We caught up with Paul and Michelle two instructors (who just so happen to be husband and wife) at East Stroudsburg University to learn more about their switch from paper to digital.

What are your roles at East Stroudsburg?

Paul: I am director of the Environmental Studies Program. My work is focused on freshwater biology, the conservation/improvement of aquatic habitat and providing clean drinking water. My teaching and my research is currently focused on the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI). 

Michelle: I am Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Director of the Programs in Biological Chemistry.  I am also PI of a multi consortia NSF S STEM grant.

How did you find LabArchives?

Michelle: I was looking to introduce my students to electronic documentation as this is becoming common in industry.  I searched online for different platforms and chose LabArchives

Paul: Michelle introduced me to it. I had worked as a chemist in the past and was familiar with traditional lab notebooks. I was aware of the switch to electronic notebooks and the fact that Michelle was introducing her students to this technology in her laboratories. I thought I might be able to use LabArchives to solve some of the problems I was having in my Stream Ecology class.

How do you use LabArchives?

Paul: I teach a relatively small stream ecology class where the lab experience is a yearlong research project. Students learn sampling techniques typical in freshwater biology. Collections are made from two local creeks and students choose a question to investigate. Students are expected to work with a great deal of independence and present their work at a semester end poster session.

I’ve found that students need more support as they move into the role of independent research. LabArchives helps me support them.  I use pre-labs (scaffolded templates that students populate) to help make sure students are prepared for the week’s work (instruments are properly calibrated, equipment is packed for the field etc). Post-labs ensure that students collect and analyze data properly. All required methods and procedures are also stored in LabArchives for easy access. 

ESU from above during the Pennsylvania autumn.

Michelle: I use LabArchives in all of my lab courses and for my research students.  I have designed a series of pre and in/post lab templates for each of my experiments.  Students enter their work into the fields and submit via LabArchives. I grade submissions within LabArchives which shares and records my comments and is also my grade book.  

I also store my experiments, rubrics, MSDS sheets, helpful links and documents as well as instructions for operating instruments in LabArchives.  These are all available to my students.  This “database” has grown over the years and includes much of the information students need to be successful in the lab. I can simply point them to the right folder for what they need.  Students also share great resources they’ve found via LabArchives.

LabArchives allows me to effectively support my students.  My time input is lower and I can provide more effective and in depth communication to my students.  A simple example is addressing a common error.  When I’m grading I can write an explanation in a companion Word doc and paste that into each students notebook as needed – no need to write and rewrite. Good, in-depth discussion of the work or a problem can be shared with a keystroke.  The organization that the platform can provide is also essential in teaching students how think and work systematically.

Any advice to other instructors looking to take their courses digital?

Paul: Give yourself time to set up your course and learn how to use LabArchives. While it saves time in the long run, it does require some initial work to get up to speed. However, once the foundation of the course is established, it is relatively easy to improve and update the course.

Michelle:  Setting up the templates and learning the platform takes a bit.  But it is relatively intuitive and I’ve refined my templates over the years – you don’t have to do it all in the first go.  The ability to copy the structure of an old course to become the basis of a new one is a huge time saver and helps with revision. Know you are going to face some frustration and challenges as with any new tech.  In the end you will be able to provide more efficient feedback and achieve better learning outcomes in the same or less time than in a standard “paper” platform.   

What does your favorite day in the classroom/lab look like?

Paul: My favorite times in the lab are when we are knee deep in a stream collecting macro-invertebrates on a warm sunny day. 

Michelle: A day when every needed item is in stock and each piece of equipment is calibrated and working!