Summary

In science it is standard practice to keep a laboratory book when laboratory experiments are being performed. In this laboratory book one keeps track of the exact experimental execution and the results thereof are noted down. This documentation is an important component of good scientific practice. Currently there are both handwritten as well as digital laboratory books in use at universities and in companies. The same stipulations are necessary for both formats. For the first time ever, a digital laboratory book was introduced in the winter semester 2017/18 within the scope of the carbohydrates internship. Before there was only a handwritten laboratory book available for this course. 
Table of contents

Course

Course titlePartial module carbohydrates, module 3 lipids and carbohydrates
Course typeLaboratory internship

Department/Institute

Biology, Chemistry, Pharmacy

Degree course

Biochemistry

LecturerDr. Susanne Fehse
No. of participantsCa. 25 students
Phaseduring the academic lecture period
Durationtwo semesters
SWS/CP3 + 3 SWS, 4 + 4 CP

Tools

  • FU wiki system

Realization

In science it is standard practice to keep a laboratory book when laboratory experiments are being performed. In this laboratory book one keeps track of the exact experimental execution and the results thereof are noted down. This documentation is an important component of good scientific practice. Currently there are both handwritten as well as digital laboratory books in use at universities and in companies. The same stipulations are necessary for both formats. For the first time ever, a digital laboratory book was introduced in the winter semester 2017/18 within the scope of the carbohydrates internship. Before there was only a handwritten laboratory book available for this course. The transition had the following reasons:

  • Simultaneous editing and writing in the laboratory books: In a handwritten laboratory book there is very little time to correct the documentation of a certain laboratory experiment as the students usually want to and should document the next upcoming laboratory experiment in their book in a timely manner. With a digital laboratory book this is doable at the same time.
  • Much simpler inclusion of digital data such as microscopic images or longer Excel tables. 
  • The hard-to-read handwritten notes are a thing of the past: There is a definite time advantage when correcting as one doesn't need to try and figure out what was written down anymore. 

For this transition from paper to digital, the carbohydrates internship has the advantage that it is the last one in a longer list of basic internships during the semester. Therefore the students get to know the handwritten laboratory book in the first few basic internships and then – as ongoing development – they get to know and can apply the digital laboratory book at the end of the series of basic internships.  

For the digital laboratory book the same stipulations are valid as with the handwritten laboratory books:

  • Space has to be available for content such as experiments being executed.
  • Changes and/or additions have to be clearly recognizable.
  • Deleting data should not be possible.
  • There must be an automatic timestamp added for every single entry. 
  • It needs to be correctable and editable.

The FU wiki system was chosen as it fulfills all of the stipulations above and also provides some additional advantages. There is IT support by CeDiS and data protection is easily doable. And, access is easy and at a low threshold: Using the FU wiki system is similar to the Wikipedia encyclopedia and can be easily and intuitively applied and worked with. The disadvantage of the FU wiki system is that it was originally designed for being used for other applications such as text-based content.  

Software such as Labfolder or SciNote, which are both designed for use as digital laboratory books, were not selected as these are more oriented application-wise to a complex, comprehensive laboratory organization. Therefore they are harder to manage and operate. In addition, these partially cost money or there is no IT support available. In order to use the digital laboratory book the students have to regularly bring their laptop or other devices with them.

In order to make it easier for students to use the application, a tutorial video was created which shows the most important functions. The teaching project "Digital laboratory book" was accompanied by an evaluation questionnaire in the last two semesters (winter semester 2017/2018 and summer semester 2018).  

Experiences made by the lecturer

All in all I have made some good experiences with the teaching project "Digital laboratory book". The students were open for these ideas and were also willing to bring along their laptops or other devices so that they could work on the digital laboratory book without a problem. They saw what the advantages were when it came to a digital version of the laboratory book. I am of the opinion that the digital laboratory book can be used on a continuous basis within the scope of the carbohydrates internship.  

The chosen program – the FU wiki system – was, as originally thought, very user-friendly and intuitive in the application. Therefore, the barrier to use this program was quite low. In addition, I also created a short tutorial in order to make using the application a lot easier.    

There are a few (not many) disadvantages currently regarding the program FU wiki system. Especially with smaller laptops the FU logo banner is quite big when trying to edit texts. And mathematical formulas cannot be inserted via standard programs such as Word. I hope to be able to solve these disadvantages with the help of CeDiS.    

Visions for the future:

Apart from the main task of being able to scientifically document the experimental executions in a clear and comprehensive manner, the laboratory book provides the students with the additional benefit of being able to repeat and reflect on the laboratory experiments. They can therefore better understand and fully comprehend the experiments.  

That was the starting point with regard to didactic elements. Further additional tutorial videos were able to be created, for example when it comes to operating certain laboratory instruments that were used for the experiments and that had to be documented subsequently in the digital laboratory book. Or, from that what has been documented, one can easily create revision exercises such as question rounds within the laboratory setting.   

I am sure that there are a number of possibilities doable here.

Support offered by CeDiS

  • Consulting services for the implementation of digital solutions in teaching: The Center for Digital Systems (CeDiS) has extensive experience of many years when it comes to the implementation of digital media and systems within the fields of teaching, learning and research. We offer a wide variety of consulting services on the implementation of these tools and systems within the entire academic scope and especially at Freie Universität Berlin. 
  • Training courses and workshops: For lecturers at Freie Universität Berlin (professors, employees, tutors) as well as lecturers of other universities CeDiS offers training courses and workshops on the topic of teaching and learning with digital media. These course enable participants to implement online elements within their own sphere of teaching.
  • The Executive Board of the Freie Universität supports e-learning initiatives: With the e-learning funding program financial resources are provided to lecturers that enrich and improve their courses quality-wise by implementing technological and media-related support. All of the academic staff teaching, the lecturers or even the institutions of the Freie Universität - without the Charité-Universitätsmedizin - can be supported within this program. 

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