Faculty Story RITG Blog Tool Exploration

Electronic Lab Notebooks

Image Source: Deborah Gross’ presentation

Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs) are, at their simplest, a digital version of the traditional bound paper notebook. While I’m unaware if any Pomona faculty have adopted ELNs for their courses, ELNs can be useful for STEM and non-STEM fields alike, and ITS would love to partner with interested faculty members. 

Nature published an article a few years back on how to pick an ELN, and I have my own story to share from my time at Carleton College. At Carleton, we meant to pilot a couple of ELN options with several faculty testing out different ELNs with their courses and then comparing experiences. After investigating the products, however, we decided it was more prudent to have the faculty test drive the ELN that seemed the best fit, LabArchives (LA). The criteria focused on in the selection are listed below, and you can read more from a conference proceeding, Comparing Electronic and Traditional Lab Notebooks in the Advanced Lab, by Melissa Eblen-Zayas of Carleton College: 

  • Ability to share portions of the notebook easily and selectively
  • Ability for instructors and peers to comment on notebook entries
  • Robust performance across different devices and platforms
  • Adequate options for the instructor to populate the notebook
  • Easy way to import photos
  • Ability to handle equations
  • Cost

Students overwhelmingly gave LA a thumbs-up, with 87% of chemistry students saying they wished their other courses used it, and 82% of physics students saying the same thing. According to these students, LA’s main benefits were easier collaboration and organization and increased accessibility. Drawbacks for students were the two-step process of including sketches, more effort to record simple things, and the occasional technical difficulties.

Instructors appreciated being able to view student work any time and the reduced pressure to turn around grading quickly to get physical notebooks back to students. 

Here’s a link to a video of the Carleton chemist, Deborah Gross, talking about the pilot. 

Again, ITS is eager to hear from you if you would like to talk more about using an ELN at Pomona.

Story by: Janet Russell