I came across MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) in a TELR workshop recently. I’ve been thinking about how ESL classes could be moved online and MERLOT was suggested as a place I might find some learning objects (reusable components of an online course).
While it wasn’t quite as simple as that, I did find a number of good resources. One qualification: like many online resources, MERLOT does have some dead links and out-of-date activities, but at least there were plenty to choose from. Try a search for “English grammar” and you’ll find lots of materials and promising leads. The bad news is that it all feels a little like Yahoo circa 1996. Although there are options for users to rate items, this system is not widely used and, in some cases, possibly outdated. Many of the materials appear the be the work of single teachers doing yeoman’s work to create textbooks from scratch (Net Grammar), clearinghouses for their online materials (Edict Virtual Language Center), and drill-and-kill exerices and quizzes (English Works!, Interactive Quizzes at Capital Community College’s Guide to Grammar and Writing).
Although MERLOT makes an attempt to organize these resources, one still has to do some pretty deep wading to find useful resources. A search returns a list, like Yahoo once did. What is needed is something more Google-like: an algorithm-based system for sorting the wheat from the chaff. Even better would be a proliferation of intelligent CALL (ICALL) materials (like WERTi) that would include tools to create exercises from existing content. This is more a criticism of ESL CALL materials in general, than it is of MERLOT. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet.
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