Don’t Buy That Paper Lab Notebook!

Why ELNs, scientific apps and visual analytics belong in college classrooms

Future scientists are heading back to the classroom now, but will their institutions be fully preparing them for careers in science? Not if they’re relying on outdated paper lab notebooks and ad hoc software for reporting! With the start of this academic year, there is ample proof that educators are using technology to their students’ advantage.

Colleges and universities can cater to their techno-savvy student body with technology solutions that better prepare them for the lab environments where they’ll actually work as professional scientists, researchers, and principal investigators.Think electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) or business intelligence and visual analytics platforms.

Most undergraduate and graduate students arrive on campus armed with smartphones, tablets, and laptops – tools they have been using at least since middle school. They enroll in classes, check grades, and communicate with professors online. 

But in many science labs, students are still using general campus online portals like Moodle or Blackboard to submit lab results for review and grading.

Engage Students with Technology

Don’t relegate those mobile devices simply for note-taking or downloading the professors’ PowerPoint slides. Academia can actively engage technology and software in the science curriculum. 

Consider what Dr. Layne Morsch, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Springfield, is able to do. Professor Morsch has used ChemDraw® for iPad® and Elements cloud collaboration platform with his chemistry students since 2013 and 2014, respectively.

“Nobody sleeps in my class,” says Professor Morsch. Technology has enabled him to “flip” his organic chemistry course – delivering lectures online while using class time for active engagement using Elements for collaboration and ChemDraw for iPad for chemical drawing and sharing. 

With ChemDraw for iPad, Professor Morsch can instantly send a chemical problem to students and have them send answers back, with a simple swipe of the screen. With Elements, his students can create and share experiments, fostering a greater sense of collaboration in learning as students gain access to all manner of data, from spectra and spreadsheets to structured drawings. 

Professor Morsch noted “an obvious increase in classroom participation and engagement with the material” as he leveraged the latest in technology.

A Worthwhile Investment in Scientific Software

According to University of Illinois chancellor Susan Koch, technology has financial benefits too - Noting that a college-level chemistry text book can cost $400, whereas its electronic version is $125. Software vendors often offer academic or student pricing, and PerkinElmer has been a long-time industry leader in offering site licenses for academia.

And while an electronic solution will obviously cost more than a $20 paper lab notebook, the benefits of technology far outweigh the investment.

Paper can be lost, stolen…or eaten by the dog. It sits isolated and can’t be broadly shared. And when students graduate, their knowledge and data go with them. 

Electronic documents, on the other hand, can be shared in real time with professors. Students using technology are more prepared for their class assignments, since materials and documentation are captured and archived electronically.

Unless they forget their tablet or laptop, students are ready to go. The results of their experiments are archived and available to influence future students. The student/professor collaboration and communication also speeds feedback and grading.

Career Ready Scientists

As industry moves away from paper reporting, students benefit from learning on solutions that will carry them into professional careers. Professor Morsch states most of his students are interested in industrial employment or health sciences careers – positions that use ELN, business intelligence, and visual analytics solutions.  

“If we want to prepare our students for these jobs,” he says, “we need to help them become more used to archiving and communicating their work electronically.”

Learn more about PerkinElmer ELN, business intelligence and visual analytics platforms and solutions.