Brad Smucker

Project Proposal

With this project I plan to incorporate the use of an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) in the laboratory component of one of my Inorganic courses: CHEM 211: Inorganic Chemistry (typical enrollment is 10-16). ELNs are advantageous because they integrate multiple streams of electronic data into a platform, which is available to multiple users/researchers.  This facilitates better collaboration and efficiency in the laboratory. As such, the use of ELNs is the standard practice and has widespread in industry and government. Many academic institutions are catching up with these standards by implementing the use of ELNs in research and teaching.  Training our Austin College students in the sciences to utilize an ELN as part of their laboratory setting promotes collaboration between students and prepares them for success in a diverse field of science-related career choices.

It is becoming a more common practice in science education to have students work in teams to carry out semester long projects either within a single course or across multiple courses. In order to be successful, students need to keep detailed records of the experiments throughout the semester so that they are able to present their team’s work at the end of the semester. Traditionally, students have kept paper lab notebooks but keeping these notebooks up to date is hampered by the fact that not all students have access to the notebook at any one time and that much of the data collected today is digital in nature.  In the recent past, I have used Google docs or an MS Word app with iPad minis (which were purchased for the now-defunct II-VI Foundation-supported Summer Splash). But the organization of multiple forms of data, cumbersome and confusing formats for lab report submission, as well as restricted access by the students made it an obstacle for the achieving the laboratory goals. I anticipate that the use of an ELN will (1) facilitate more organized and thorough lab notebooks, (2) encourage more input from all team members, and (3) facilitate peer and faculty feedback throughout the semester. In addition, when CHEM 211 is course-paired with Andra Petrean’s PHY 351: Advanced Laboratory (occurring in the odd years as a continuation of a Mellon course partnership), the organization and digital format which the use of ELN provides will foster better interdisciplinary communication.

The proposed software (app) for the Electronic Lab Notebook, manufactured by LabArchives, may solve all these problems.  The software/app allows students to save all their data in one place, keeps multiple versions of the notebook, offers real-time collaboration between students or as feedback from instructors, and has many additional features. LabArchives has developed a classroom edition of their ELN software, free to faculty, to facilitate its use in undergraduate education. There is a $15 fee/student per semester for access to the ELN, which is comparable to the cost of a laboratory notebook. At the end of their use, students may download an ePortfolio of their lab work, which will compliment one of the directions AC is exploring with assessment and outcomes. The ELN can be accessed via the web or through an app using a PC, Mac, iPad, or Android device.