Stone Soup, MERLOT, and Change Management

Concurrent Session 8
Streamed Session HBCU Community College

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

MERLOT has successfully delivered twenty-two years of open educational services for higher education worldwide in part due to its change management strategies based on the Stone Soup folktale. Learn how you can apply MERLOT’s Stone Soup strategy within your own institution.


Gerard L. Hanley Ph.D. is the Executive Director of MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, and SkillsCommons ( for the California State University, the Director for the Center for Usability for Design and Accessibility and Professor of Psychology at California State University, Long Beach. At MERLOT and SkillsCommons, he directs the development and sustainability of the international consortium and technology strategy to provide open educational services to improve teaching and learning and continues to development the US Department of Labor's open repository of educational resources for workforce development. Gerry's previous positions include Assistance Vice Chancellor for Academic Technology Services at the CSU Office of the Chancellor, the Director of Faculty Development and Director of Strategy Planning at CSU, Long Beach.

Extended Abstract

MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching; www. provides a suite of free online tools to enable learning for everyone. MERLOT’s open and free online library provides teachers, faculty, students, librarians, and anyone who has internet access with a collection of free and open teaching and learning materials for their personal and institutional use. These online teaching and learning materials are often called open educational resources (OER) when they are free of cost and free to use and revise, because users are provided permission to do so, typically with Creative Commons licenses. With its birth by the California State University in 1997, MERLOT began with the goal to enable a “cottage industry” of college and university faculty and campuses to develop and distribute academic technology and content in scalable and sustainable ways. MERLOT also intended to support individual faculty members in their development of scalable and sustainable academic technology and high quality educational content (Hanley, 2001; Hanley, Schneebeck, & Zweier, 1998; Schneebeck & Hanley, 2001). Today, the MERLOT consortium is composed of higher education systems, consortia, individual institutions of higher education (representing over 500 campuses), professional academic organizations, other digital libraries, education industries, and over 165,000 individuals to form a community of people who strive to improve the teaching and learning experience with high-quality online resources. The free and open MERLOT library has over 86,000 online resources, including over 7,600 e-textbooks and over 7,900 online courseware.

With the leadership of your institution, you can use MERLOT’s services and resources to effectively and efficiently integrate academic technology innovations into their educational practices in a timely and reliable manner. How can this be done?

Stone Soup for the 21st Century

Marcia Brown’s 1947 publication of a folktale provides a powerful metaphor for integrating organizational practices, individual leadership and participation, sharing and adoption of technologies, and a pathway that the AKA can chart its strategic plan. I am retelling the story below in my own words and will draw upon the metaphor. In the late 1700s, three soldiers are returning from war. They are tired, hungry, and thirsty. They see a village ahead and say, “Maybe the townspeople will provide us some food, water, and a place to rest on our way home.” At the same time, the villagers spy the soldiers and say, “Ah soldiers are coming! They will take our food and drink, of which we have so little! Let’s tell them we have nothing so they should keep going to the next village which is better off.” As the soldiers come into the village square, the mayor comes out to greet them. The soldiers say, “We are on our way home, we are hungry, thirsty, and tired. Might you have some food and drink to spare?” The mayor says, “No, we are so poor ourselves, we have no food or drink but the village over the hill is better off.” “Ahhh,” says the first soldier, “I see you are hungry too! We will show you how to make stone soup.” “Stone Soup!” said the mayor. “How do you make soup from stones? If we learn this, we will never go hungry!”

 Ahhh,” says the first soldier, “we will show you. First get your largest pot, fill it with water, and put it to boil in the center of the town square. We will then find the stones and show you what to do.” The mayor brought out his huge pot as asked and with the fire about it, started to boil the water. While the soldiers were out gathering three large stones, rumors spread, “Did you hear, the soldiers are going to make soup from stones!” Others said, “How can that be? How can you do that?” People’s curiosity was peaked and many gathered around the pot in the center of town. The soldiers brought the three stones and carefully dropped them in the water. Everyone was staring and wondering about what would happen. Then the first soldier said, “If we only had a little cabbage, it would really add flavor to the soup.” Immediately, one of the townspeople said, “I have some cabbage!” She ran home, pulled the cabbage out of its hiding place, chopped it up, and carried it back to the large pot. As she dropped it in the boiling water, everyone said, “He is right, I can smell the better flavor already!” Then the second soldier said, “If we only had a little bit of carrots, it would really add flavor to the soup.” Immediately, another of the townspeople said, “I have some carrots!” He ran home, pulled the carrots out of its hiding place, chopped them up, and carried it back to the large pot. As he dropped the carrots into the boiling water, everyone said, “He is right, I can smell the better flavor already!” Over time, each of the soldiers would say, “If we only had a little bit of… pepper or salt or pork or any of the other ingredients to make a wonderful soup,” and over time, one by one, the townspeople would say they had some of the ingredients to add to the soup, would run home and back to make their contribution. After three hours, the mayor declared to the townspeople, “A wonderful thing has occurred today, these three soldiers taught us to make soup from stones. We will never go hungry with this recipe. Let’s celebrate and invite everyone to the table for supper. All the townspeople joined in the feast, whether they contributed an ingredient or not; they sang, danced, and at the end of the evening, the three soldiers were invited to sleep in the finest rooms in town. The next morning, the soldiers said goodbye and the mayor and the townspeople said, “Thank you for teaching us how to make soup from stones.” The soldiers returned the thanks and continued their journey home.

The story is a metaphor for putting educational innovations into practice and nine elements to the metaphor will be highlighted. The elements can become principles to guide the change management strategy of your institution:

  1. Engaging people and opening doors
  2. Recognizing and validating needs
  3. Exciting curiosity
  4. Creating the gathering place in the open
  5. Inviting solutions
  6. Offering personal contributions
  7. Encouraging publicity
  8. Enjoying the fruits of labors
  9. Celebrating accomplishments and saying thank you

The presentation will review how MERLOT has designed its Open Educational Services to enable its partners to implement the Stone Soup metaphor within their change management strategy for putting innovations into practice.