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Idea Notebooks For Engineering Students

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.291.1 - 4.291.8

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Paper Authors

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W. Benard Carlson

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Takeo Higuchi

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

Session 3561

Idea Notebooks for Engineering Students

W. Bernard Carlson, Takeo Higuchi University of Virginia/Mitsui & Co., Ltd.

The power of the unaided mind is highly overrated. Without external aids, memory, thought, and reasoning are all constrained. But human intelligence is highly flexible and adaptive, superb at inventing procedures and objects that overcome its own limits. . . . [One way humans have overcome the limits of the unaided mind is] through the development of tools of thought--cognitive artifacts--that complement the abilities and strengthen mental powers. --Donald Norman, Things that Make Us Smart 1

Nearly everyone would agree that students come to the university to improve how they think and solve problems. Yet beyond insisting that students think, faculty often fail to teach students much about developing effective tools for thinking. Hence, our goals—as a business manager and a university professor--have included developing tools for reflection and analysis and introducing these tools to engineering students so they can use them throughout their education and career.

One of the best tools that humans can use to enhance thinking is a notebook. Since elementary school, students have probably kept some sort of notebook, using it to record what the teacher writes on the blackboard and to do assignments. Immediately, one can see that a notebook is great aid for overcoming the limits of human memory: rather than having to remember everything, we can write things down and look at them later.

Notebooks, however, can be more than just an external aid to memory; they can also be a space for creativity and analysis. We can use a notebook not just to record information but also as a place to try out new ideas. Frequently, the basic act of writing down an idea and illustrating it with a simple sketch permits us to sharpen our ideas and generate new ones. Many creative people, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Faraday, Thomas Edison, and Thomas Jefferson, used notebooks to develop their ideas, and in fact, keeping a notebook was probably one of the "secrets" of their success.2

For a notebook to function as a space for creativity, one does have to make an important emotional shift. An idea notebook has to be personal, not one that the student keeps to satisfy a

Carlson, W. B., & Higuchi, T. (1999, June), Idea Notebooks For Engineering Students Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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