Academia Adopts Social Media to Blaze New Paths for Peer Collaboration

More than 60,000 Academics from hundreds of institutions of higher learning have forged a community through Web 2.0 technology, database driven utilities, referral to free peer-reviewed resources, and increased mobility.


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(October 20, 2008) – The typical understanding of social media is a teen to 20 something student communicating with friends on-line through Facebook, MySpace or by posting videos on YouTube. Academia has been slow to warm to this new media as a tool among peers within the ranks of faculty, until now.

MERLOT Voices, a fully interactive social media site based on a Ning platform, launched in August for the Multimedia Education Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) community of more than 64,000 faculty, staff, students, librarians, administrators, and other educators. The community site enables members to post and view comments, blogs, and videos related to online teaching and learning for free. MERLOT Voices is emerging as a key tool for MERLOT’s “Build Locally – Link Globally” strategy – providing local communities the opportunity to enrich conversations by linking to people and resources from around the world.

“There is an interconnectedness for me in moving among these communities,” said Cris Guenter, MERLOT member and professor of Teacher Education at CSU Chico, in a Voices post. “I belong to two other Ning communities as well. In all three I find the immediacy and subgroups to be an efficient way to find information, ask questions, and contribute.”

With resources and support provided by MERLOT’s sustaining partner, the California State University (CSU), the community continues to pioneer tools for teaching and learning online. The central feature of MERLOT is an online “referatory” – a digital library that allows peers to discover materials and expertise that other community members make available for free. These materials are peer-reviewed by 20 Editorial Boards which follow the model of academic journals and consist of disciplines ranging from biology to criminal justice to music.

“Faculty, administrators and other academics offer their best materials, expertise and talents to the community for free,” said Gerry Hanley, senior director of Academic Technology for the CSU Chancellor’s Office and executive director of MERLOT. “I’m constantly amazed at what individuals will contribute for the good of the community.”

MERLOT took the community’s offerings mobile by working with BlackBerry® to create Mobile Search, a free, direct, browser-less search application for smartphones from Research In Motion (RIM).

“Instructors are always thinking of ways to develop and improve their courses,” said Sorel Reisman, professor of Information Systems at CSU, Fullerton, and managing director of MERLOT. “When I’m out of the office I often come up with an idea about the course I teach and wish I could search MERLOT for materials that illustrate the concept.  With the new MERLOT Mobile Search it’s easy for me to find suitable materials and email them to myself for incorporation into my course when I get back to the office.”

“With an engaged community of active contributors, MERLOT will continue to evolve and keep pace with the changing technology and needs in online teaching and learning,” said Hanley.


MERLOT is a consortium of higher education institutions with a free, user-centered, searchable collection of near 21,000 online learning materials created and used by 64,000 registered members.  MERLOT's vision is to be a premier online community where faculty, staff, and students from around the world share their learning materials and pedagogy. MERLOT's strategic goal is to improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning by increasing the quantity and quality of peer reviewed online learning materials that can be easily incorporated into faculty-designed courses.More at

About the California State University
The California State University is the largest system of senior higher education in the country, with 23 campuses, approximately 460,000 students and 46,000 faculty and staff. Since the system was created in 1961, it has awarded nearly 2.5 million degrees, about 92,000 annually. Its mission is to provide high-quality, affordable education to meet the ever-changing needs of the people of California. With its commitment to excellence, diversity and innovation, the CSU is the university system that is working for California.

As part of that commitment, in 1997, the CSU developed MERLOT and provided the public with free access. The CSU continues as the sustaining partner more than a decade later.

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