MERLOT’s Best Kept Secret

Have you ever wanted to quickly throw together a website for a class project?  Or wanted to assign a web-building assignment to your students but were stymied about which tool to give them that wouldn’t require a steep learning curve? Or maybe you simply needed to create a site for personal reasons but your institution won’t host sites like that.  MERLOT has the solution.

About 10 years ago MERLOT acquired the KEEP Toolkit from the Carnegie Foundation.  KEEP was a rudimentary web development application used by thousands of educators to create web-based teaching and learning materials.

Through the acquisition, Carnegie provided MERLOT with the KEEP open source code, the KEEP user base, and the database of all the KEEP-developed teaching and learning assets.  Initially, MERLOT worked with Carnegie programmers and users to transition the system to MERLOT’s IT infrastructure. The newly interfaced system was renamed the MERLOT Content Builder (CB).  MERLOT provided users with single sign-on capabilities to both MERLOT and CB.  Legacy KEEP users continued to have access to their old KEEP web materials, but now accessible in CB as well as the ability to create new ones.

Over time, MERLOT refined the Content Builder with a better “MERLOT-looking” user interface as well as improved user functionality.  One of the early additions to the CB was the requirement that all CB-developed assets that “go public” must have a Creative Commons (CC) license.  (MERLOT does not dictate which license a user must declare.)  Any user can create a web page or site in Content Builder but until they make it public with a unique URL (and CC license), it is “private.”

Another early addition was the integration of Common Cartridge and HTML functionality to enables user to transfer their CB-developed websites/pages to almost any Web-based application that supports Common Cartridge technology – notably all popular learning management systems.

Over the last 10 years CB has become more and more sophisticated, providing users modern, accessible, and easy-to-use functions and controls that truly enable ‘quick-and-dirty’ webpage/website construction and deployment.  Today thousands of MERLOT Members have submitted more than 2,000 CB-built public materials to the MERLOT collection, with many others using MERLOT to develop thousands of uncatalogued websites for private classroom and other uses In fact, the California State University’s Cool4Ed Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$)  project and the Course Redesign project have both used CB to build hundreds of web pages to showcase their project’s objectives’.

The Content Builder is an essential part of MERLOT’s strategy of promoting the use of OERs around the world.  Accordingly, MERLOT will continue to refine and redefine how users can easily use CB to do that.   To access CB, select ‘Create a Material’ in the middle of the MERLOT homepage at https://www.merlot.org. If you aren’t a Member, you’ll be prompted to join – an easy process (or go to https://www.merlot.org/merlot/join.htm)

Remember, CB is free, and all the websites and webpages you build with CB are hosted by MERLOT, including all the images and files related to your work – all with unique URL’s.  What could be better?

For more information and how-to instructions on using MERLOT Content Builder, the user’s guide can be found at http://info.merlot.org/merlothelp/topic1.htm#t=Getting_Started_with_Content_Builder.htm.

If you’re already a happy CB user, share your thoughts and comments with us. 

 

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MERLOT is Better Than Before. Much Better.

merlot_homepage_screenshot

As I promised just last month, get ready for another new MERLOT, but this time with an old label.  We are returning to our roots and dropping the “II” from our name, calling it just “MERLOT.”  But there’s nothing old about this new MERLOT.

Available as of March 14, 2018, the newest version of MERLOT has a completely new user interface, modeled after the most popular Web search site on the face of the planet.  (Guess what that is!)  In our continued effort to make it easier and easier for you to find online learning materials, we are providing an even more familiar and simple way to access our powerful search engine to find useful OERs anywhere on the Web.

And while it’s unlikely that you’ll need assistance to find what you need, or to access MERLOT’s rich function set, we have completely redesigned our context-sensitive help to guide you through any issues that arise while you’re using our newest MERLOT.  Of course our webmaster will continue to be available at webmaster@merlot.org in the unlikely event you need even more help.

In our last release we introduced our proprietary Smart Search to automatically help focus search results for the kinds of specific needs you might have.  Given the limitless ways a search can be constructed, it’s possible or even likely that you might not conduct a search using the best set of parameters possible to meet your needs for specific learning materials.  Our new ‘recommender’ infers your search objectives and provides additional results relevant to your original search.  Don’t be surprised, when you see the recommender’s recommendations, to hear yourself say, “Hey, that learning material is a good recommendation. I never thought to search that way.”

And in keeping with the growing trend towards mobility, MERLOT has been reengineered using responsive web design (RWD) which, according to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Responsive_web_design), is an approach to web design which makes web pages render well on a variety of devices and screen sizes.”  So if you are out and about and suddenly have a craving for a new OER, just grab your smart phone or tablet, launch your browser and go to www.merlot.org.  And lo and behold, depending on the speed of your network, the new MERLOT will be immediately recognizable as if you were working on your laptop or desktop computer.

So here we are, in our 21st year, not as good as ever, but a whole lot better.  And we intend to keep getting better and better!

 

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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

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

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

Finding Even More OERs with MERLOT

In one of my previous blogs I wrote about people who complain about not being able to find OERs.  If you read that, you’ll know that I haven’t a lot of patience for that kind of laziness.

When MERLOT (www.merlot.org) was first launched in 1997, we were the only show in town where you could find online learning materials. In fact, the acronym “OER” hadn’t even been invented when we started.  That was to happen 5 years later.  But over the years, many different kinds of OER repositories have come (and gone) and now it’s possible to find lots of online ‘stuff’ that you can use for teaching and learning, and depending on the licenses associated with the stuff, some it might even be classifiable as a real OERs.

The MERLOT repository itself has grown over the years, and today contains about 75,000 materials, almost all of them suitable for online teaching and learning.  We often say that MERLOT should be the first site you visit to find OERs. But we know that 75,000 is a tiny fraction of all the potentially useful learning materials you can find if you do a Google search, and then spend limitless hours going through the hundreds of thousands of hits to find the right stuff.

But guess what?  MERLOT is soon going to help you with those Google searches.  In a few months we are going to release new MERLOT functionality that will intelligently search the entire Web for your keywords, and then filter out most of the noise, focusing mostly on the kinds of hits that you, a MERLOT searcher would care about.

Our next MERLOT release will let you continue to search our own repository as you’ve always done, and will also allow you to use our new “Extended Web Search”  to search the WWW.  This extended search will generate a few hundred hits from the hundreds of thousands you would get from a traditional Google search, and those hits will likely be of teaching and learning value.  You’ll then be able to filter those hits even more, to focus on materials even more relevant to your discipline.  This search has been developed based on a “secret sauce” we’ve invented that emulates (we think and at this point we hope), the profile of a typical MERLOT Web-searcher/user.

At first we don’t expect the search to be 100% perfect, but based on our testing so far, it’s been pretty accurate.  Most of what it returns is quite relevant to online teaching and learning in higher ed.  And as we gain more experience with this extended web search, we’ll be fine tuning it even more, to return even better results.

It won’t be long, so stay tuned for the Newer MERLOT!

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All Those OERs, and eTexts Too

Open Education Resources (OER) is all about free online textbooks, right?  If you subscribe to Google Alerts and use the keyword “OER,” that’s the impression you get from the alerts Google sends.  Every day I get G-alerts about “OER” from clippings that appear in online news.  Mostly, it seems, from US news.  And almost every one of those alerts, supposedly about OERs, is about eTextbooks and how a school board or college is promoting the use of OERs (i.e., free eTextbooks) to make education more affordable.  But it seems from the wording of those press releases that most don’t understand that there are many kinds of other OERs that they also could be supporting, which would also help make education more affordable.

For those of us who practically live and breathe OERs – sad as it is to admit – it’s very disappointing to read these announcements and feel that these institutions are missing the opportunity to promote more widespread use of OERs, beyond just eTextbooks.  This is particularly true when you compare these American promotions of OERs with the Europeans who for years have seemed to really understand the breadth of OERs and the opportunities they can offer – see, for example, http://www.openeducationeuropa.eu/en/initiative.   And then there’s Taiwan and Africa and even the UN which also appear to be able to organize government-level policies and programs geared towards a broader definition of OERs than just eTextbooks.

But don’t get me wrong.  Policies related eTextbooks as one kind of OER are definitely worthwhile and can pay off in very measurable ways.  But it’s kind of disconcerting to read the results of surveys of US instructors who don’t use OERs because they can’t find them, don’t trust their quality, don’t know how to use them, or simply don’t know what OER is.

We in MERLOT don’t really like to encourage Google searches for learning materials, mainly because we think that our collection is superior, being curated by subject matter experts who ensure the quality of the learning objects there.  But it’s hard to believe that instructors who don’t know about MERLOT can’t just do a Google search on the term “OER.”   Try it and guess how many hits you get.  One million? Five million? Ten million?  You’re not even close.  How about 23,000,000!!   Or if you need your hit list to have an element of entertainment, try YouTube where you’ll get more than 400,000 hits.  Or if you need your hit list to have an element of quality for teaching and learning, just visit www.merlot.org or our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/MERLOTPlace.

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