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The following book review was sent to the Journal of College Student Retention for consideration:

Shank, J. D. (2014). Interactive open educational resources: A guide to finding, choosing, and using what’s out there to transform college teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Review of Interactive Open Educational Resources: A Guide to Finding, Choosing, and Using What’s Out There to Transform College Teaching

In Interactive Open Educational Resources, John D. Shank, an instructional design librarian at Penn State Berks in Reading, Pennsylvania, offers an informative guide for higher education professionals, designed to identify, integrate, and assess interactive open educational resources (OERs) in college courses.  Recent empirical research has focused on the impact and effectiveness of OERs in higher education, particularly the importance of these tools to the teaching and learning process (Fischer, Robinson, Hilton, & Wiley, 2015; Pawlyshyn, Bradlee, & Miller, 2013).

Shank cites the research of Prensky (2010) and Oblinger and Oblinger (2005), who argued that current college students are digital natives.  These students enroll in colleges, having always lived with computers and being constantly connected to others via the Internet.  Digital natives digest information in a technology-rich environment that permits deep interaction and social connections.  Consequently, the current generation of college students is less likely to absorb educational content through passive, didactic lectures. Modern educators, therefore, should consider innovative teaching techniques to cultivate “students’ intellectual curiosity and interest” (p. 4).

Sponsored by the Association of College and Research Librarians (ACRL), this book offers an overview of the rapidly expanding repositories of interactive learning materials (ILMs) that present traditional educational content in interactive formats.  Shank identifies three distinctive components that differentiate ILMs from traditional learning materials: interaction that requires students to actively participate in the learning process; use of multiple modalities, including audio, visual, and touch to deliver educational content; and a feedback mechanism to inform students of their level of understanding.  Shank advocates that ILMs are tools instructors can use to effectively address the learning challenges of digital native students.

The author organized the book into three sections: an overview of ILMs (chapters 1 and 2), a guide to search for ILMs in publicly accessible repositories (chapters 3 through 7), and a checklist to select and implement ILMs for college courses (chapters 8 through 10). In the first section, the author presents an overview of ILMs, including an emphasis on Robert Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, designed to gauge the effectiveness of an interactive tool (Gagne, Wager, Golas, & Keller, 2005).  Within the continuum of open educational resources, ILMs provide students an active learning environment with the expectation for higher levels of student involvement and time on task as opposed to simple consumption and reflection.  Shank cites the seminal work of Chickering and Gamson (1987) to remind readers that increased time on task leads to improved academic performance.

The first section includes a formal definition of ILMs and categorizes interactive learning resources. According to Shank, “An ILM is defined as any discrete online, interactive, instructional resource used to teach a specific learning objective” (p. 15).  In keeping with Gagne’s (2005) framework on instructional design, the author posits that ILMs must include learning content, multimedia, decision activities, learner assessments, and a feedback mechanism.  Shank outlines the broad categories of ILMs, including learning modules (e.g., scaffolding of content within a virtual tutorial), simulations, and games. The author’s succinct definition of ILMs offers prospective users an excellent framework for assessing the credibility of current and proposed learning tools.

In section two, Shank offers higher education professionals a detailed, practical guide to identify ILMs. Included in this section is a search taxonomy and process to locate ILMs in online repositories.  Shank’s analysis of large repositories includes those managed by non-profit organizations, colleges and universities, publishers, and entertainment providers.  The author synthesizing the major repositories and offers practical search methodologies, which can assist readers to make informed decisions in the ILM discovery process.

To some extent, the second section might appear to be redundant—and therefore unnecessary—for the casual reader if the primary need is for a brief review of the available OER repositories.  However, this section would support the professional, who is seeking guidance in how best to identify ILMs.  In particular, the recommendations for searching OER repositories are an excellence reference source, necessary at specific times.

Section three expands on the process for identifying ILM by outlining the selection, implementation, and assessment processes.  Shank emphasizes the importance of matching the learning resources with assessments of student need and expected learning outcomes (as expressed in Bloom’s revised taxonomy; Krathwohl, 2002).  The author encourages higher education institutions to integrate ILMs into institutional learning management systems.  The third section concludes with an analysis of potential assessment methodologies to evaluate the effectiveness of ILMs as well as students’ perceptions of these tools.  As a practical example, Shank presents a case study of one institution’s integration of ILMs in a calculus course and describes each of the major steps in the assessment process.

In concluding the book, Shank encourages higher education professionals—notably faculty, librarians, instructional designers, and technologists—to collaborate on ILM integration.  Additionally, the primary objectives of the textbook are restated, including raising awareness of existing repositories of ILMs, offering best practices in search taxonomies and processes, and outlining critical steps to effectively integrate interactive resources into higher education courses.  The author acknowledges the changing landscape of higher education, especially the growth of nontraditional learning modalities, and encourages higher education professionals to serve as ILM adoption leaders. Shank believes that ILMs offer resources to the higher education community to improve student learning.

Shank contributes practical insight to the OER field throughout the book.  Other authors, who have written complementary materials, include Johnstone (2005) and Atkins, Brown, and Hammond (2007).  Johnstone (2005) chronicled the early developments of the OER movement to facilitate an open exchange of educational tools.  Sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Atkins et al. (2007) detailed the variety of initiatives in the OER movement, including specific enablers and challenges of OER adoption.

Specific to interactive OERs, other key contributors include Aldrich (2009), who considered the role of gamification in educational practice; Handal and Herrington (2003), who outlined the role of interactive learning modules; and Conrad and Donaldson (2011), who reviewed online simulation tools.  The conclusions of these authors coincide with Shank’s argument that ILMs enhance the instructional process.

The book does not attempt to validate the effectiveness of ILMs but offers important contributions through its analysis of OER repositories and recommended implementation strategy.  Shank’s evaluation of each repository offers higher education professionals a valuable tool for identifying ILMs.  Moreover, Shank highlights the importance of careful planning and assessment in the instructional design process.

Although Interactive Open Educational Resources does not directly relate to the topic of student retention, the book should encourage higher education professionals to consider the adoption of interactive OERs.  Textbooks can be expensive for students, often requiring significant out-of-pocket expenses and negatively influencing retention (Hilton, Robinson, Wiley, & Ackerman, 2014).  Therefore, colleges and universities should consider interactive OERs as a replacement or supplement for textbooks to help reduce student expenses.

In addition, interactive OERs could assist with student retention by supplementing the instructional process with tools that enhance student learning.  By design, ILMs require students to be engaged with the educational content.  Students’ mental and physical involvement can be beneficial in extending time on task and improving student learning (Shank, 2014).  Instructors whose courses often result in a high number of failures could incorporate ILMs that extend classroom instruction.  These practices might assist low performing or high-risk students.

Interactive Open Educational Resources is an excellent, practical guidebook on ILM selection, implementation, and assessment. Shank’s step-by-step framework will assist higher education professionals who face the challenge of identifying reference tools for future projects.  Moreover, the implementation of ILMs can lead to better courses, improved student learning outcomes, and reduced costs for students, all of which enhance student success and retention.



Aldrich, C. (2009). Learning online with games, simulations, and virtual worlds: Strategies for online instruction (Vol. 11). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Atkins, D. E., Brown, J. S., & Hammond, A. L. (2007). A review of the open educational resources (OER) movement achievements, challenges, and new opportunities. San Francisco, CA: Creative Commons.

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin.  Retrieved from

Conrad, R. M., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resource for creative instruction (Vol. 36). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fischer, L., Robinson, J., Hilton, J., & Wiley, D. (2015). A multi-institutional study on the impact of the open textbook adoption on the learning outcomes of postsecondary students. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 27(3), 159-172. doi:10.1007/s12528-015-9101-x

Gagne, R. M., Wager, W. W., Golas, K. C., & Keller, J. M. (2005). Principles of instructional design. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Handal, B., & Herrington, A. (2003). Reexamining categories of computer-based learning in mathematics education. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 3(3), 275-287.  Retrieved from

Hilton, J., Robinson, J., Wiley, D. W., & Ackerman, J. D. (2014). Cost-savings achieved in two semesters through the adoption of open ediucational resources. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 15(2).  Retrieved from

Johnstone, S. M. (2005). Open educational resources serve the world. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 8(3), 15-18.  Retrieved from

Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An overview. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 212-218. doi:10.1207/s15430421tip4104_2

Oblinger, D., & Oblinger, J. L. (2005). Educating the net generation. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE.

Pawlyshyn, N., Bradlee, C. L., & Miller, H. (2013). Adopting OER: A case study of cross-institutional collaboration and innovation. Educause Review.  Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2010). Teaching digital natives: partnering for real life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Shank, J. D. (2014). Interactive open educational resources: A guide to finding, choosing, and using what’s out there to transform college teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.