Learning Management Systems
Instructors who develop, share, and/or present online materials such as those catalogued in MERLOT, often use learning managements systems (LMSs) in "hybrid" or fully online courses, to present those instructional materials to students. In general, there are three categories of LMSs available for these purposes:
- Proprietary vendor systems
- Open source, community-shared/developed systems
- Innovative LMS opportunities
Proprietary Vendor Systems
For many years a number of proprietary systems have been marketed to higher education. Of the companies that originally entered this marketplace only a handful now commands a significant market share. The list of companies includes Blackboard (with their acquisition of WebCT and ANGEL Learning), and Desire2Learn. A significant characteristic of all these companies is that they provide institutions with a content-free infrastructure for the presentation of online materials. In order to demonstrate their value to their customers, these companies strive to provide outstanding reference examples of the utility of their system over their competition. To accomplish this, each seeks to form strategic alliances with partners who can provide content that can demonstrate the superiority of their system's instructional design and presentation functions.
All the companies mentioned above have partnered with MERLOT because they consider MERLOT to be a superior source of multi-disciplinary high quality academic content.
MERLOT has determined that through the marketing efforts of these leading LMS vendors, our collection and services will be exposed to hundreds of thousands of higher education instructors and their students, worldwide. This exposure can lead to increased partnership possibilities, an increase in the number of individual MERLOT members, and the potential for significant growth of our collection. Since these companies also have aggressive international sales programs, partnering with them significantly improves the quality of our services offered through the GLOBE initiative.
MERLOT has signed Partnership MOUs with Desire2Learn, and (prior to their merger) Blackboard, ANGEL Learning, and WebCT. Our strategy is to work with such vendors so that MERLOT will be exposed to an increasingly large number of higher education faculty who will see the MERLOT website as they use one of these LMSs.
For each of these LMSs, the following has been deployed:
MERLOT continues to explore additional opportunities with each of these vendors to provide our partners and members with advanced functionality that will make authoring of online materials with MERLOT more efficient and more effective.
Open Source, Community-Shared/Developed Systems
LMS customers, over the past five years have demanded increased functionality from LMS vendors. As proprietary LMSs have become more complex, and as customers have become more dependent on a particular LMS, licensing and support costs have increased dramatically. Many customers feel that these price increases are not warranted or feel that they would like to be more in control of the LMS functions they wish to offer on their own campuses. As a consequence, a number of open source LMS projects have been initiated. The most noteworthy of these are Sakai and Moodle.
At the present MERLOT has not partnered with either of these, but is working with both to understand how we might bring MERLOT functionality into the teaching and learning environments offered by these LMSs.
Innovative LMS Opportunities
From time to time unique, innovative, and forward looking LMS projects are brought to the attention of MERLOT and we are invited to enter into partnerships by the leaders of these projects. MERLOT views such invitations as opportunities to participate in leading edge research and/or development that may significantly evolve electronic learning and LMS systems. MERLOT invites such invitations from both operational and grant seeking standpoints, and looks forward to participating directly or indirectly with such partners.
An example of such an opportunity arose from a Memorandum of Understanding between MERLOT and
Indiana University on behalf of the Epsilen Environment Project, created by Professor Ali Jafari, chief architect of the original Angel Learning System and Director of the university's Cyberlab.
Epsilen as a comprehensive online elearning environment that contains ePortfolio, Course Management System (Personal CMS), lifelong repository, e-mail, blog, social and professional networking, and career management functionality (http://epsilen.com/Epsilen/Public/Home.aspx). The Epsilen environment utilizes "Smart Searches" access to the MERLOT repository and integrate MERLOT learning materials in the appropriate Epsilen environment at appropriate times.
LMS Partnership Goals
The overall goal of partnering with LMS vendors, particularly when search or RSS functionality is part of the partnership agreement, is to provide LMS customers with better and more convenient access to MERLOT resources from within a vendor's LMS environment.
In general, project plans that MERLOT may develop with an LMS vendor call for the vendor to:
- Integrate access to MERLOT functionality from within their systems.
- Provide marketing exposure to MERLOT through mutually agreed-upon joint press releases (usually crafted by the vendor's marketing departments).
- Provide MERLOT with a presentation platform, gratis, at their annual users' conferences - which tend to be attended by influential campus personnel.
- Present and highlight, together with one of their campus customers, successful deployment of their LMS with MERLOT functionality, at MERLOT conferences.
Value and Control of MERLOT Resources
MERLOT has determined that there are multiple levels of functions and services, each with a different perceived value that it can offer to vendors or other partners. A basic principle of MERLOT is not to negotiate an exclusive term with any vendor or partner. Every vendor or partner has, through negotiation with MERLOT, access to the same services as any other vendor or partner.
A complete description of MERLOT resources available to vendors and other partners can be found at http://taste.merlot.org/merlottechnology.html.
MERLOT requires each vendor or partner who wishes to participate in projects that deploy MERLOT resources to execute the standard MERLOT Metadata Services Agreement as a secondary part of the standard MERLOT/vendor Partnership MOU agreement. In addition, the institutional customer of any vendor that utilizes MERLOT Web Services - the technology that enables those resources, must also agree to the terms of that agreement.
After that agreement has been secured, MERLOT issues a "key" to the institution to "unlock" MERLOT Web Services and enable the functionality from within the partner’s LMS. MERLOT maintains records of key-issuance, and can control subsequence use of its technology. (All of these processes are fully automated.) No vendor or partner has access to MERLOT internal program code, and through these processes, MERLOT is able to prevent institutions from "harvesting" metadata that comprise the MERLOT collection. For more information on our Web Services and obtaining keys, please visit http://taste.merlot.org/MERLOTWebServices.html.
In undertaking such partnerships, a primary objective is to minimize development work and support required by MERLOT staff, but to assist and advise the partner in their implementation of MERLOT services from within their products/systems. Except on a negotiable fee basis, MERLOT does not do any development of partner-based products or systems related to the services described in this document. MERLOT does work cooperatively and in an advisory role with partners during their development cycle; final deployment decisions concerning issues that may affect user interfaces or system performance are the partner’s responsibility.
When new MERLOT functionality becomes available, MERLOT notifies, via email, partner or vendor customers who have registered their use of MERLOT services through the MERLOT key-issuance process.
MERLOT directs all queries regarding deployment of a vendor/patrner product or system back to the vendor/partner's own customer support function.
For more information please contact Sorel Reisman at email@example.com.