Online Resource: MERLOT: Peer-to-Peer Pedagogy

By Gerard Hanley

MERLOT, an acronym for Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, is a cooperative of higher education consortia, schools, professional organizations, and people who have formed a community to improve teaching and learning through the use of high-quality, online resources. MERLOT is designed to be a premier online community where faculty, staff, and students from around the world can share online learning materials and pedagogy.

MERLOT's mission is to improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning by expanding the quantity and quality of peer-reviewed, online learning materials that can be easily incorporated into faculty-designed courses.

MERLOT is a free, Web-based resource where faculty, staff, and students can easily find digital learning materials with evaluations and guidance for their use. It enables faculty to effectively and easily choose and use the best online learning materials for their students that are compatible with their own teaching methods and the learning goals of their academic program. MERLOT d'es not store the thousands of actual learning materials on its servers, but simply provides the links and descriptions of the materials (metadata). The learning materials can also have links to sample student assignments for using the materials, peer reviews of the materials, and comments by members of the MERLOT community.

MERLOT has recently established the MERLOT Teaching & Technology community (www.merlot.org/Home.po?discipline=Teaching_and_Technology), which is designed to aid faculty and faculty development professionals in planning for successfully using online resources in teaching and learning.

MERLOT also contains profiles of its members. The Member Directory contains contact information, academic areas of expertise, and an ePortfolio of contributions. Members can also create and annotate personal collections of materials they find, enabling them to build elements of teaching and course ePortfolios easily.

Users do not have to be a member to use the MERLOT search engine. It is free for all users, with simple and advanced search options, as well as the ability to browse by subject category through the collection. Simple searching is a free text search in selected fields in the materials records. Advanced searching enables users to select a wide variety of fields and conditions to focus their searches. Searches result in a listing of the materials in MERLOT; default ordering of the list is that those items with the highest peer reviews are displayed on top.

Almost all of the information contained in MERLOT has been added by its users. They write the descriptions of the learning materials, learning assignments, user comments, peer reviews, and member profiles following Web-based forms. To contribute materials to the collection, a user must become a member, which is free and easy to do. MERLOT's discipline-based editorial boards also expand, organize, peer review, and manage the collection.

MERLOT conducts the peer review of online learning materials, a process that will help ensure that learning materials within the collections that address significant research issues are contextually accurate, pedagogically sound, and technically easy to use. MERLOT has modeled its peer reviews on the discipline-based peer review of scholarship and research. The peer review process also provides a mechanism for recognition of faculty developing and using instructional technology. Individual members can provide their observations and evaluations on the learning materials within MERLOT, which complements the formal peer reviews.

MERLOT represents a partnership of more than 20 systems and institutions of higher education. Each Institutional Partner provides $25,000 per year and significant in-kind contributions to support faculty and staff collaborations. MERLOT also has Campus Members who provide $6,500 per year and Sustaining Partners who provide $50,000 per year. The California State University, which created MERLOT in 1997, continues to be responsible for the management, planning, and operation of MERLOT's processes and tools, in part supported by the yearly fees and NSF grants. MERLOT also develops alliances with professional societies and other digital libraries to work collaboratively on projects, grants, and outreach. Visit http://taste.merlot.org/partners_new/ for more details.

The Annual MERLOT International Conference provides many opportunities for professional development using academic technology in higher education. The MERLOT Faculty Development Workshop provides the Institutional Partners an intensive training program for their staff to learn how to implement MERLOT at their campuses. MERLOT also conducts a variety of planning and training meetings for its Project Directors' Council, Editors' Council, and Advisory Board as it continuously shapes its future.

Gerard Hanley is executive director of MERLOT. For more information, contact webmaster@merlot.org, or visit www.merlot.org.

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