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An Experience with Electronic Laboratory Notebooks in Real-World, Client-Based BME Design Courses

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Design in the Curriculum

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

24.156.1 - 24.156.9



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Paper Authors


John P. Puccinelli University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Dr. Puccinelli is an Associate Faculty Associate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. He began here as student near the start of the UW-BME program and earned his BS, MS, and PhD in BME. He is interested in hands-on instruction – teaching and developing courses related to biomaterials and tissue engineering, as well as design. He was awarded the BMES Student Chapter Teaching Award in 2011 and 2013 and the Polygon Outstanding BME Instructor Award in 2012.

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Amit Janardhan Nimunkar University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Experiences with Electronic Laboratory Notebooks in Real- World, Client-Based BME Design Courses – Work in ProgressOur Biomedical Engineering (BME) undergraduate students participate in real-world, client-based design projects throughout the curriculum in teams of four or five students. The designcurriculum is advised by up to 13 faculty members per semester, each overseeing up to fourteams. In these courses, from sophomore through senior year, the students not only gain real-world design experience, they learn and practice professional engineering design skills includingmaintaining a laboratory or design notebook. The design notebook protects the student’sintellectual property and is therefore essential to our campus patenting agency for both applyingfor and defending patents. The notebook also details research and procedures for use by theproject’s client while subsequently implementing or continuing a design; it also serves as a toolfor faculty to assess individual students and to establish their contributions to their team. Properuse of the laboratory notebook builds the life-long learning skills necessary for a student tobecome a successful design engineer or researcher.Traditionally, the department provided students with physical design notebooks. These facilitateduniformity, met the standard for design work, and were convenient for the students to carry andquickly jot down design ideas and notes. Unfortunately, the students were all too often moreconcerned about the course notebook grade than its true purpose. Thus, many did not completetheir notebook in real-time, but rather kept notes and sketches separately and then copied themneatly into the notebook just before the due dates. Additionally, during these grading times, thestudents would be without their notebooks while the faculty reviewed them, thus hindering theirability to keep them up-to-date. They were also unable to ‘share’ common notebook entrieseasily, such as group meeting notes. Similarly, only one set of team notebooks existed andtherefore typically either the client, the student, or our patent agency held the single set. Finally,as the number of undergraduates in the department has grown and continues to grow, the costand management of the many physical notebooks has become onerous. In this digital/online age,our BME Student Advisory Committee (BSAC) expressed interest in using laptops/tablets asdesign notebook portals, as many of the students were already creating digital content by typingtheir notes, using CAD software to generate design sketches, or writing software code as part oftheir design solution (which is marginally useful when printed into a paper notebook).As a result, this year we are, for the first time, experimenting with LabArchives ElectronicLaboratory Notebooks (ELN) in all three of our design courses (sophomore, junior, and senior)including approximately 200 total students this semester. While there have been various ELNsdeveloped for research laboratories, few are priced for student use or geared toward classroominstruction while appropriate for BME design courses. ELNs in general provide automatic timestamping (to protect intellectual property), revision history, a rapid method of entering data,content organization in a neat and easy read fashion, compatibility with an abundance of filetypes, and content sharing across notebooks. LabArchives has built-in instructor features thatallow design advisors to view their students’ notebooks, activity feed, and generate a pdf copy ofthe notebook. Smartphone apps are also available that provide for uploading photos seamlesslyand for making voice and real-time entries. An offline version of the notebook can also be usedwhen Internet access is unavailable. Here we will present, from both student and facultyperspectives, the trials and tribulations of switching to ELNs for all of our design courses, willsummarize student feedback and will provide preliminary assessment data.

Puccinelli, J. P., & Nimunkar, A. J. (2014, June), An Experience with Electronic Laboratory Notebooks in Real-World, Client-Based BME Design Courses Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20047

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