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Understanding Students' Perceptions on the Utility of Engineering Notebooks

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Design Communications & Cognition I

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1573.1 - 22.1573.17

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Paper Authors


Leema Kuhn Berland University of Texas, Austin

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Leema Berland is an Assistant Professor of science education at the University of Texas, Austin. She earned a Ph.D. in the Learning Sciences from Northwestern University in 2008 and was a doctoral fellow with the NSF funded Center for Curriculum Materials in Science (2003 - 2008). Leema is broadly interested in facilitating and studying students as they engage in complex communication practices. She is currently focused on exploring the dynamics of how and why students are able (or unable) to productively communicate in engineering classrooms, in the context of UTeach Engineering high school classrooms.

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William F. McKenna University of Texas, Austin

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Bill received his masters of mathematics from the University of North Texas about ten years ago, and after a brief but potentially promising career in acoustical test enclosures, he is working in his fourth year towards a doctorate in Science and Mathematics Education. Helping to make the world a quieter place is a fine and noble thing, but it simply does not compare to educating people. These days Bill focuses on communication in technical fields. His current research involves helping high school students learn the form, function and benefits of effective communication, especially argumentative discourse and interpersonal relations.

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Stephanie Baker Peacock University of Texas, Austin

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Stephanie received her B.S. and M.S. of Mathematics at branch campuses of The University of Texas and is pursuing her Ph.D. in Science and Mathematics Education at The University of Texas, Austin. Her predominate research interest focuses on development of algebraic reasoning and symbolic understanding. Special attention is paid to students in community college developmental math courses and their transitions to credit-bearing courses, and issues encountered by English Language Learners and persons of low socioeconomic status. She is broadly interested in access to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education at all grade levels.

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Understanding students’ perceptions on the utility of engineering notebooksResearch states that for students to engage in authentic engineering practices—such as recordingtheir design ides, progress and challenges—they must experience the engineering practices asuseful to the successful completion of their projects. Because engineering notebooks are widelyused, this paper examines students’ use and understandings of the practice of maintainingengineering notebooks.The study is being conducted in three high school classrooms, each of which is enacting adifferent engineering curriculum. These curricula vary in how engineering notebooks aresupported and the length of the projects in which the students engage. We chose to compareacross these different curricula in order to explore variation in notebook use when it is supportedthrough different curricula and when it supports different sorts of projects. For this study, weinterview students. The interview asks students to both describe the utility (or lack thereof) ofengineering notebooks, in general, and to explain the utility of specific excerpts from their ownjournals. In addition, we examine students’ notebooks and interview the teachers.The interviews from one class reveal the majority of students mirroring their teacher’sinstruction regarding their engineering notebooks. For example, the teacher frequently toldstudents that the notebooks were an important organizational tool for their project teams.Similarly, students reported that they recognized notebooks as important for organizingassignments, ideas and drawings. For example, Steven, emphasized a journal as a place forcollecting ideas by saying, “That way they [diagrams, rough ideas, and rough drafts of sketches]are in one spot that you can refer back to and, like, build off of in the future.” His statement isconsistent with the ideas expressed by the other interviewed students.However, these interviews suggest that, while the students could explicate the notebook’s utility,they had not experienced this utility. For example, one student, Manuel stated that he wouldreference his notebook in future engineering classes but not during his work on the currentproject. This suggests that he did not see the notebook as immediately useful to the currentproject. Moreover, their notebooks appeared to fulfill teacher expectations but not to supporttheir project work: the notebook entries lacked organizational information that would enable thestudents to reference past entries and students rarely included notebook entries that were not partof an explicit teacher assignment.Thus, the students in this class have demonstrated the link between doing and understanding:they lacked an understanding of the utility of their notebooks and their notebooks were executedin particularly ineffective ways. As such, this study follows in a line of research which statesthat, when students engage in an inquiry-based, authentically-oriented class, they must perceive agenuine need to use a particular practice—such as maintaining an engineering notebook—inorder to gain value from that practice. The full paper will include interviews from the otherparticipating classes. We will continue to examine the connection between understanding andpractice and conclude with implications for instruction. ReferencesBailey, D. E., P. M. Leonardi, et al. (2010). Icons, Symbols and Digitization: The Persistence of Physical Artifacts in an Increasingly Virtual Workplace. (In press).Hammer, D. and A. Elby (2003). "Tapping Epistemological Resources for Learning Physics." Journal of the Learning Sciences 12(1): 53-90.Hanson, J. and J. Williams (2008). "Using Writing Assignments to Improve Self- Assessment and Communication Skills in an Engineering Statics Course." Journal of Engineering Education 97(4): 515-29.Katehi, L., G. Pearson, et al., Eds. (2009). Engineering in K-12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects. Washington, D.C., The National Academies Press.Lappalainen, P. (2009). "Communication as part of the engineering skill set." European Journal of Engineering Education 34(2): 123-129.Paretti, M. C. (2008). "Teaching Communication in Capstone Design: The Role of the Instructor in Situated Learning." Journal of Engineering Education 97(4): 491-503.Sandoval, W. A. and K. A. Millwood (2005). "The quality of students' use of evidence in written scientific explanations." Cognition and Instruction 23(1): 23-55.

Berland, L. K., & McKenna, W. F., & Peacock, S. B. (2011, June), Understanding Students' Perceptions on the Utility of Engineering Notebooks Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

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