September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Using MERLOT Voices to Build Community of Learners

Posted: Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

by Laura Henriques, David Andrews, and Jaime Arvizu

This is the fifth in a series of articles related to using on-line resources to support student learning. Each article highlights a different National Science Digital Library (NSDL) resource used in the Building Locally, Linking Globally project (NSF DUE  0735011).

MERLOT is the Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching. Highlighted in an earlier eCCS article, MERLOT (www.merlot.org)  is a free service. There are several things that MERLOT provides. The on-line library of peer reviewed teaching and learning materials (called “learning objects”) is searchable by grade, topic and type. The e-portfolio generator called Content Builder is a free, simple way to create professional portfolios and classroom based websites. Both of these features were highlighted in Jaime Arvizu and Sara Meadows’ article. The feature of MERLOT which we are highlighting in this article is MERLOT Voices. 

MERLOT Voices (voices.merlot.org) allows groups of MERLOT members (membership is free) to create topic specific discussion groups. Unlike “Facebook” which is really more of a general social network, Voices is a professional social network that tends to have a greater focus on educational matters. A number of CSU campuses have employed MERLOT Voices with students to create private and open forums and discussion boards. In fact, Fresno State used MERLOT Voices as an integral part of a California Department of Education funded program known as “Modeling Science”. There were more than 75 science teachers from the Fresno and San Luis Obispo area who used Voices to post chats and engage in continued dialogue on project-related activities and developments. It was a tremendously successful vehicle for communication and sharing and helped make the two-year project a great success. Voices has also been used with groups of students in special NSF-funded summer institutes and in some cases, within our own science methods courses, to maintain online sharing of ideas and resources. While many users may have access to various discussion board features for courses, this particular forum is open to anyone who is invited and joins. For projects, clubs or groups of likeminded people, MERLOT Voices becomes the place for on-going conversations. Like most discussion boards, members can post and reply to prompts and each other. Working with groups of preservice teachers from different cohorts and different content areas, MERLOT Voices has allowed for at a common, on-line gathering space in which to share ideas about teaching and learning, respond to readings and ask for help. The conversations have threads that are easy to follow.

In addition to threaded discussions, Voices allows users to upload word documents, Powerpoints, and other forms of multi-media files with an almost unlimited storage capacity available. This is powerful advantage over many other bulletin board formats which are limited in text input and storage.

With pre-service teachers, we have used Voices to have candid discussions about teaching issues associated with high-need schools. Topics such as violence in schools, understanding issues associated with poverty, teaching in schools with fewer resources, and managing classrooms are among those discussed. Having these conversations on-line, as opposed to in a given class or course, affords student teachers and credential students alike an opportunity to interact in ways that a traditional credential program rarely offers. Since the discussion board is on-line, users can participate asynchronously. Not surprisingly, the times that students are on-line and posting don’t match our typical working hours!

Another advantage to MERLOT Voices is that the conversations and groups can extend beyond the life of the course or workshop. While many on-line educational management systems include a discussion board feature, they usually disappear at the end of the course, whereas here, these groups will remain intact for a longer period of time.  Additionally, prospective teachers are assured more communication interactions with in-service teachers than is typical. This brings a unique richness to their professional development.

Since MERLOT Voices can be set up as public or private, users can feel secure in posting questions and in seeking help. Mentors who lurk in the background and post prompts are then able to jump into the conversation (either via the discussion thread or via private e-mail) to provide support.

While there may be some existing communities which one might like to join, creating one’s own group and on-line community is a very powerful way to help students to get and stay connected in a professional setting. To get started, you must first be a member of MERLOT (sign-up on www.merlot.org). Then go to MERLOT Voices and click on Community Conversations. Click on the  + ADD button and get started. It is simple, works well and provides a nice platform for professional development and problem solving.

Have fun and good luck!

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach, the co-chair of the 2011 California Science Education Conference Committee, and president-elect of CSTA.

David Andrews is a professor at CSU Fresno and a Life member of CSTA.

Jaime Arvizu is an associate director/counselor at CSU Fresno College of Science and Mathematics and member of CSTA.

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and a past-president of CSTA.

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Written by Peter AHearn

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