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Keywords:

  • electronic laboratory notebook;
  • ELN;
  • ePortfolio;
  • undergraduate practical class

Abstract

Despite many apparent advantages, including security, back-up, remote access, workflow, and data management, the use of electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) in the modern research laboratory is still developing. This presents a challenge to instructors who want to give undergraduate students an introduction to the kinds of data curation and notebook keeping skills that will inevitably be required as ELNs penetrate normal laboratory practice. An additional problem for the teacher is that ELNs do not generally have student-administrative functions and are prohibitively expensive. In this report, we describe the use and impact of an ePortfolio system as a surrogate ELN. Introduction of the system led to several pedagogic outcomes, namely: increased preparedness of students for class, encouragement of creativity and reflection with respect to experimental methods, greatly enhanced engagement between students and tutors, and it gave instructors the ability to scrutinize original data files and monitor student-tutor feedback cycles. However, implementation led to a disruption of tutor workloads and incurred new levels of accountability that threatened to undermine the initiative. Through course evaluations and other reflective processes, we reached an appreciation of how an ELN should be introduced into practical class teaching so that it not only becomes an appropriate aid for teaching the laboratory experience, but also becomes a life-long resource for students. © 2013 by The International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 42(1):50–57, 2014