MERLOT – Multimedia Education Resource for Learning and Online Teaching – is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a central clearinghouse for college level peer-reviewed online learning modules. With a continuously growing collection of online learning materials, peer reviews and assignments, MERLOT helps faculty members to enhance instruction and conduct transparent evaluation of online teaching-learning materials. MERLOT is a community-based organization subdivided into disciplines. Non-members can locate teaching and learning materials within their discipline as well as colleagues who share the same interests. Members can also review or submit new learning objects. These learning materials are located and are retrievable somewhere on the internet: they can be websites, webpages or documents containing a lecture, a paper on a specific topic. MERLOT staff stores a description of them, then the ranking process for evaluating teaching-learning materials follows the model of academic peer reviewing. Each review is conducted by at least two higher education faculty members on the basis of three standard criteria: Quality of Content, Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool, and Ease of Use. For each classified content an overall and category rating and description is available. Editor’s choices are also indicated.
An open resource for students in higher education
Open Courseware Consortium
A consortium for open educational material
The OpenCourseWare Consortium comprises hundreds higher education institutions and associated organizations from around the world, thus becoming a recognized movement and a model for educational content sharing among academic institutions and schools. Its mission is to empower people worldwide through open courseware, by encouraging the adoption and adaptation of open educational material in some crucial regions such as China and South Africa. Participating institutions must commit to publish materials related to at least 10 courses, in a format consistent with the definition of ‘open courseware’. As specified by the Consortium, an OpenCourseWare is a free and open digital publication of high-quality educational material.The Consortium website allows users to search course material by browsing individual sites or by searching across all available programs in 12 languages. A special label and banner identify these academic courses. With plenty of useful material about intellectual property, explanatory information, the publishing process and related technologies, the website features an extremely clear navigation and a well organized structure.
A commercial virtual library environment for e-learning
Questia is an online library providing access to a very large collection of books and journal articles in the humanities and social sciences, including 77,000 full-text books, 155,000 articles, 185,000 magazine articles and over 1,1 million of newspaper articles for a total of 4 million titles from over 250 publishers. This collection provides multiple search feature, including key-word, phrase or quotation in each record of the library. As a commercial enterprise, this site requires a paid subscription for full 24/7 access to the collection and the various tool kits provided. One of suck tools, Questia Classroom, features a quite advanced and challenging electronic learning environment enabling teachers to manage online contents, read resources, create assignments and plan teaching activities, while students can access full-text material and use the reading and paper-writing tools as a personal workspace (bookmarks, highlighting, bibliography, etc.). No writing tool is accessible to non-subscribers and few areas actually provide open access – even if now the full content of more than 5,000 books is available for free (mostly classics by Dickens, Freud, Darwin, Twain, etc.). A highly refined tutorial helps non-experts and novices to find out how the library works and how can be used at its best. Navigation in this website is quite easy and user-friendly, thanks to a professional outline and management, including a Live Chat option for questions and help.
The Distance Education Clearinghouse
A general purpose gateway for e-learning
The Distance Education Clearinghouse website is maintained by the University of Wisconsin-Extension in cooperation with its partners and other institutions of the University of Wisconsin. It aims at offering two major typologies of information in the area of distance education and related resources. The first is a list of certificate programs available at the University of Wisconsin, while the second provides an interesting collection of distance learning resources, from national and international sources. These include a wide range of information, from introductory – i.e. definitions, glossary, FAQs – to current issues, program and courses, technologies, research, statistics and more about distance learning. Links to online communities and even job opportunities are also available. Each section provides a list of resources accompanied by an introductory comment. The website is frequently updated, with a particularly relevant event, program or website selected every month. The other major area of the site offers a list of Certificate Programs available at the University of Wisconsin to help teacher understand online course design and development, enhance their knowledge of distance learning environments and their pedagogical challenges.
The Gateway to Educational Materials
A quick access to thousands of educational resources on line
Promoted by the US Department of Education, The Gateway to Educational Material (GEM) is a consortium of organizations and individuals providing access to a metadata catalogue of over 50,000 educational resources, including online lessons plans, best practices, projects, tutorials, research exercises and information about online communities offering further educational resources. The GEM search engine is outstanding. Results of each search are organized by subject, type, grade level, keywords, mediator, beneficiary and price code, to further refine the search. Users can also browse these sub-topics with the aid of a glossary. Information are gathered from various sources, including federal, state, university, non profit and commercial internet sites. Organizations and individual educators are encouraged to join (for free) the GEM consortium and share their educational resources, after a revision process. Educational resources are usually accessible online through a direct link. In the field of social science alone, GEM offers a collection of over 13,000 items. The Gateway offers various tools to support users, from beginners to experts. Its catalogue offers both free and not for free educational resources. However, free resources dominate the catalogue’s wide offer.
The Social Policy and Social Work Subject Centre
UK-wide Learning and Teaching Support Network
The Social Policy and Social Work subject centre (SWAP) is a distributed center funded by the Higher Education Academy (UK) – a public organization whose goal is to provide the best possible learning experience for their students. It is mainly coordinated by the University of Southampton (UK). The site offers a wide range of resources, documents, projects and information in the areas of teaching, learning and elearning. Its goal is “to support and develop the social policy and social work educator subject communities to enhance the student learning experience”. As a Center devoted to promoting high quality learning, it offers a very rich introductory area to e-learning, through different resources and documents in the field of social works and social policy, including exchange of good practices. SWAP offers several resources for elearning including teaching tools, research findings, information on different teaching approaches, online databases, best practices, events, newsletters and conferences, tools and trainings in the area of distant education, and online discussions. It also provides a limited number of free online courses in the social work and social policy education areas. The website articulates its resources and documents very clearly, and search and navigation are easy.
A major Spanish-speaking portal about distance learning issues
Sponsored by the Latin American network of Government and Chiefs of State, Virtual Educa is a program aimed at fostering IT innovation in education and training practices worldwide. Launched officially at the 2004 Summit in Costa Rica, this on-going project is the result of an International convergence addressing a key sector of Latin America’s cooperation. As a nonprofit corporation with offices in Usa, Spain and several South America countries, this network relies on a variety of sources and supporting members and promotes a wide arrays of activities. The entire content is open to the public, with some pdf and doc file ready for downloading; with a free registration users can receive updates and a newsletter. There are also plenty of links pointing to a variety of external sites (academic institutions, e-learning events and projects worldwide, etc.). Overall, this website is very well designed and professionally managed, providing several layers of relevant information and material. The homepage is visually engaging, with several boxes and windows rich in pictures, graphics and other dynamic elements inviting the user to immediately take a deep immersion. However, while Virtual Educa has its own space on Second Life, called “Isla Educandote”, the website lacks a RSS Feed and even a search facility — thus risking to produce an actual information overload.