Iain MacLeod’s introduction was launched on 1 September 2020 as a demonstration of a way of presenting information for learning about technical subjects. The next stage is to seek advice about its potential so as to decide how best to proceed with its development.

Funding for the development has been provided by the Scottish Branch of the Institution of Structural Engineers and by the Institution of Engineers in Scotland. Their contributions are gratefully acknowledged.

Amy Lillico and Ann-Cathrin Reissmann were recruited to work on the project during the summer months of 2020.  They are students about to enter the 5th year of the MEng course in Civil Engineering at the University of Glasgow.  They have done great work, it has been a pleasure to work with them and I am most grateful to them for their contributions.

This demonstrator version covers only structural mechanics because that is a subject on which I have experience and a special interest. For information about my career see here.

I have a longstanding view that (a) learning material for subjects such as structural mechanics should be provided online so as to take advantage of the browsing and searching functions of the internet and (b) that structural mechanics tends to be taught in a way that too remote from its application. By application I mean the use of the results of calculations in making engineering decisions. This version of Stempedia is set up to address both of these issues. 

It has become increasingly evident to me that everyone has a different understanding of what concepts such as ‘force’ mean.  One cannot give an explanation of force that will be entirely in accord with other people’s perception of it.  The development of understanding is about making associations in your brain and working with explanations, applications, examples and definitions is a good way of building such associations. Using internet browsing and searching is a very useful strategy for supporting such learning. The stempedia concept seeks to make this activity more effective by shortening the paths to information that is relevant to the needs of different types of learner.

Iain A MacLeod  31.08.20

Amy & Ann-Cathrin

Our Experience Developing Stempedia

Developing stempedia has changed our point of view on structural mechanics and we have learned a lot along the way. A big takeaway was that we had to realize that our knowledge of the fundamentals of structural analysis weren’t as deep as we thought. At various points throughout the process we had discussions about the finer details of topics such as inertia forces or were debating the ins and outs of Newton’s Laws at 10PM one night.

Through these conversations we quickly saw the benefit of discussing issues with one another to improve our own understanding. Whilst we have developed our own knowledge of these topics, it was a challenge to be able to convey this information in a style that is easily accessible to new learners and still technically accurate. By writing sheets in basic terms, we also improved our own understanding of the topics.

In the process of creating resources for new learners, we often divided tasks between the two of us and would later discuss what we had done. The first time we did this, we found that the way we communicate information in writing is very different and initially thought that we would have to merge the two styles. Through discussion with Iain, it was decided that having multiple ways to explain the topics would prove beneficial to different types of learners. This is the reason for stempedia having multiple types of resource sheets and accompanying videos to cater for different learners.

Using applications to introduce topics was not a style of learning we were used to, and we were initially doubtful of whether these would be of benefit to students. However, seeing theoretical concepts being used in real-life situations made it easier to understand how they work and provides the motivation to learn by showing why the theory is important. Personally, developing these sheets has taught us the importance and difference between engineering and analytical models which will be useful in our future careers.

Developing a resource from the ground up requires organization in order to ensure work is completed efficiently. In university courses we have already had the chance to manage projects, but never involving as many files as stempedia has. Since we had no fixed requirements as to what stempedia had to look like, documents changed several times in the development stage. This showed us the importance of keeping different versions of documents as we often referred back to older ones or ended up using two different notations in the same sheet, one that was developed earlier and one at a later stage.

Lastly, the most important thing that we learned is that when developing from a brief, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what you want to achieve. In the beginning, we were aiming to create a platform ranging from primary school learners to professionals in industry, but soon had to realize that that was overly ambitious and could not be completed within time or budget. Scaling it down to just school learners and first year university students allowed us to focus on developing a standard layout for the resource which can then be applied to other sections in the future.

Overall, working on stempedia was a great experience and allowed us to work with structural mechanics in a completely different way than how we do as students in our day to day university lives.

– Amy & Ann-Cathrin