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Learning to Read and Take Notes in Dynamics

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Dynamic Pedagogies for Engineering Dynamics

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Paper Authors


Steven C. Zemke Whitworth University

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Steven Zemke, Ph.D., has been involved in engineering design and teamwork for 40 years as a professional engineer, university professor, and researcher. He is a Professor of Engineering and Physics at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., and teaches physics and engineering courses. His current research is in how students learn engineering with a focus on creating more effective pedagogies. Prior to teaching, Dr. Zemke was a professional product designer for 20 years with an emphasis on mechanical packaging of microwave circuitry.

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Diane L Zemke

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Diane Zemke is an independent researcher and consultant. She holds a Ph.D. in leadership studies from Gonzaga University. Her research interests include teamwork, small group dynamics, dissent, organizational change, and reflective practice. Dr. Zemke has published in the International Journal of Engineering Education, the Journal of Religious Leadership, and various ASEE conference proceedings. She is the author of "Being Smart about Congregational Change."

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Learning to Read and Take Notes in Dynamics

ABET criterion 3(i) requires that students be able to engage in life-long learning. One of the skills needed for life-long learning is the ability to effectively learn from technical material, including engineering textbooks. Yet it is not uncommon for students to assert, “The lectures were great; I didn’t have to read the book.” Although the need to effectively read technical material is vital, several factors can drive students away from “reading the book.”

For instructors, helping students learn effective reading or learning strategies can take a back seat to teaching technical content. Another challenge is not all textbooks are easy to learn from and students’ avoidance sometimes makes sense. Research demonstrates there are several links between texts and readers that need to align for a textbook to effectively support learning. Finally, while students may have received some instruction in reading, note-taking, and other strategies, those have generally occurred in English classes. Many believe that study skills transfer easily across disciplines. Yet this does not appear to be the case. Effective disciplinary reading requires specific skills.

Given this background it appears that STEM students, in particular, experience significant challenges learning from textbooks and other technical material. Academic skills centers may provide those generalized skills but do not provide resources in the necessary disciplinary skills. Thus, students can be at a disadvantage in the technical courses common in STEM.

This qualitative case study examines how students learned to read and take notes in an engineering dynamics class. The intent of the study was to identify what aspects of reading and note-taking were effective as well as what resources would be useful to include in future courses.

The class had four students and was run as a seminar. Each session consisted of joint problem-solving of review, and then new, problems. Between classes the students completed graded homework on previous problem types, read and took notes on new problem types, and then attempted some new problems. Aspects of reading and note-taking were occasionally discussed in the class and the students completed online journals reflecting on what worked and what did not regarding their own learning. The journals were retained as data and analyzed with qualitative methods based on inductive content analysis.

Data analysis revealed students viewed reading and note-taking as instrumental strategies for completing problems, rather than stand-alone learning activities. Students’ approaches to note-taking were idiosyncratic. Further, they described two distinct activities: reading the text for meaning and reading the equations in some other fashion. Finally, they noted changes in their study habits.

Recommendations for teaching reading and note-taking in a technical course are offered.

Zemke, S. C., & Zemke, D. L. (2018, June), Learning to Read and Take Notes in Dynamics Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30756

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