Tracking the Learning Process Using Design Notebooks

Given the messiness of the design process, it’s important for students to be able to track their own learning while they engage in projects. In this video, Eric Mazur outlines how he uses design notebooks in his class in which students document all elements of their project- and team-building experience. Students submit design notebooks with their completed projects and are graded for their completeness and quality of reflections. These notebooks help reinforce the principles of iterative development that underpin project-based learning and further emphasize the importance of process.


Eric Mazur, Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics

Student Group



School of Engineering and Applied Sciences


AP50 Physics as a Foundation for Science and Engineering

Course Details

Spring, 2019; 60 students

  • While it might seem simple, students may need to be explicitly taught how to document their progress and learning throughout the design process. Offer them clear guidance on what sorts of things they should be writing down, how to organize their notes in a structure that facilitates easy review in the future, and how to actively reflect on what they’ve done so they can consolidate their learning.

  • When starting out, it may also be helpful to explicitly prompt students to update their notebook throughout the design process or to build in checkpoints where members of the teaching team review notebooks for documentation of key milestones.

  • Failure attribution to either behavioral causes or external causes can influence a student’s skill self-concept (Bandalos et al., 1995).  This suggests that instructors should use instructional tools that emphasize the process of learning and deemphasize the “correct” final product to help students develop their design and problem solving self-concept.