Adapting Lab Courses for Virtual Learning on Benchling

A practical guide for instructors.

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Inquiry-Based Learning Module: How to Use a Modern Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN)

In many science courses, lab notebooks are still taught to students in outdated paper formats despite the current trends that research is transitioning to electronic note-taking. Benchling’s Notebook serves as a model cloud-based ELN for laboratory education; it has an intuitive interface with features that make it easy to build and share protocols, attach and preview files, and organize entries for collaboration. This example module will showcase how to use electronic lab notebooks to engage with published research literature in ways that paper notebooks cannot and to simplify the process of experimental collaboration.

Student Learning Outcomes

1 / Understand novel research techniques relevant to other course topics

2 / Organize relevant scratch notes, analyses, and observations in an ELN

3 / Pinpoint the underlying experimental steps that produced published figures

Getting This Module Started on Benchling

  1. Compile a list of research articles that are relevant to core concepts in your course. For this example, let’s assume you’ve taught your class about “fluorescence” and therefore have compiled seminal research articles within that field: FISH, fluorescence probes, fluorescence imaging, and so on.

  2. In teams of 2-4 students, have each team analyze a different article and use Notebook templates to record answers to prompts. Those prompts may be: 1) Write a short summary of the article, 2) Analyze each main figure, and 3) List key experimental steps to obtain the data in each figure.

  3. Have students attach the research article, supporting information, and other relevant files inside the Notebook entry for easy referencing.

  4. Now, ask teams to recreate protocols on Benchling as if performing the experiment themselves, including hyperlinks to sequences, references, and attachments if needed.

  5. Review these entries and protocols to gauge each team’s understanding of a technique.

  6. Have teams swap their protocols with another. Ask them to assess each other based on the clarity of instructions provided. Explain how this process emulates modern scientists sharing their protocols with their external collaborators.

  7. Finally, ask students to deposit their work into a shared class folder, creating an internal protocol repository like one that a research lab would have.

Tools and Analysis within Benchling

  • Pre-populated Notebook entry templates

  • File attachments and previews

  • Collaborative entry editing

  • Built-in protocols


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