June 15, 2014
June 15, 2014
June 18, 2014
Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies
24.164.1 - 24.164.16
An Implementation of Electronic Laboratory Notebooks (ELN) Using a Learning Management System Platform in an Undergraduate Experimental Engineering CourseExperimental Engineering is a sophomore-level, semester-long course, involving multipleexperiments covering a number of engineering disciplines. The primary purpose of the course isto teach basic instrumentation and measurement techniques; good lab notebook practice;technical report writing; analysis and presentation of data; the usage of experimental results forengineering design purposes; and the beginnings of professional practice. During the 2011-2012academic year, we implemented a transition from paperbound laboratory notebooks (PLNs) toelectronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) in this course.ELNs are computer-based solutions for creating, storing, retrieving, and sharing electronic files.Such electronic records are now considered equivalent to paper-based records, when it comes topatent filing as well as other legal and technical issues. Advantages of ELNs include the abilityto search electronically; electronic linkage and storage of potentially large data files (includingnewer types of electronic files, such as video); and increased accessibility and collaborativefunctions. A number of different software solutions are available, usually grouped by technicalfield and potential application of the work.Using the learning management system platform Sakai, and typical word processing andspreadsheet-based programs, students submitted all their lab work into an electronic drop box.Faculty and teaching assistants used the gradebook functions of Sakai to store and release grades.We have assessed laboratory notebooks from the previous four years of the course, specificallyexamining the submission of raw data; schematics of test set-ups; equipment lists; and ability tocompare experimental data to literary values on the same graphical plot. For both PBNs andELNs, a significant portion of students did not report raw data in tabular form, or reported rawdata only sporadically. Although we assumed that students using PLBs would utilize them tosketch schematics, this was not always the case. Sketches were missing from ELNs as well, butsome students used the electronic format to include photos from mobile phones. Equipment listsin both paper and electronic format generally tended to be incomplete. Neither format seemed tohave an impact on whether students plotted literature values on the same plot as experimentaldata. We plan to use these assessment results to improve students’ performance on goodlaboratory notebook practice.
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