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Evaluating the benefits of adding interactive elements to traditional print mechanical engineering textbooks

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Mechanical Engineering: Thermodynamics

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Paper Authors


Ryan Barlow zyBooks, A Wiley Brand

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Ryan Barlow obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Utah in 2012, his Master’s Degree in Science Education from the University of Maryland in 2016 and his PhD in Engineering Education from Utah State University in 2020. He is currently a Lead Content Author - Mechanical Engineering with zyBooks, a Wiley Brand. His current work centers on transitioning traditional print textbooks to the online interactive zyBooks format, making engineering textbooks more accessible, and developing innovative online engineering assessment.

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Oscar Rios zyBooks, A Wiley Brand

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James Eakins zyBooks, A Wiley Brand


Adrian Rodriguez University of Texas at Austin

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Adrian Rodriguez is an Engineering Content Developer for zyBooks, a Wiley brand and a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include engineering education, multibody dynamics, contact and impact with friction, electro-mechanical systems, and nonlinear dynamics. He earned his B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas at Arlington.

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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the methods of course delivery for many universities to hybrid or online-only classes, engineering students did not tend to read the textbooks. Traditional print engineering textbooks are typically dense and filled with practical information, but it is often difficult to convey complex concepts using static figures. In order to give students a more beneficial experience, several professors began writing interactive online textbooks from scratch for introductory computer science courses. These online textbooks included minimal text, with emphasis on conciseness balanced with preciseness. Rather than explaining through text, animations and learning questions were created. The purpose of these animations and learning questions was to allow the students to interact with the textbook instead of just reading static text. The company that these professors founded was purchased recently by a larger publishing company, which made it possible to transform the existing print textbooks of the larger publishing company, beginning with mechanical engineering textbooks, into the interactive online format instead of starting from scratch. For the first version of these new interactive textbooks, the text from the original print book remains mostly unchanged but interactivity was added in the form of animations and learning questions. The purpose of the animations was to clarify, add to, or replace the existing text, figures, or examples from the print textbook. These animations include dynamic figures, images, equations, and text instead of static visuals with which students cannot interact. The sets of learning questions were added not as a summative assessment, but to promote student learning as a formative assessment. Two of these online interactive engineering textbooks were adopted and used by approximately 1,200 students across 75 courses at over 50 different universities and colleges. Data was obtained on interactive participation activities to understand student usage, student struggle, and student earnestness. This data is in the form of several metrics: the percentage of first time wrong, the number of tries until correct, the time spent, the percentage of students that struggle, and the percentage of students that give up. Preliminary results show that students are engaging with animations and learning questions in the current interactive online engineering textbooks. Qualitative data was also obtained in the form of a student survey and feedback on the effectiveness of the interactive elements from students and professors.

Barlow, R., & Rios, O., & Eakins, J., & Rodriguez, A. (2022, August), Evaluating the benefits of adding interactive elements to traditional print mechanical engineering textbooks Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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