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Five questions...for Tom Carey

By Lisa Neal / July 2007

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Instructors in higher education get e-learning support from two distinct sources: their own institutions, through colleagues and faculty teaching centers, and their disciplines, through subject area experts and scholarly associations. Tom Carey, professor of management sciences at the University of Waterloo and chief learning officer of MERLOT, explains how the MERLOT consortium is finding the sweet spot where those two processes come together.

Lisa Neal: How did you get involved in online communities for online instructors?

Tom Carey: I like to frame my career as involvement in four iterations of the innovation process. The first was in practicing and teaching software engineering in the late 1970s, as that area began its move into mainstream computer science. That transitioned into involvement in HCI, by way of requirements engineering, in the early 1980s. When I started using interactive learning systems in my teaching and online knowledge support systems with corporate partners, I moved into online teaching and learning tools in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. Now my focus has become online knowledge communities for teachers in higher education, and I think this will prove as important a development as software engineering, HCI, and online learning have been in their respective domains.

LN: What is MERLOT?

TC: MERLOT stands for Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching. It's is a network of 23 state systems and individual campuses across the full spectrum of higher education. MERLOT enables faculty communities to share teaching knowledge and manage digital resources, enhancing learning and student success in higher education.

Through its public website, MERLOT provides an open repository of faculty teaching expertise with links to exemplary online learning resources. The repository links to more than 16,000 learning resources, mostly at the level of individual activities which instructors can freely incorporate in their own course designs. There are 16 editorial boards in specific disciplines who are responsible for managing the resources in their subject areas, including triage of outdated resources, peer review, and supporting contributions from users about teaching and learning with the resources.

Our institutional partners use MERLOT programs to engage and enable their faculty, through professional and scholarly collaborations with their disciplinary and institutional colleagues.

LN: How does this differ from other types on online communities?

TC: MERLOT has working relationships with a number of other repositories, such as Compadre in Physics, CAUSE in Statistics, and Teach the Earth in the Geosciences. MERLOT has strengths which complement these other groups:

  • From the start, MERLOT has emphasized community ownership of the resource space. For example, anyone can join MERLOT and then submit resources. This allows for a broader base of people to be involved than in settings where a group of experts has the mandate to find and recommend resources.
  • MERLOT doesn't host the learning resources linked to the repository, so we are able to accommodate a broad range of recommendations from open educational resources to commercial products-it is up to the community to decide where the best value lies. MERLOT's assets are in the teaching ideas which accompany the learning resources-peer reviews, author's design rationales, assignments and learning designs, and comments from teachers and students.

LN: How is MERLOT supported?

MERLOT is unique in relying on support from partner institutions. They contribute faculty time to support this "teaching commons" on the Editorial Boards, etc. In return, the partner colleges, universities and systems are able to leverage their MERLOT involvement to achieve their strategic goals more effectively and efficiently. Those goals include accelerating the development of online and hybrid courses, providing alternate learning pathways to meet student needs, and supporting faculty in developing as teacher/scholars.

LN: What do you see as the future of e-learning in general and learning resource repositories in particular?

TC: I expect we will see a continuing spread of e-learning tools in higher education-I don't get to do much work with corporate partners any moreā€”from mass market software packages for the common large courses that many institutions offer to mini-networks of faculty concerned with specific instructional challenges or courses in the "long tail." With respect to resource repositories, I think we are in the midst of a shift in thinking from "repositories supported by communities" to "communities supported by repositories," and toward much richer social network spaces to support scholarly and professional collaborations among teachers.


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