In nearly every aspect of university life, the implementation of technology is a bygone conclusion. Not so for the multitude of students who are required to log their hours in the various labs around campus for their classes.
Only a year ago, students in the Applied Engineering, Safety, and Technology (AEST) programs, the majority of whom must demonstrate time spent in open lab hours at Osburn Hall, had to record their hours, name, class information, and equipment used in burdensome three ring binders stuffed with pages of chicken scratch and incomplete information.
When Graduate Assistant (GA) Phil Grigonis began working for the AEST department, he tasked himself with devising a better way to track student traffic in the labs during open lab hours. “I looked at what we had and decided the system was outdated,” said Grigonis. “I said to myself, ‘There’s gotta be a better way than this.'”
It was clear to him that the best way to manage such data was to create a computer program that would not only track student activity, but also record information about the use of labs that is vital to running the department.
Grigonis reached out to senior computer science major Seth Kerner, and the two began drafting a program that would do away with the outdated method of record keeping the labs had previously employed.
Last March, the two started by physically mapping out sketches of the database that would contain all the information regarding lab use. In only a few months, the earliest version of Lab Logger was subjected to beta testing in the lab with promising results.
“The thing that took the most time and work was safety netting it to make sure you couldn’t break the program,” said Kerner.
Over the course of last summer, after hundreds of hours spent programming, troubleshooting, and refining, Lab Logger was completed and ready for full operation during the Fall Semester 2012. The program distilled the same components required in the old notebook, student name, MU number, course, professor, lab, and equipment used, as well as time in and out, into a comprehensive relational database with a clean, simple user interface.
“We had to design it for every situation that might occur in the lab,” said Grigonis. ”And as a supervisor, I know all those situations.”
It was Grigonis’ knowledge of the rules of Osburn Hall coupled with Kerner’s programming abilities that lead to a program that encapsulates all the restrictions and rules of the lab while still being user-friendly.
As Kerner said, “Phil mostly came up with the logic behind the program and I implemented it.”
The secret behind this otherwise complicated database, is the simplicity of the user interface; not only for the students, but for the lab supervisors as well. To start a lab session, the GA need only start the program, enter their username and password, which is verified through Millersville’s active directory, the same system that validates your user information when you log on to a campus computer, choose which lab to run, and finally, the laptop’s screen enters kiosk mode, allowing students to log in or out of the lab.
Creating a system that effectively solved the problem of outdated and laborious sign-in methods is work enough, but Kerner and Grigonis did not stop there. After the successful implementation of Lab Logger, the two decided to create a second program, Lab Logger Reporter, that drew from the data stored from the lab visits in order to compile detailed reports of equipment use, lab summaries, and student hours for the professors.
With an interface even simpler than Lab Logger, professors are able to sign on and request any of the reports listed above, even look up a specific student by MU number. These reports not only offer the professors a chance to see who has been attending open lab, but it also gives the department an invaluable tool in planning for scheduling and its budget for maintenance and equipment.
“We have a lab budget; [the program] helps me determine where we need to put money for maintenance or additional equipment,” said Dr. Mark Atwater, a professor in the AEST department.
In the future, Lab Logger and Lab Logger Reporter could be adapted for use in other departments, such as science or art, where lab work outside of class is often necessary, if not required.
“To make modifications for other departments would be easy,” said Grigonis, when asked whether their programs could be adapted to suit other parameters besides the rules of Osburn Hall.
But for the time being, Lab Logger and Lab Logger Reporter are relegated to the confines of the AEST department, and with no lack of appreciation from the staff. As Atwater said, “I think it has potential far beyond its current use.”