Land of a Thousand Lesson Plans

by Evelyn Beck

“OF THE PEOPLE, by the people, for the people…” Those famous words from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address referred to the U.S. government. But they might also apply to MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and On-line Teaching), an invaluable—and free—resource of over 10,000 Web-based learning materials created and constantly expanded by faculty across the country.

“It’s a user-created digital library,” says executive director Gerry Hanley, who also serves as the senior director for academic technology in California State University’s Office of the Chancellor in Long Beach. “That’s different from having a few experts say what’s important to be in the library.”

Started in 1997 as way to help faculty members in California’s state university system—the largest in the U.S.—find, select and use academic technology in their teaching and learning, MERLOT became a cross-country consortium in 2000, when 20 institutions of higher education joined as partners. While full involvement in MERLOT requires paid institutional membership, most of those who use its resources either browse the site or sign up for free memberships.

On average, over 15,000 unique visitors use the site each month, and over 15,000 faculty, staff, students, and others had registered as members by July 2003.

Faculty members—including adjuncts—in fourteen disciplines contribute lesson plans, which are then peer reviewed and rated.

“This can be especially helpful for an adjunct faculty member who could get hired three weeks before classes startand is asked to make sure to include technology in your teaching,” says Hanley. “How do you find good stuff quickly and have the confidence it will work well? If you have to find content for a course quickly and want to do a good job, this is where you can rely on the evaluations that your peers have made.”

Reviewers award up to five stars for course material, based on criteria in three categories: quality of content, potential effectiveness as a teaching-learning tool, and ease of use.

In addition to serving as a resource, MERLOT can also showcase adjunct work.

“People can create personal collections to show how you’re using technology in teaching,” says Hanley. “If you create courses in WebCT or Blackboard, access is limited. But MERLOT is a public place where an adjunct can create a free on-line portfolio, and you don’t have to be a programmer to do so.”

One example of a self-identified adjunct instructor with a MERLOT profile is Laura Shulman, an adjunct instructor in religion at Northern Virginia Community College. Her profile links to a more extensive page, which offers access to three of her on-line religion courses:

And there are opportunities for recognition. Faculty of all ranks are invited to submit lesson plans for peer review on MERLOT, and they are also invited to apply to become peer reviewers in their area of expertise. Faculty can also submit material for consideration for an award for “exemplary on-line learning resources” that includes $500 cash, a $1000 travel stipend, and free conference registration to MERLOT’s annual international conference. (Samples of previous winners are on-line and are great sources for =ideas in innovative site design.) The Website is

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