MicroTracker: a Data Management Tool for Facilitating the Education of Undergraduate Students in Laboratory Research Environments

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There is currently in the United States a nation-wide effort to strengthen education in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM); thus, the need for quality laboratory-based research education at the undergraduate level has never been more important. However, many undergraduate laboratories are, too often, little more than an exercise in “cooking” where students are instructed step-by-step what to add, mix, and, most unfortunately, expect as an outcome. Although the shortcomings of “cookbook” laboratories are well known, they are considerably easier to manage than the more desirable inquiry-based laboratories. For example, in an inquiry-based laboratory, the teacher/mentor must regularly access each student’s research data (experimental results, photos, notes, etc.) in order to track progress, quality of work, and to plan future experiments with their students. Similarly, the same problem of data access and analysis logically extends to student–student collaborations where each student must also be able to access the data of their fellow students in order to perform their part of the research collaboration. Thus the ability to quickly access, share, sort, and analyze research data would make a significant contribution towards the feasibility of teaching/mentoring large numbers of inexperienced students in an inquiry-based research environment, as well as facilitating research collaborations among students. Herein we report on a software tool (MicroTracker) designed to address the educational problems that we experienced with inquiry-based research education due to constraints on data management and accessibility.

MicroTracker was built upon the logical data flow of collecting and processing a sample from which items are retrieved – an architecture common to microbiology, biology, and other fields of research. Other data entry forms in MicroTracker interface with this backbone, allowing users to archive diverse types of data (Fig. 1).


Copyright © 2010 American Society for Microbiology

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Journal of microbiology & biology education