Kim Albizati, lecturer with potential security of employment (LPSOE) in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, has a mission: to bring electronic lab notebooks to the University of California. Lab notebooks record procedures and observations about scientific experiments. Currently, UC San Diego uses paper lab notebooks in both teaching and research labs, but they are not an ideal way of capturing data. “Chemists generate a lot of raw machine output and make a lot of observations,” Dr. Albizati said, “With any one experiment there could be more than 30 pieces of data associated with [it]. It’s a problem to associate a piece of raw machine output data with a specific page in a notebook.” Private industry has already transitioned to using electronic notebooks, but academia has not yet adopted them due to the gigantic undertaking required to make the shift.
Dr. Albizati introduced electronic lab notebooks in two of his chemistry laboratory classes in 2012-2013. Students used their own computers to run the software, but this method resulted in immediate problems. “There were a lot of issues in compatibility,” Dr. Albizati said. “It was a nightmare. It was a 30-email-a-day kind of thing. Obviously, student satisfaction wasn’t very high.”
In Fall Quarter 2013, Dr. Albizati partnered with the Computing Infrastructure team at Academic Computing & Media Services (ACMS) to find a better way to implement electronic lab notebooks for his Chemistry Honors 143A Organic Chemistry Laboratory course. They worked with Dr. Albizati to solve his hardware issues and help him purchase 25 netbooks. “That’s enough for about a 100 person course because we run about 25 [students] at a time for labs,” Dr. Albizati explained. These specialized netbooks were well suited to the lab environment, but ultimately could not support all of the auxiliary software required to run the electronic lab notebook. The Computing Infrastructure team configured the netbooks to connect to virtualized desktops on an ACMS server (like those used in the GoVirtual computer lab, which is available to all students) allowing students to access the needed software at their experiment stations in the lab.
Student satisfaction with electronic lab notebooks was markedly higher than in his previous efforts. “The satisfaction level was edging into two thirds to three quarters, whereas it was more like a little less than half prior to this,” Dr. Alibzati said, “I think that’s because the hardware problems were eliminated.” With each pilot program he has learned “a little bit more about what this system needs to look like and what students’ expectations are and where to go next” in implementing electronic lab notebooks at UC. Dr. Albizati said that Computing Infrastructure “absolutely couldn’t have been better” throughout the process.
Faculty who have ideas about exploring how to use technology to enhance teaching and learning are encouraged to contact ACMS by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, attention Jim Rapp.
Faculty Feature is a series of articles highlighting faculty and their creative use of technology in the classroom. Check back regularly to find out how UC San Diego faculty are moving the future of education forward!