Among structural engineering education research, there is a limited number of studies on interactive learning tools and activities specifically for the timber design classroom to assist students in visualizing material behavior, vertical and lateral load paths, and construction sequence. Timber design courses within the undergraduate program in the Architectural Engineering department at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly), place an emphasis on seismic and wind design. Therefore, the proposed learning tools and activities are intended to pair with an introduction to concepts in the American Wood Council’s National Design Specifications (NDS) and Special Design Provisions for Wind and Seismic (SDPWS).

A primary approach implemented in the timber course at Cal Poly was physical and digital models to strengthen student's conceptual understanding of the directional properties of wood, mechanical connections, as well as gravity and lateral load flow. These included:

  • Demonstration with drinking straw bundle and sawn lumber to demonstrate difference in behavior due to grain direction and under different types of forces,
  • Kit consisting of manufactured lumber (I-joists and laminated-veneer lumber) and hardware samples (shear wall hold-down and joist hanger) sourced from various suppliers to expose students to commercial products available for timber design,
  • Laterally braced column model that examines the effects of column section dimensions relative to the unbraced length on buckling load,
  • Physical and digital diaphragm models that demonstrate the variations of sheathing layouts, per SDPWS Section 4.2.8, and allows students to investigate the appropriate application of layouts under various loading conditions,
  • Digital library of three-dimensional (3-D) components for students to rapidly assemble a stacked shear wall they have designed to be able to investigate load flow and constructability in both 2-D and 3-D views.

Other course material included a homework packet based on a two-story residential project completed by the instructor’s firm, a handout that guides students through the analysis of members under bi-axial loading, and presentation material contributed by a firm with an expertise in mass timber (as alternative to hosting a guest presenter). Additional course activities include visits to a local project site and the college’s large-scale laboratory to learn about timber construction and behavior from other experts outside of the classroom setting.

Student surveys were conducted for a majority of the various pedagogical techniques implemented in the class to assess effectiveness in achieving the intended educational outcomes including improving student knowledge of material properties, behavior of structural members, load flow and connections, along with context in real-world structural engineering projects.


Architectural Engineering

Supplementary Files - ASEE Timber Design Paper.zip (798248 kB)
Instructor Resources

Number of Pages



URL: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/aen_fac/151