Document Type


Presentation Date


Conference Name

American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference & Exposition

Conference Location

Atlanta, GA

Source of Publication

ASEE Conference Proceedings



Peer Review



Strength of Materials is the most difficult course in the first two years of the Mechanical, Civil, and Architectural Engineering Technology programs at Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW); consequently it has the highest drop and fail rate. In the past decade, the failure rate in our Strength courses has ranged from 10 to 30% each semester, under three different professors, using the same algebra-based textbook. Students have trouble using algebra...they prefer to plug numbers into canned equations. The Civil and Architectural students struggle with unit conversions. Although professors provide office hours during the day, most students work on homework in the evening and on weekends, and report that the explanations in the text are insufficient, too wordy, or too difficult to understand at midnight. A root cause of these problems is the editing process; most textbooks are edited for technical content by other professors, so they are technically excellent. However, they are not edited for understandability by the target audience, so many undergraduates find them difficult to understand.

To solve these and other problems, I spent a sabbatical writing a new Strength textbook for Engineering Technology students. Each semester, these students submit editorial changes, for extra credit. Feedback must be both specific and actionable: “this chapter is confusing” does not meet either criterion, whereas “I don't understand how to solve the moment in Example 6, page 45” meets both criteria. A student may not know what to change, but can easily identify the confusing parts of a text. The book is free, available as a pdf on the course website, and is updated on an ongoing basis.

This paper discusses the writing process, delivery via pdf instead of print, selection of topics requiring extra emphasis, editing assistance from students, and the improvement in learning outcomes. Although the topic of the book was Strength of Materials, this paper discusses techniques that can be applied to a variety of undergraduate engineering textbook topics.


textbook writing, strength of materials


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