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A Novel Approach to Skeleton-Note Instruction in Large Engineering Courses: Unified and Concise Handouts that are Fun and Colorful

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Proven Strategies in Classroom Engagement Part II: Activities for Creative Pedagogy

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Susan Michelle Reynolds P.E. Colorado School of Mines

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Prof. Susan Reynolds is a Teaching Associate Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. She holds a MS in Civil Engineering (Structural) from the University of Illinois, and is dually registered as a Professional Engineer (Commonwealth of Virginia and State of Alabama) and a Registered Architect (District of Columbia). Prof. Reynolds has roughly 10 years of combined professional practice as a structural engineer and as an architect, with special expertise in historic preservation and archaic construction.

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Raul N. Tackie Colorado School of Mines

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Raul Tackie is a Senior in Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, who is also pursuing a minor in Humanitarian Engineering. His interests include sustainable development, renewable energy, corporate social responsibility, and bio-mechanical engineering. As a student at Red Rocks Community College he helped develop the Introduction to Design and Engineering Applications course which to this day continues to introduce engineering and non-engineering students alike to engineering concepts and applications through the creation of real-world design solutions. Raul continues to work with the college to develop training curriculums for their IDEA Lab while pursuing his undergraduate studies.

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Skeleton notes (partially completed hand-outs that are completed during class by the instructor and the students) can be an effective pedagogy for delivering engineering material to large sections when factors such as a high student-instructor ratio and/or inadequate Teaching Assistant support prohibits a fully flipped model. This paper describes an innovative hybrid approach to instruction that features a novel approach to skeleton notes.

As examples, we will draw upon two case studies. The first is a sophomore-level Mechanics of Materials course at Name of Institution, in which the instructor has developed a robust and sophisticated set of skeleton notes over the course of seven semesters. General benefits of skeleton notes are well-documented (enhancement of critical thinking during lecture, active participation rather than passive observation, and the instructor’s ability to maintain eye contact with students without turning his/her back to the class). In the paper, we discuss the unique aspects of these handouts that contribute to their success:

• In contrast to other courses taught with multiple streams of information (traditional lecture, skeleton notes, supplementary handouts, slides, reading assignments, etc.), these handouts consolidate the technical material into a single unified message; they are truly complementary with and integrated into the oral lecture. • The handouts are hand-written on a tablet computer, are highly graphic, colorful, and even “cartoonish” in nature, and are interspersed with humor to maximize their appeal to undergraduate students. • The handouts are created with software that enables the author to easily employ principles of graphic design related to hierarchy of information: key points covered during lecture are large and bold; supporting details, case studies, anecdotes, and supporting derivations that are to be reviewed by students after class are very small and bubbled in the margins.

The second case study is a set of skeleton notes developed by an undergraduate student who completed this Mechanics of Materials course and emulated the instructor’s skeleton note approach in a workshop he taught at another institution.

The resulting data from both case studies suggests that this teaching technique results in better-engaged students who have a better conceptual understanding of the technical material at the conclusion of the course. On student course evaluations, the handouts are overwhelmingly cited as an effective teaching method. The purpose of the paper is to stimulate discussion in this effective hybrid teaching technique for large engineering courses. We will describe student feedback and metrics by which the effectiveness of this technique has been assessed, and give the reader explicit step-by-step instructions on how to use technology to implement such a system in other courses.

Reynolds, S. M., & Tackie, R. N. (2016, June), A Novel Approach to Skeleton-Note Instruction in Large Engineering Courses: Unified and Concise Handouts that are Fun and Colorful Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26383

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