Explore Open Educational Resources for Students with MERLOT.org

shutterstock_124770841Have you ever struggled to understand a complex concept in one of your courses? We’ve all experienced the need for a little extra help at some point. What if there was something you could read, watch, or interact with to bring you up to speed, show you another perspective, or explain something in a new way? Open education resources may be just what you need.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines open educational resources (OERs) as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.” OERs are now widely available and can support your online learning in multiple ways.

Getting extra support for class topics and finding time to track down high-quality alternatives can be a real challenge. The Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT), an initiative managed by California State University, has been a trusted source of OERs since 1997. Sorel Reisman, MERLOT’s Managing Director, was very generous in answering my recent questions about the resources and services that are currently available.

What is MERLOT?

MERLOTAt first glance, you might see the site as a collection or searchable database of learning materials, but Reisman pointed out that this is just the beginning of what you’ll find. “It is an international community of OER users who share, among other things, their experience and knowledge about teaching with technology.” Members of this community help to curate the materials that are organized in about 25 different academic disciplines.

One of the more common complaints of open materials in general is the lack of consistency in level of quality. As with any online resource you use in your courses, you need to review OERs for copyright, accuracy, source, and relevance. Reisman explained that through the efforts of volunteer editors and boards with subject matter expertise, “the submissions are either rejected for being inappropriate for the collection” or accepted if “interesting enough to retain or peer review.” This peer review process is unique to MERLOT among similar OER repositories. Users also participate in the curation of materials using “crowd sourced rating methods similar to those used on sites like Amazon and eBay.” The image below is an example of how these ratings appear on-screen.

MERLOT Search Results

In addition to organizing OERs by academic discipline, MERLOT also uses 19 different material types and 20 technical formats to label items that are included in the collection. Textbooks, animations, articles, and tutorials are just a few of the categories you’ll find to help you better prepare for exams and assignments.

Find, Personalize, and Share

I’ve used OERs, including MERLOT’s resources, as a student and as an online instructor. While many OER hubs focus on resources for teaching, MERLOT understands the potential benefits for students, too, and has search features that allow you to find helpful content, personalize materials for your use, and share what you’ve found with other students who have similar interests. So, how can you really use OER in your courses? Let’s take a closer look at a few examples?

Find: Modules, textbooks, and other materials are organized by discipline and subtopics. The materials listed under “Business” and “Marketing,” for example, include case studies, presentations, simulations, practice exercises and more. Browse the results of your search and view summary pages for each item, then click “go to material” to access the details on the contributor’s site.

  • Are you ready? If you are thinking about enrolling in your first online class, search for some of the online learning self-assessments collected by MERLOT to find out what to expect.
  • Locate supplemental study materials. Need extra review in math? Look for drill and practice exercises like those found in Calculus on the Web, just one of the over 40,000 resources available.
  • Personalize: After signing up for a free account, you can save the materials you are interested in using to your own collection within the system. Registration also allows you to view the collections of other students, as well as rate and comment on the items you decide to explore.

    • Organize group work. Consider the possibilities for personal collections within a group to identify and share items you find for a team project.
    • Explore future topics of study. Thinking about taking a computer software class or working in the field of hospitality management? MERLOTs resources can help you become more familiar with these and many other areas before you begin a new program.

    Share: When you find open materials in the system that are helpful to you, consider sharing them through your social media accounts (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). You can also use MERLOT’s Content Builder to develop your own webpage for use as an ePortfolio or other online presentation. Reisman stressed that this open source tool is “very powerful, yet simple to use.”

    Watch for MERLOT II, an update that will be formally announced later this Fall. Reisman mentioned this revision that offers “a redesign of the MERLOT interface, making navigation much easier, making it easier to find and access MERLOT’s rich resources, and improving search functionality.”

    Get Involved in the OER Community

    As an online student you are already gaining experience communicating and learning online. Consider joining others who are interested in collaborating online to share educational materials. You can participate in the larger OER community in a number of meaningful ways that will not only further the work that is being done, but also expand your network and experience.

    I asked Reisman about opportunities to get involved and he said that “MERLOT is always looking for reviewers for OER” in their academic discipline communities. They have “a very formal, and well-developed set of processes for welcoming and training volunteers.” They are also interested in developing new areas of focus as visitors identify the need to add to the existing list.

    There are many more ways to access, use, and contribute open educational resources. MERLOT provides an easy search tool that includes materials indexed by additional collections. Check with your school’s library and for more information about OERs, and follow International Open Access Week (October 21-27, 2013) and Open Education Week (Spring 2014) for updates on their annual events.

    Thanks to the contributions and curation of so many educators and organizations, we all stand to benefit from shared information and expertise.

    Join Melissa Venable on Twitter and Google+.

    Source: Inside Online Learning Blog