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A Comparison of Paper vs. Electronic (Portfolio) Notebooks for Engineering Design Projects

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Best of DEED

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Jessica A. Kuczenski Santa Clara University

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Dr. Jes Kuczenski joined the engineering faculty at Santa Clara University in 2014. She obtained her M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame and her B.S. from Iowa State University all in Chemical Engineering. Dr. Kuczenski has been teaching since 2007 and focuses on courses which are commonly found in first years of an engineering education (e.g. introduction to engineering, engineering graphics, statics, and dynamics) or are heavily based in engineering design.

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Erin Susan Araj Santa Clara University

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The paper lab notebook is the root of some fundamental inefficiencies within the engineering design process; they are often difficult to search, an obstacle to teamwork and collaboration, vulnerable to damage or loss, and inconsistent in legibility and formatting. Unsurprisingly, there is increasing interest in electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) since they were introduced in the early 1990s. However, despite many apparent advantages of ELNs (remote access and sharing, secure data management, easy to search, etc.), the use of ELNs as modern research tools is still developing. Additionally, from an engineering teaching perspective, ELNs do not generally have student-administrative functions and can be prohibitively expensive. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to investigate the use and impact of an electronic portfolio (eFolio) system as a surrogate electronic lab notebook as compared with a traditional paper notebook.

EFolios serve as a creative space and recording system that uses digital technologies to collect artifacts of student learning and progress. The use of eFolios for design project documentation enables students to regularly capture, organize, and reflect on project artifacts, while enhancing the instructor-to-student communication process, progress monitoring and assessment. The primary goal of this study is to determine if eFolios are an adequate substitute for paper design notebooks in terms of quality and quantity of artifacts recorded.

This study will compare paper and eFolio design notebooks from a 10 week community-based engineering design project course. In this course, student teams (often multi-disciplinary) take on a quarter-long design project from ideation to final prototype working with a community partner. Specifically, the types of data and design process efforts from student eFolios during the academic year 2014-2015 will be compared to paper notebooks from the same course in years prior to 2014. A representative sample of 20 notebooks from both formats will be reviewed. Qualitative assessment scoring will be developed for individual project logs, reflective elements and team project documentation. Quantitative data analysis will be utilized to tabulate frequency in numbers of artifacts, especially visuals including charts, sketches, photos, etc. Finally, this comparison hopes to draw initial conclusions on organization, connectivity of artifacts, and communication to intended eFolio audiences including the students themselves, instructors, teammates, and community partners.

Kuczenski, J. A., & Araj, E. S. (2016, June), A Comparison of Paper vs. Electronic (Portfolio) Notebooks for Engineering Design Projects Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26287

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