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Big Fish Iii: But, Does Story Telling Work?

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Tricks of the Trade in Teaching I

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.230.1 - 15.230.14



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Paper Authors

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David Chesney University of Michigan

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Ross Broms The University of Michigan

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Big Fish III: But, Does Story-Telling Work?


At the American Society of Engineering Educators (ASEE) Conference in Chicago, Illinois during June, 2006, the author presented a paper on the lost art of story-telling1. The 2006 paper focused on when story-telling might be effectively used in the classroom, such as to illustrate important points, give coherent meaning to seemingly divergent topics, aid students in remembering content, or simply to break up a long lecture. In June, 2007, at the ASEE Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, the author presented a paper on how to tell stories in the classroom2. The 2007 ASEE paper first discussed some basic skills and approaches for story- telling. The 2007 paper discussed the two important skills of remembering a story worthy of telling, then telling the story worthy of remembering.

This paper is very likely the final paper in the trilogy. (Otherwise, it would not be a trilogy!)

Data was collected regarding the quantity and sequential proximity of stories and content in an engineering classroom in an attempt to draw conclusions about its effectiveness as a teaching method. Specifically, data was recorded about the quantity of time used for story-telling by faculty during a semester-long course, the proximity between stories and course content, and the performance of students on exams. Finally, a subset of students in the course kept logbooks that reflected on their thoughts regarding story-telling in the classroom.

The author has used story-telling extensively in the engineering classroom. A consistent comment from students in end-of-semester evaluations is to include more stories in subsequent offerings of the course. This paper will present preliminary results about whether story-telling helps students to learn.


Story-telling is an age-old technique for conveying information, teaching a moral lesson, or simply entertaining. It has a prehistoric basis, in that early knowledge was transmitted from person to person via the oral tradition prior to most people being literate. Story-telling is entertaining to children; and is very likely still entertaining for adults, when someone tells a convincing or entertaining story.

For educators, there is a wide array of technology to assist in communicating the course material to the students. Although the author is an advocate of new technology, he acknowledges that sometimes educators confuse the use of new technology in the classroom with enhanced learning by our students.

As an example, a typical classroom at the University of Michigan is equipped with an LCD projector, overhead projector, document camera, chalkboards or whiteboards, wired speakers, and sometimes video capture. Students are becoming more technically sophisticated as well. One can generally assume that each student has a cell phone of some form, mp3 player (or

Chesney, D., & Broms, R. (2010, June), Big Fish Iii: But, Does Story Telling Work? Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15809

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