Asee peer logo

Effects of Note Formatting on Student Learning: Implications for Accessibility and Diverse Minds

Download Paper |


2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Mechanical Engineering Technical Session: Pedagogy II - Best Teaching Practices

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Elizabeth Rose Pollack Michigan State University

visit author page

Liz Pollack is a PhD student at Michigan State University studying Mechanical Engineering. Her research interests include mechanical engineering design, and design science.

visit author page


Geoffrey Recktenwald Michigan State University

visit author page

Geoffrey Recktenwald is a member of the teaching faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University where he teaches courses in mechanics and mathematical methods. He works on several instructional initiatives in his department including; modified mastery learning in early engineering courses and a multi-year integrated system design (ISD) project for honors students. The ISD team currently has 50+ students working to design and build an electric bicycle and human powered vehicles. He is a mentor to mechanical engineering graduate teaching fellows. He is also active in technology adoption and support.

Geoffrey holds a PhD in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from Cornell University and Bachelor degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Physics from Cedarville University. His research interests are focused on best practices for student learning and student success.

visit author page


Michele J. Grimm Michigan State University

visit author page

Michele J. Grimm is the Wielenga Creative Engineering Endowed Professor of Mechanical Engineering. Her research has focused on injury biomechanics – from characterizing important tissue properties to developing appropriate models for the assessment of injury mechanisms. Most recently, this has included working with obstetricians to identify the pathomechanics of neonatal brachial plexus injury. Based on this work, she served on the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Task Force on Neonatal Brachial Plexus Palsy.

In addition to her scientific research, Dr. Grimm has spent a large part of her career focused on curriculum development and enhancement of student learning in engineering. She served on the faculty of Wayne State University for 25 years, where she developed and implemented both undergraduate and graduate programs in biomedical engineering and helped to establish a department of biomedical engineering. Her endowed professorship at MSU focuses on research to increase the success of students in engineering through creative pedagogical techniques.

Dr. Grimm completed her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at The Johns Hopkins University in 1990 and her Ph.D. in Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania in 1994.

She has just finished a 3-year rotation as a program director for three BME-related programs at the National Science Foundation. During this time, she served as co-chair of the White House’s Office of Science & Technology Policy Task Force on Research and Development for Technology to Support Aging Adults. She was recently named to the National Academy of Medicine’s Commission on a Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity. She is also completing her 5-year appointment as a commissioner with ABET’s Engineering Accreditation Commission.

She is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Biomedical Engineering Society, and the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering.

visit author page

Download Paper |


The use of course management systems have resulted in a growing trend among faculty to provide students with course materials to augment lectures. This can include lecture notes, example problems or supplementary reading. In engineering courses, instructor-provided notes are often handwritten -- even in online courses. There is an assumption that handwritten notes are preferred by students and have a pedagogical benefit over typed notes.

Access to course materials for students with disabilities is also improving due to advancements in both technology and awareness. Students with disabilities often receive custom accommodation plans for course work when the original class format does not adequately support their learning. In courses that do not provide access to notes for all students, one key accommodation that students can request is access to course notes. Whether provided to all students or through an accommodation, the format of course notes often makes it difficult for students to access content using assistive technology. Current read-aloud and screen reader technologies can turn typed notes into spoken word; however, they are not able to interface with math or handwritten mediums. This limitation creates a major challenge for students with visual or reading disabilities who are pursuing degrees in mathematics and engineering fields.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the pedagogical effects of note formatting and to understand how this may impact the first steps of adapting a course to a more accessible format. Data is presented from an intervention in a mechanical engineering analysis course that examined the effects of note formatting (typed or handwritten) on students learning, as well as student preferences about the provided note styles. It was determined that note format did not influence student performance on quizzes. A discussion follows to guide the design and development for an inclusive, accessible course.

Pollack, E. R., & Recktenwald, G., & Grimm, M. J. (2020, June), Effects of Note Formatting on Student Learning: Implications for Accessibility and Diverse Minds Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34509

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2020 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015