Because John Shank Knows That New Educational Resources Mean New Opportunities for Learners

John Shank is Head of the Boscov-Lakin Information Commons & Thun Library at Penn State Berks.  He has been a member of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA). He is the author of "Interactive Open Educational Resources: A Guide to Finding, Choosing, and Using What's Out There to Transform College Teaching (2014)".

What big change are you implementing that is helping your library transform?

In 2001, I was hired into a newly created faculty position for Penn State University as their Instructional Design Librarian. At the time, there were only a couple of such positions in higher education. This position was unique because I was a manager (directing the Center for Learning & Teaching), an instructor (teaching courses in educational technology integration), and a librarian. My position allowed me to cross a number of traditional higher education boundaries, broadening my perspective and perceptions about faculty, staff, and students. I realized that my position mirrored one of the most profound challenges of the digital Information Age: ‘rapid, exponential change.’ This environment challenged our faculty to keep up with and integrate the most appropriate educational resources and technology for their courses. I was convinced that faculty needed more support than ever to make this endeavor successful. Our solution was to create a cross-functional team comprised of librarians, an assessment officer, instructional designers, a media specialist, and instructors, and tie it to the newly developed PSU Berks Educational Technology (BET) grant program.

How has this transformation in your library helped to transform your community?

The BET grant was a competitive grant that provided both meaningful incentives and significant support to enable faculty to enhance student learning and success in their courses.  Many of these grants provided support for faculty interested in integrating digital resources into their web-enhanced, blended, and online courses. I witnessed first-hand how interactive tutorials, games, and simulations, many of which we created or discovered, had a measurable and meaningful impact on student class performance.

What is one of the best strategies for achieving change in your library and how have you leveraged it?

One of the best strategies that I have employed to create change, improve the perception of the library, and promote the library’s integration into the university's curriculum is to take advantage of existing institutional initiatives. By demonstrating how libraries can contribute, support, and enhance an existing initiative (e.g. higher education's push to create more blended and online courses that enhance student learning), it is possible to create greater momentum and reduce the institutional friction that exists when creating a separate and additional library initiative.

What experiences or outcomes have kept you inspired and motivated to continue your work?

In the past decade, Open Educational Resources (OER) have gained prominence as a valuable alternative that faculty can use to enhance their course materials.  I have found that students who consistently struggle with a topic, skill, or prerequisite knowledge in a course find OER extremely helpful in understanding and learning course content. Additionally, faculty who use interactive OER rather than just a textbook or lectures have observed that their students are more engaged with the material, and come to class better prepared to have meaningful conversations. Consequently, I have become a passionate advocate for the use of interactive OER and wrote the first handbook on the topic to enable faculty and librarians to more easily find, choose, and use these resources.

Read more about librarians who are transforming their libraries and the profession at Love Libraries dot org