K.I.S.S

We’re not talking about the band. We’re talking about “Keep It Simple Stupid”. It’s a rule to live by and one that is easy to forget. It holds true in almost every setting. And that includes the classroom. 

Jill Keeney, Charles A. Dana Professor of Biology at Juniata uses LabArchives to teach her undergraduate research students. These upper level research students focus on biology research methods, best practices and ethics while learning to proficiently keep a digital lab notebook. Molecular biology is the course’s main focus and Jill has been teaching with this digital first method for over five years. 

Juniata College students work with Professor Jill Keeney to conduct research for The Yeast ORFan Gene Project.

“I was extremely hesitant to try a digital lab notebook at first,” she said “This is my 26th year teaching so I was staunchly set in the hard copy lab notebook camp, that just how things were done.” But after giving LabArchives a go, Jill has learned that going digital doesn’t have to be (and isn’t) as complicated as it might seem. It’s actually pretty simple to opt for digital tools first.

KEEP IT EFFICIENT

Jill holds weekly meetings with her students where she looks at their notebooks on their laptops. She gives them feedback in person. One huge benefit of digital? Jill is able to check out student work BEFORE they come to her office for their weekly meeting. This way Jill already knows how the student is doing and can prepare feedback ahead of time to keep the meetings short and sweet, making the most of everyone’s time. 

While LabArchives does offer digital feedback features for instructors, Jill finds that in person feedback works best for her and her students. And that’s another great benefit of working digitally, you can simplify and customize how you work to suit your purposes. While our digital platform offers tons of features, you don’t have to use them all. Simply pick and choose what tools and workflows work best for you and go with those, just as Jill has.

“With teaching I started to realize that the tools and the way LabArchives is available online was very useful. I think for me it was a big realization that it is actually really easy to use.” 

Jill meets with her students once a week to discuss their progress. Jill assesses their digital notebooks before they come in so she can give them quick, in person feedback.

KEEP IT UP TO DATE

According to Jill (and most professors/lab managers), notebooks should be consistently maintained. They aren’t meant to be “caught up on” and Jill uses LabArchives to oversee that notebooks are truly being kept up as the course progresses rather than being hurriedly populated at the end of the semester.

Students in Jill’s courses know to keep their digital notebooks up to date.

And to encourage this best practice, Jill grades notebooks anytime she wants. Students know to keep their notebooks current because Jill might log in and check them out at anytime. Students know they must maintain a table of contents in their notebook, making things easy to find for themselves (and Jill!). “I can just sit down with my rubric and click through student notebooks checking that they have the materials listed for each day of lab work and whatever else.”

An example of the Table of Contents each student keeps within their folder to keep things up to date and organized.

KEEP IT CONSISTENT

In Jill’s course, each student has their own folder within the course notebook. Within that folder the student completes all of their work. Generally speaking most LabArchives instructors have their students each create their own notebook. But this is just another example of how working digitally allows Jill to pick and choose which work flows suit her style best. “I just stick to the most basic basics with LabArchives and that works for me,” she said. 

Students work within their own folders and know to create a new page for each day spent in the lab. Jill gives them a protocol within LabArchives so they don’t have to retype it. Students can quickly screenshot the protocol and add it to the page they are working on for reference and documentation. Everyone’s workflows are aligned in this digital first model.

In Jill’s courses each student works within their own folder and creates a new page for each day of work done in the lab. This simple, digital first workflow just works for Jill and her students.

KEEP IT CENTRAL

Another great benefit of the digital first workflow? Jill doesn’t have to worry about notebooks leaving the lab and not coming back. Student work is always secure and readily accessible. Simple access means no one has to fuss with lost papers, water stained notes, tattered notebooks or worst of all – lab notebooks that have been lost to the abyss of messy college dorm rooms.

This goes for all notebook content. Students can add photos to their notebook in just seconds and bypass the arduous printing, cutting, pasting (and potentially later losing) additional images to their notebooks. Jill says this capability is one that got her over the line when it came to going digital.

In the past, Jill’s students had to take a hard copy picture, scan it, print it and attach it to their paper notebook. But often these sheets weren’t nicely glued in and would get lost themselves, leaving gaps in student notebooks. Now students just take a picture on their phone and upload it via the app or web platform. It takes about two seconds.

With everything in one central digital location, students don’t lose their work… ever.

KEEP IT FOR LATER

While paper notebooks are liable to get lost during the course of the semester, they’re even more likely to be lost once the semester ends. Students often misplace their past coursework meaning they lose access to all of their hard work and learning. Jill says the LabArchives notebook export feature takes care of this problem entirely. Students quickly download an entire PDF of their notebooks at the end of the semester. These often end up being quite useful students when they go to apply for graduate school and professional opportunities in research.

With a fast PDF download students can keep their lab notebook for future study, grant applications, grad applications and even job applications.

KEEP IT GOING

Chemistry was the first department to get on board with LabArchives at Juniata. Jill looked at several platforms but wasn’t convinced that any of them would work for her. When Juniata decided to secure a LabArchives enterprise license, Jill decided to take what felt like a big plunge and try it.

“The challenges will always be the same,” Jill said, “getting students to be complete and report everything they are doing is a challenge.” But when given a tool that is simple and easy to use, they are more likely to do just that.

Students, Jill said, really like working with LabArchives. She’s never gotten any negative feedback and because students use the tool in freshman chemistry courses, they’ve already got a pretty good handle on it by the time they arrive in her course. And once they move on from Jill’s course, they’re already aces at using an industry tool. This puts Jill’s students more than a few steps ahead when they enter the professional world.

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