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Barbara Reisner, James Madison University
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Joined: 11/17/2007 - 11:01am

Electronic Lab Notebooks

Research this summer has pushed me over the edge into thinking that it really would make more sense to record data into an enotebook rather than the standard lab notebook - particularly for data analysis.

Does anyone have experience with electronic notebooks?
Last year, Kurt asked about electronic notebooks , but I didn't see any responses. He had some great questions. Here are a few questions that I'd love to know your thoughts on.

  • What software have you used?
  • How are you using the software?
  • What are your experiences (both bad and good) using the software?
  • Are you 100% electronic or are some things recorded on paper?
  • How do your students interact with the notebook? What device do they use? Do they fill out forms or do things more organically?
  • Is this something you do on your own or is it a department/university level resource?

I'm interested in hearing about people's experiences.

There is a nice clearinghouse of ELNs from the University of Utah (http://campusguides.lib.utah.edu/content.php?pid=148824&sid=3607264). 

I'm experimenting with using Evernote at the moment. When I have a better idea of how this is going, I'll report back to the forum.

Kurt Birdwhistell, Loyola University New Orleans
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Joined: 04/18/2008 - 9:15am

HI Barbara,

I have advanced a little farther on the electronic notebook forefront.  I have two students this summer using Labarchives electronic notebook software   (labarchives.com).  

      I chose this software because I saw a lady give a talk (at BCCE conf) on using the software in a lab course.  

     My students this summer, interact with the software on their laptops or the lab computer. 

     The software allows you to upload all sorts of files into the notebook.  Many of the spectra files you are not able to actually see within the software, but at least they are attached.  

My students have played with taking pictures of spectra and uploading those files (not an optimal answer).  

The students are also many times doubling the information in a paper notebook as well at this point.  

I also wanted software which would allow me to go into the student notebooks and make comments/edits/suggestions.  You can make edits, but many times it is difficult to make edits exactly where you want them in the notebook.  

 

I am having the students input their work in rich text format this summer.  

 

I may have the students in the future use a template type of file, but I have not refined that yet.  

I am currently funding this enotebook project out of my own funds.  We are contemplating using  lab archives for a upper level lab class this fall (inorg/analytical).  

At this point, my use of enotebooks is a work in progress.  It is not a complete success yet.  I am still on the fence about enotebooks.  I did have a graduate tell me that he had to use an enotebook at Yale as soon as he showed up there.  I think they were using ilabber.com.  

Kurt

Kate Plass, Franklin & Marshall College
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Last seen: 8 months 1 week ago
Joined: 01/15/2009 - 9:01am

Hello,

I experimented with electronic notebooks last summer and think it was a success. My research students used the online Sparklix.com software. Each student has an account and the settings are such that their experiments are shared with each other and with me. They type information in via a desktop computer situated nearby in the lab or from their computers and upload data files from instrument computers. We have since switched to 100% electronic records after a trial period where I asked students to do both.

The good things:

  • I created protocols that guide their notetaking according to experiment type, which has greatly improved the completeness of records.
  • I can readily check their records and leave comments if I have questions.
  • It has made data backup, sharing, and discussion much easier. The program allows backup in a few ways. I ask students to download all updated experiments as a .zip file (which converts the notes to pdf and includes any uploaded files) to a shared drive once a week.

The bad things:

  • There have been brief occassions where the site is slow or shut down. This has not impacted our work, but it is a worry.
  • While the site claims that they have made a committment to keeping the site available long term and free, I do worry that it may not be available at some point, which is why I ask students to backup their experiments in a non-proprietary format.

I would be happy to share protocols etc. if there is interest.

Barbara Reisner, James Madison University
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Last seen: 1 day 8 hours ago
Joined: 11/17/2007 - 11:01am

Kurt & Kate, thanks for sharing what you're doing. I'm looking into both systems. Kate - do you have a paid version of Sparklix or is there an easy way to bacup experiments in a non-proprietary format?

Our Evernote experiment is still in the experiment stages, but I'll give you an update of where we are. Two of my students are still doing almost everything in their paper notebooks. One of my students really likes Evernote. He's recording basic experimenental details in has lab notebook (because it's easier to move around the lab) and then doing the analysis in Evernote (diffraction & other data, indexing, interpretation of the experiment, next steps...).

What do I like:

  • Everything we've worked with so far is easy to paste into Evernote.
  • My student writes more about his thought process so we're able to capture what we're thinking.
  • The text highlighting features (colors, bold, etc...) allow us to mark what's important.
  • All of my students can get in the lab notebooks.
  • Tags & notebooks make it easy to find things associated with projects. Search is also a great way to find things. (Yes, that's obvious, but I certainly don't have this level of search in paper notebooks.)
  • Students can do some of their reading from home.

What I'm less than pleased about:

  • It's possible to modify what's in the notebook. Evernote doesn't keep a record like googledocs.
  • We are still split between paper & electronic formats.
  • Students need to remember to logout of Evernote (or logout of the computer) so that when other people use the lab computer, new users don't have access to the old users account.

I hope that at some point, we think about a department, college, or university-wide solution and tie this into good data management practices. 

 

Kyle Grice, DePaul University
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Last seen: 3 days 8 hours ago
Joined: 07/22/2010 - 5:29pm

Kurt, 

Have you compared the paid and free versions of labarchive? I haven't seen the program yet, but might be going to a seminar soon about using it in teaching.

-Kyle

Chip Nataro, Lafayette College
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Last seen: 3 days 2 hours ago
Joined: 04/14/2008 - 9:10am

Three plus years later I wonder where this topic stands. Have more people switched? What are the experiences? I would sure love to hear an update. And if anyone is inclined, I know a guy that would be more than happy to help you construct a BITeS post on the subject. 

Kate Plass, Franklin & Marshall College
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Last seen: 8 months 1 week ago
Joined: 01/15/2009 - 9:01am

Three years later, I have switched from Sparklix (which changed names once or twice since then) to just using a google docs protocol, but my students and I still prefer the electronic notebooks to paper. We had one or two instances of lost data with Sparklix because the internet or the website stalled. Google docs keep data while offline, so this "stalling" is not a problem. I was not totally comfortable with Google docs until I found that it could be backed up in non-proprietary format using Spanning Backup.