Journal:Implementation and use of cloud-based electronic lab notebook in a bioprocess engineering teaching laboratory

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Full article title Implementation and use of cloud-based electronic lab notebook in a bioprocess engineering teaching laboratory
Journal Journal of Biological Engineering
Author(s) Riley, Erin M.; Hattaway, Holly Z.; Felse, P. Arthur
Author affiliation(s) Northwestern University
Primary contact Email: afelse at northwestern dot edu
Year published 2017
Volume and issue 11
Page(s) 40
DOI 10.1186/s13036-017-0083-2
ISSN 1754-1611
Distribution license Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
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Background: Electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) are better equipped than paper laboratory notebooks (PLNs) to handle present-day life science and engineering experiments that generate large data sets and require high levels of data integrity. But limited training and a lack of workforce with ELN knowledge have restricted the use of ELN in academic and industry research laboratories, which still rely on cumbersome PLNs for record keeping. We used LabArchives, a cloud-based ELN in our bioprocess engineering lab course to train students in electronic record keeping, good documentation practices (GDPs), and data integrity.

Results: Implementation of ELN in the bioprocess engineering lab course, an analysis of user experiences, and our development actions to improve ELN training are presented here. ELN improved pedagogy and learning outcomes of the lab course through streamlined workflow, quick data recording and archiving, and enhanced data sharing and collaboration. It also enabled superior data integrity, simplified information exchange, and allowed real-time and remote monitoring of experiments. Several attributes related to positive user experiences of ELN improved between the two subsequent years in which ELN was offered. Student responses also indicate that ELN is better than PLN for compliance.

Conclusions: We demonstrated that ELN can be successfully implemented in a lab course with significant benefits to pedagogy, GDP training, and data integrity. The methods and processes presented here for ELN implementation can be adapted to many types of laboratory experiments.

Keywords: electronic lab notebook, good documentation practice, data integrity, experiment workflow, pedagogy


Data recording and reporting is of highest importance in all types of research. Data that is not recorded or recorded incorrectly is summarily invalid. Academic teaching laboratory courses have emphasized the importance of accurate record keeping and extensively trained students in good documentation practices (GDPs) based on paper lab notebooks (PLNs). Though the use of PLNs has been perfected over several decades, the large data sets generated by many contemporary life science experiments are better managed through electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs). But the academic community has been generally slow in moving towards the use of electronic laboratory notebooks.[1][2] Lack of resources, non-standardized regulations, data security concerns, and low activation energy for changes contribute to poor adoption of ELN in academia.[3] As a result, only about five percent of academic labs use ELNs.[4] Agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) routinely emphasize the importance of data sharing and reproducibility. A report from the NIH concluded that the main reason for non-reproducibility of research data is the lack of good documentation methods rather than scientific misconduct.[5] ELNs can facilitate data sharing and simplify good documentation practices, and subsequently improve reliability of scientific data better than PLNs.[6] Also, ELNs can simplify recording and archiving of large data sets such as those generated in -omics research and in core laboratories.[7]

Academic laboratories are beginning to adopt ELNs, encouraged by the recent availability of several open-source, cloud-based ELN software options for life science research.[8] Many vendors have launched no- or low-cost versions of ELN software for academic use.[9] Machina and Wild[10] in their review article categorize the pros, cons, difficulties, and success factors in implementing ELNs in academia. Rubacha et al. classified 35 commercial ELNs in the market and developed guidelines to select the right ELN based on user requirements.[11] A more recent study identified cost and incompatibility across operating systems as the key barriers for adoption of ELNs in academia and provided a framework to build future ELNs based on user feedback results.[12] Some academic laboratories have developed surrogate ELNs by adapting software that were originally not intended for data recording. Examples include the use of Evernote, Google Docs, Microsoft OneNote, and web blogs as ELNs.[13][14][15][16] In addition, the following studies on inclusion of ELN in teaching laboratories have been reported in the literature: an ELN based on the Sakai software was used in an inquiry-based biochemistry teaching laboratory course[17], and the Pebblepad ePortfolio system was used as an ELN in a biochemistry and molecular biology lab course.[18] Weibel has also described the use of Google Docs for a paperless undergraduate physical chemistry teaching laboratory.[19]


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This presentation is faithful to the original, with only a few minor changes to grammar, spelling, and presentation, including the addition of PMCID and DOI when they were missing from the original reference.