A wealth of Engineering Notebook resources and content is available to you through VEX and the REC Foundation, and is collected here for easy access. We will add more information to this article and the resources continually.
An Introduction to Notebooking
Documenting work in an Engineering Notebook is a widely used engineering and design industry practice. This practice can help students develop life skills that they may use in their academic and professional future. By following the Engineering Design Process and documenting that process in an Engineering Notebook, students practice project management, time management, brainstorming, effective interpersonal collaboration, and written communication skills.
The Engineering Design Process is iterative: Students identify and define a problem, brainstorm ideas to solve the problem, test their design ideas, and continue to refine their design until a satisfactory solution is reached. Students will encounter obstacles, successes, and setbacks as they work through the Engineering Design Process. All of these should be documented by the students in their Engineering Notebook.
For teams, the Engineering Notebook can be evaluated at competitions, and there are several awards that require an Engineering Notebook. The Engineering Notebook also supports other Judged awards by providing evidence of a student-directed design process.
Apart from Judging, maintaining an Engineering Notebook can help teams track their ideas, record alternative solutions that may be returned to later, and serve as a place for students to reflect on how their ideas are working to solve the engineering design problem of the game challenge. Often, a team’s introspection on their own process leads to not only design improvements for their robot, but changes in how their team operates.
Different teams may create notebooks with varying levels of sophistication. For example, some teams may have brief sketches in pen, others may have color illustrations or CAD/electronic drawings. It is possible for many different types of notebook and different communication styles to present relevant content explaining the design process. Teams may use the physical notebook available from VEX Robotics, or can purchase a different form of physical notebook. Teams may also use a computer application or cloud-based service to create and maintain a Digital Engineering Notebook. Regardless of the format, all notebooks are evaluated by the Judges according to the same award criteria and rubric.
Engineering Notebooks can take a variety of forms that best fit the educational needs of students. Some notebooks may be physical notebooks. Engineering Notebooks are typically bound, so pages cannot be removed or added, and any documentation should be done in sequence within the notebook.
Engineering Notebooks can also be digital in nature. These notebooks do not exist physically, but rather are created and maintained using collaboration software. Digital Engineering Notebooks follow many of the same principles as physical notebooks: timestamps of when edits were created take the place of bound pages, and both serve as proof of when design decisions were made and form a document where others can follow the Design Process of a team.
- Get VEX digital notebook templates at notebooks.vex.com
Digital Notebooks and Timestamps
Digital notebooks like Google Slides and Powerpoint keep internal timestamps for every person and edit. This information is not used or needed by Judges.
- Notebooks, both Paper and Digital, work on the honor system.
- Keep notebooks chronologically. Even if you make multiple sections, pages within the section should be chronological.
- Enter the name of the content creator at the bottom of the page and date the page.
- Refrain from editing past entries.
Patents and Engineering Notebooks
The Patent process and legal requirements for patents affected the use of Engineering Notebooks. Learn how the patent process has changed witnesses and edits. Also learn why an Engineering Notebook is still important.
Historical Examples of Notebooks
Engineers have kept meticulous notes for centuries. Leonardo da Vinci had many notebooks full of drawings and notes on ideas and inventions. Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Nikola Tesla—just to name a few other inventors—kept meticulous records.
Interviews with Students about Notebooking
Watch and learn from interviews as teams and students describe how they approach different aspects of VEX.
Resources for Students
Engineering Notebooks are as varied as the teams that create them, but there are some basic components that should be included in all VIQRC and VRC notebooks. The links below provide information on how to create and use Engineering Notebooks in the VEX competitions, whether you’re just starting out or are looking for ways to improve your team’s documentation.
Additional Resources for Coaches
- Digital Notebook Templates
- The Engineering Notebook as a Learning Tool
- How to Submit Digital Engineering Notebooks
Enhanced Access With Digital Notebooks
Digital Engineering Notebooks can make it easier for students to communicate their ideas, with typing taking the place of handwritten notes, and “drag and drop” graphics taking the place of hand drawings or CAD. Students that do not have strong drawing abilities, writing abilities, or access to CAD software can still create accurate notes, descriptions, and depictions of ideas, and those can be edited for clarity. All changes are automatically tracked with timestamps, serving as a check for anyone “rewriting history” but allowing typos or other errors to be corrected.
Multiple students can also work on a Digital Engineering Notebook at the same time, allowing many more voices to contribute to the Notebook and more than one student to work together in real time to explain an idea or create a drawing.
A Digital Engineering Notebook also exists online rather than as a physical object, so students can collaborate together from separate places and at any time as long as they have access to the technology required to access it.
A digital notebook is not in danger of being misplaced; as long as members of the team have access, the notebook can still be used. For instances where a physical notebook is needed, a digital notebook can be printed out.
Go to notebooks.vex.com to access free VEX digital notebook templates, examples, and digital parts.
Digital vs. Paper Notebooks
Digital notebooks are a natural outcome of the prevalence of modern computing and our reliance on digital documents. We can lament the loss of another reason for students to learn to write legibly and make technical drawings, but that would be to ignore all the benefits of going digital. Nothing is black or white, paper or digital. Ultimately, we recommend letting students try both and see what they prefer.
Benefits of Digital Notebooks
Because digital notebooking is relatively new, it is worthwhile to explore the benefits it can provide.
- Digital notebooks cannot be lost
- Digital notebooks increase accessibility to every team member and the coach at any time from anywhere
- Digital notebooks can have multiple simultaneous contributors
- Digital notebooks remove stigma resulting from poor writing and drawing skills
- Digital notebooks make it easier to include images, code snippets, and CAD
- Digital notebooks are easily searchable by keyword
- Digital notebooks make it easy to include links to reference information or inspiration
Guidelines and tips
- Your team can have many contributors to your engineering notebook. You may find it helpful to have only one contributor per page; however, this is not required.
- Your notebook can be multiple volumes that are broken down by game details and strategy, robot build, and coding.
- Document your work in a chronological order. This supports the engineering process.
- Significant edits of past pages is not recommended as it disturbs the chronological order. It is reasonable to make minor edits to improve readability, correct mistakes, or to better explain something.
- Coaches and other adults shouldn’t be able to edit the engineering notebook, but can be given “Viewer” or similar read-only access.
Go to notebooks.vex.com to access the free templates, examples and digital parts.
Using Digital Notebooks at a Competition
Beginning with the 2020-2021competition season, REC Foundation recognized the need for teams to keep and submit either digital or paper Engineering Notebooks. As a result, an event host (Event Partner) can now decide which format they will accept for judged awards at their REC Foundation qualified event. Event Partners may require that teams scan paper notebooks for electronic submission, or that teams print digital notebooks for hard-copy submission.
However, to ensure consistency in the judging process and to remove unintended format-based bias, all teams at an event need to be judged in the same format. For example, if digital Engineering Notebooks are being evaluated for some teams ahead of the event, then physical notebooks should not be evaluated for other teams who bring theirs on the day of the event. The type of notebook judging (digital or physical) should be decided by the Event Partner and communicated to all teams well in advance of the event.
In prior seasons, bound notebooks were eligible for a 5-point bonus. There is no longer a ‘format bonus.’ Instead, 5 points will be given to all notebooks that provide evidence that documentation was done in sequence with the design process. Examples of evidence include signed and dated entries written in ink for a bound notebook, or a revision history generated by digital collaboration platforms. The rubric used to evaluate digital notebooks is the same rubric that is used to evaluate physical notebooks; neither format has an advantage over the other in the judging process.
Teams upload a link to their Digital Engineering Notebook in the coach’s RobotEvents.com account to submit it for judging at an event. Event Partners then have the ability to access those Digital Engineering Notebook links for the teams registered for their events.
Rubric for Engineering Notebooks
A rubric is an outline of what criteria are important to a project. In the case of the Engineering Notebook, the rubric outlines what topics should be documented in the notebook. Judges also use the rubric to evaluate notebooks for Judged Awards at events.
Students can use the Engineering Notebook Rubric as a guide to understanding what judges will be looking for as they evaluate Engineering Notebooks for Judged Awards at an event. The REC Foundation Engineering Notebook Rubric is organized to highlight the steps of the Engineering Design Process. At a minimum, judges will look to see if the team is following the Engineering Design Process, regardless of the team’s level of sophistication in documentation or on-field performance.