Guest Author - Elizabeth Stuttard
As an online educator providing distance learning courses, you are not necessarily a technical expert and yet you need to be able to develop courses that your students will find stimulating and engaging. Of course they must also meet the goals you have set for their learning in the course. It is a lot of work so it would be nice if you could get some help for developing those courses. There is a website that is very useful for teachers who are developing courses at higher learning levels. The name of it is MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching). If you haven’t already discovered it, you should check it out.
The resources are for faculty and students in higher education and cover a wide range of subjects. There is free registration on the site to become a member. However, you are not required to become a member. You can go to the site, find something that you want to use in a course, and use it immediately. The advantages to being a member are:
• You can contribute learning materials. These materials are connected to your profile which effectively gives you credit for those contributions, thus receiving peer recognition. It also ensures that you will apply some reasonable standards to the materials you submit. You can also get feedback on the materials you submit from people who read them or use them.
• You can create your own personal collection of learning materials. Because there is so much material available, this enables you to keep track of materials and make notes about how you can use them in the future to meet the objectives of your courses.
• You can develop a personal profile. This enables you to let others know what your skills and interests are and also allows you to find members with the same interests and with skills you are interested in.
• Members can also make comments on the materials and rate them. This could be very helpful to others especially if you have used or at least tried to use the material and if the comment has some substance to it (in other words telling why you think it is a “Great site!”).
Many of the learning materials available have been peer reviewed to ensure that they are good quality materials. The editorial board of a discipline decides upon the priorities of the materials which will be reviewed by two trained peer reviewers who have experience in the field. The three criteria for the review are:
1. The quality of the content
2. The potential effectiveness as a teaching tool
3. Ease of use for both students and faculty
In the final peer review which is posted on the MERLOT site these criteria are each given a 1 to 5 star rating and comments about the strengths and concerns of the criteria are shown. As well, a summary is included with information about the date of the review, an overview of the material, the learning goals, the target student population, prerequisite knowledge or skills, the type of material, the recommended use, and the technical requirements for using the material. For the materials which have been peer reviewed, this information is a great help in deciding whether the material will be useful to a particular student or teacher. It becomes even easier to evaluate if there are comments from the members of MERLOT. Combine this information with links to others who share the same interests in a discipline and you have a wonderful resource for high quality materials along with ideas on how to use them in your courses.
The MERLOT site is easy to use. It includes a search tool that along with the simple searches can also do advanced searches. I was able to move from page to page with no problems and their home page gives access to all the different areas of the site. With over 24,000 learning materials, there is sure to be something that will be helpful to teachers and students who visit the site. On Google searches, you have to visit each site to determine whether there is anything that will be useful to you in your courses. The peer reviews and the member reviews on MERLOT, mean that some of the work is done for you. A visit to this site could save you many hours of searching time for good quality materials. This is a site that all distance learning educators should investigate for themselves.