As the Internet has developed, free software has expanded hugely in an effort to fill the space (Bonk, 2009). MERLOT is one of the sources available to educators. MERLOT started at California State University as part of their Distributed Learning Project. The collections are peer-reviewed prior to being posted. The site does require JAVA to function properly, and one user comment lamented that it did not function at all in Firefox.
The site is not the most user-friendly to navigate, and some of the user comments on some activities indicated that a thorough overview of the program would be necessary before students could do anything useful in it. This is disappointing since MERLOT has been around since 1997. To use this in class, the instructor will first need to make good use of the tutorials and become very familiar with it before then instructing students on the use of the program. Although there were many comments about the severe learning curve of some of the programs, there were also many favorable reports about how handy it was in class.
You can choose a discipline such as chemistry, which takes you to a page listing out the types of resources available. In this case, there are simulations, animations, quizzes, lectures, and other materials to choose from.
I could not run the simulations because I am using Firefox on this laptop.
I was able to get to one of the animations on pollution sources. The animation brought up a graphic of a city. Mousing over the graphic brought up little tooltips and (very time-delayed) sounds that went with it. Clicking on one of the locations brought up a list of resources showing why the place was a concern for pollution. Clicking on some places, like the hospital, zoomed in to another detailed image of the inside of the place and more information on the pollution sources for each location there. There was a lot of good information and links to get students to more detailed explanations.
Next I went to the Drills section of the chemistry category and found a link that took me to another site where I could practice balancing chemical equations. This program provided feedback and allowed as many chances as necessary to figure out the balanced equation.
Unfortunately some of the links suffered from link rot or an absence of information. Perhaps in time, people will continue to add information to it to fill in the holes, and hopefully, someone will do something about the user interface.
Bonk, C. J. (2009). The world is open: How web technology is revolutionizing education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.