design for learning. These services available through the open enrollment of MOOCs are the additional benefits that have been recognized as valuable by some learners, teachers, and institutions.

Open educational services are the tools that are free for anyone to use to design their own program of study using OERs or proprietary content. MERLOT has been providing open educational services to the world for years. MERLOT’s open library provides easy and free access to a diversity of free learning resources to support the individual’s learning needs, including developing the prerequisite knowledge and skills to successfully complete a MOOC or an online, hybrid, or face-to-face course. MERLOT’s Personal Collection tool enables individuals to organize and annotate their selected learning resources by defining their course of study, their learning outcomes, their prerequisite learning needs, their assessment methods, and more. MERLOT provides a “one-click” function for sharing personal collections, which then can be personalized. MERLOT’s Content Builder tool enables individuals to create an e-portfolio that can capture and share skills and knowledge; learners can publish their learning products with a user-friendly, web-authoring tool using text, images, and videos, and their e-portfolio can be formatted in an IMS Common Cartridge with Creative Commons licensing for easy distribution. MERLOT hosts these e-portfolios and enables members to share their works with a click of a button.

All these open educational services are available for free to MERLOT members (and it is free to become a member too). The MERLOT member community is also a valuable service for learning and teaching. Looking for experts in any field? MERLOT’s easy browsing and searching can help you find experts in a wide range of disciplines. MERLOT’s Virtual Speakers Bureau can be used to find “guest experts” with specialty skills, knowledge, and willingness to engage through technology tools. Looking to participate in online discussions? MERLOT Voices offers a platform for threaded discussions, sharing documents, posting images and video, instant messaging, and blogging.

MERLOT’s open educational services form the foundation of capabilities that can be leveraged to achieve institutional goals cost effectively. The California State University system employs MERLOT within its Affordable Learning Solutions initiative to save students money on their course materials, and this service has in turn been leveraged by a MERLOT partner, the University System of Georgia, for their own Affordable Learning Georgia initiative. The MERLOT Teaching Commons Services provide any partner a customized “portal” that blends MERLOT’s services into the institution’s initiatives (see Partner Communities). While MOOCs provide open enrollment of their services, MERLOT provides open educational services that enable registered MERLOT members to reuse, remix, publish, and share OER, and empowers them to teach and learn anytime and anywhere with Internet access.

* Reposted from the MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT), Special Issue on MOOCs.

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