Paperless Labs

At Troy University the chemistry faculty are constantly working to improve the labs. For our General Chemistry II Labs, the introductions and procedures of all the write-ups are now online. Initially, we required the students to print these out and bring them to class. Now, however, I don’t even require a hard copy, which saves the students the expense of printing the pages. In the lab we have one computer for every two students, so one option is for the students to view the procedure on their lab computer. Nowadays, all of the students have a smart phone or laptop, so they can also view this material on their smart device. However, they don’t all have a Microsoft Word Viewer app installed on their devices, so, starting in Fall, 2019, in the first lab meeting of the semester I’ll go over how to install the viewer, and include directions in Canvas (our LMS). Eventually, I’d like to move our labs from Word to being pages in Canvas, so that no extra viewer is necessary.

This semester I printed out the lab report sheets and gave them to the students for the first four or five labs. However, over on Organicers I saw an article about using paperless notebooks, which got me to thinking about doing the same. I’d previously worked through Microsoft’s tutorial on using OneNote class notebooks; now I had a chance to actually use those class notebooks.

A first step was to get OneNote integrated into Canvas. A search for a Canvas app found an LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) app by Microsoft for connecting Canvas to OneNote in Office 365 (which our school uses). Our IT department installed this in Canvas for me (we have a great IT department).

Next, the report sheet was created in Onenote. The parts where students enter their data was created as tables. The cells where the data was actually entered were given a background color. As data is entered, the cells expand as necessary.

OneNote data sheet filled out by a student.

Implementing the use of OneNote was a bit challenging. First, the students have to click on “Class Notebook”, which is in the menu in Canvas. Then, click on “Distribute Page” in OneNote. I did not understand that the “Distribute Page” action is not automatic: it only adds a page to class notebooks that already exist. I clicked on that option a couple of times, resulting in some students having multiple copies of the same data sheet. Next time, I’ll have students create their class notebooks on the first day of lab. Also on the first day of lab I’ll ask them to install the OneNote app on their smart devices so they don’t need to rely on the computer to fill out the data sheet.

At this point I’ve only used OneNote class notebooks for two labs. It is rather amazing to have paperless lab reports. I can see the students’ data sheets from the computer at the front of the lab. Going paperless saves the expense and, especially, the time needed to print the correct data sheets for each lab section (I have two or three). Also, in industry paperless lab reports are common, so this exposes our students to skills they may uses on the job. However, as a learning tool it is not, yet, clearly superior to a paper report sheet. It isn’t clear that it saves students time (although time saving is significant for the extensive lab reports that are more common in organic and biochemistry labs). Once the students figure out that OneNote will handle math calculations, they may start to believe that this is the way to go. For example, to calculate moles from grams, the student can enter in a table cell 2.5/18.0=, push the space bar, and “2.5/18.0=0.1389 ” appears. Add units and use the correct number of significant figures and it looks pretty respectable: 2.5g/18.0(g/mol)=0.14 g. Select everything from the start up to and including the = sign, click the “Math” button on the “View” menu, and the cell contents look like this:

Calculation displayed in a OneNote table cell after adding units.

Cleaning up Computers

Hopefully, you won’t need this info. When you try to open a OneNote notebook from Firefox (and maybe other browsers) in Windows 10, a dialog box may appear asking which app to use to open the file. IT helped me with this one. Go to “Settings”, then “Apps”, then “Default Apps”. Scroll down to near the bottom of the page and you’ll find “Set default by apps”. Click on that, scroll down to OneNote (not OneNote 2016), click on it, which will display a “Manage” button. Click on “Manage”, and then set all the “File type and protocol associations” to OneNote.

We have not found a way to remove OneNote 2016 from our computers, so both OneNote and OneNote 2016 show up on the start menu. If OneNote isn’t showing up on the start menu, enter OneNote in the search bar (i.e., Ask Cortana), right-click on OneNote, select “App Settings”, and click on the “Reset” button. That should make it appear on the start menu.

OneNote 2016 is the older version of OneNote that was part of Office. It is no longer being updated. OneNote is now part of Windows 10; that is the program to be using.