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Digital lab notebooks: what works and what doesn’t?

Notebook collection
This year in the advanced physics course I teach, I wanted to broaden student exposure to lab notebook keeping methods. Students could keep lab notebooks on traditional carbon copy paper, or they could try out a different method, such as Evernote, as long as we kept in discussion about how it was working and how it wasn’t.

The result? Just one student out of twenty one consistently kept lab notes in Evernote. It seemed to work reasonably well, although I felt that the notes lacked the spontaneity and customization of hand-written notes. A few other students tried Evernote out at first, but later defaulted back to paper-and-pen. Perhaps if a tablet were used to link hand-written notes, they might have seemed less dry, but I can’t always assume that all students will have access to a tool such as that. The same goes for using digital writing tools. My friend Andy Rundquist has an intriguing system of using Livescribe pens and notebooks with his research students with some success, but giving one to all my students is daunting, both financially and practically. And frankly, they may not want to use such a tool. The experience left me wondering how we can do better with lab notebook instruction.

So I’m wondering: do you encourage your students to try alternative methods of keeping lab notebooks? What works and what doesn’t? Let us know in the comments.

[Image Creative Commons licensed / Flickr user Dvortygirl]

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