A new mathematical and chemical equation editor in LabNBook

If there’s one aspect of LabNBook that students dislike more than paper documents, it’s writing equations!

And with good reason: writing an equation is always faster on paper… even if you are the king of Latex.

3 years ago, we integrated a tool for writing equations, with a choice of a Latex editor or a graphical interface. This was a first step in the right direction, but unfortunately the tool remained rather buggy and didn’t always produce very comprehensible Latex.

Some time ago, a new, more robust open-source solution emerged: MathLive. We have adapted it to meet the needs of our students. It’s now available on the LabNBook server.

As well as making the tool more sophisticated, we’ve included two time-saving features for students:

  • A “formulas” menu lets you write some of the classic formulas found in our training courses with a single click.
  • A button displays the result of the calculation, so you don’t have to use the calculator. Please note, however, that the Latex must be well-formed for the calculation to take place…

Please don’t hesitate to give us any feedback you may have, especially if you notice any missing symbols or formulas, or if you find any of our choices questionable. We’ll do our best to ensure that writing equations on a digital tool takes as little time as possible.

Good equations!

The data processing tool becomes more user-friendly and powerful

This summer, we implemented the new version of the data processing tool after a complete rewrite of its code.

Let’s start with user-friendliness, as the differences between our tool and the usual spreadsheets may have confused some people. Let’s face it: our tool is not a spreadsheet, as it forces data to be organized in columns. Without drastically changing its interface, we have made some fifteen ergonomic improvements. In a word: the tool is more accomplished.

Let’s move on to the new features:

  • Cutting and pasting from the previous version was, at best, difficult to use! We’ve completely reworked it. It is now possible to select cells by dragging, or by using the Shift/Maj key at the same time as clicking with the mouse. Then use the classic CTRL-C/X/V or the top-left menu. The only fly in the ointment is that Firefox is (too) secure; to use cut-and-paste in this browser, you need to authorize it via a setting that we explain in a message in case of blockage.
  • We’ve allowed Math.js functions using a list of values to be used in column formulas. To select values within a data column, use the syntax data(n:m), where n and m are RELATIVE indices relative to the current line. If n is omitted, the list starts at the first row of the column; if m is omitted, the list ends at the last non-empty row of the column. Examples to explain:
    • mean(data(-1:+1)) calculates a moving average on the data column with 3 values;
    • sum(data(:0)) calculates the cumulative sum on the data column;
    • min(data(:)) returns the minimum value of the data column.
  • You can now add 2 y-axes to a graph. In the graph parameters, click on the (+) below the axes: a y2 axis appears. For each series of points plotted, you can choose whether to use the y or y2 axis.
  • It is now possible to connect experimental points by segments or a smoothed curve in the graphs. We were very reluctant to add this feature, which some people had requested. In the end, it has been added, although there is a risk of confusion between a smoothed curve and a model defined by a parametric function: this will be an opportunity to discuss the difference between the two with your students!
  • We have modified the distance indicators between a parametric function and experimental points. If ALL experimental points have an uncertainty (in y or x, the uncertainty in x being transferred to y according to the slope of the function), X² is used; otherwise, sigma is used. To find out which formula has been applied and the number of points used to calculate the indicator, position your mouse over a calculated value: a speech bubble will provide you with this information. Please note: once a parametric function has been defined, if several sets of points are displayed, you must now select the points it models. Only the distance between these points and the model is calculated.
  • The most important new feature is the automatic adjustment of parameterized functions to experimental points. By default, this function is not activated for students. In fact, manual adjustment is a pedagogical feature of our tool: by manually adjusting parameters, students can see their effect on the model and understand their scope. But for some students who have understood all this, adjustment can seem time-consuming. Here’s how it works :
    • The teacher authorizes automatic adjustment at the mission level (“Missions” tab, edit mission, option accessible at the beginning of “Report structure and contents”: “Authorize automatic adjustment for all dataset labdocs”).
    • For each parameterized function, the student is then presented with a new button for automatic adjustment.
    • If a parameter is not to be adjusted, click on its name to fix it (same for releasing it).
    • It may sometimes be necessary to give an initial value to the parameters for the fitting algorithm to converge.

The labdocs code now available in LabNbook: JupyterLite integration

LabNbook is now officially equipped with code labdocs. These new labdocs enable you to write and execute Python code. Your students will be able to go even further in manipulating and representing data during their scientific projects.

No installation is necessary, as labdocs code runs directly in the browser thanks to JupyterLite: tested under Chrome and Firefox by our valiant beta-testers, many thanks to them!


To help you get to grips with JupyterLite, Sébastien (who carried out the development) has produced a public mission called LDcode (to consult it: Mission tab > click on the LDcode mission > click on the eye). This mission can be seen as a user manual in the form of a gallery of examples using the most common Python libraries. Pick and choose what interests you, because it’s 64 pages in PDF format! If you wish to reuse a labdoc from this mission, simply duplicate the mission to make it your own, and the labdoc will be available for import into your missions.

Translated with DeepL

We hope this new feature finds you in top form for the start of the new school and university year

Two new tools for monitoring your students’ work

You are all already familiar with the Team Tracking Dashboard, which provides an overview of a team’s work.

There are now two additional tracking tools in LabNbook:

  • The first one allows you to know the work dynamics of a class and it takes the form of a “heatmap” based on the writing time of the teams. To access this map, go to the “Reports” tab, choose a class and a mission. Underneath the list of your students’ reports is a map that looks like this:
  • The second tool details the chronology of a report writing and illustrates the temporal sequence of student interventions on each labdoc. It can help you analyze the collaborative strategies used to co-write the report. To access this map, go to the “Reports” tab, choose a team and click on “Display the writing chronology”. An example is shown below and you can also view a short demo video.

Of course, both of these tools are student support tools, not assessment tools: several students can work with the same account, they can copy and paste large amounts of text in seemingly no time, etc. Thus, we have not included students’ names in these tracking tables.

Your comments will be much appreciated!

Why do students appreciate LabNbook?

“LabNbook is a kind of laboratory notebook where you write everything in it. It’s a kind of follow-up. It’s like making a report on a computer that can be followed by the students and by the teachers. They can go on it to see what we’ve written, and comment on it. It’s pretty handy!”

Interviews were conducted by a speaker (who does not belong to the LabNbook team!) with students for the follow-up of the HTTP project. There is a lot of interesting stuff in them, including why students like working with LabNbook. Below is a short summary, in which we have kept some short verbatims that we find instructive:

  • LNB provides access to all the tools needed to create a report in one place:
    • “But with the diagrams included, with the tables, the equations, it’s all centralised and you can do everything at once. Frankly, that’s nice.”
  • The tools are specialised for scientific work:
    • “Basically we can make curves, we can make our curves, set them up ourselves. And I never knew how to do it. For example, in Excel, I’m sure you can do it, but actually Excel is not necessarily scientific.”
  • LNB allows you to work remotely:
    • “It’s really cool because you can work at home, at the IUT, from anywhere. That’s cool!”
    • “Whereas, for example, the practical work where we have LabNbook, where we don’t have to write [at the same time as we manipulate]. I think they’re not too stressful because you know that if you can’t do it, at least you have time afterwards.”
  • LNB facilitates iterative work:
    • “And even, writing, I find what is practical with LabNbook is that if you can ever write something, then you come back, then you can rewrite in the middle after. Because if you write on paper, you can’t. Here, working with several people, we can add to the middle.”
  • LNB allows you to organise collaboration in group work:
    • “I prefer LabNbook to the classic reports because in fact, when you do a classic report by hand, you quickly find yourself… the one who is doing the report, he’s not even doing the work, he’s writing.”
    • “We divide up the tasks. But it’s not because we divide up the tasks that we won’t work on the other’s question. We divide the tasks, but we still help each other.”
    • “Then there can be several people working on the same file. [No one has to] leave the software for someone else to use it. Here, we are all together on the same project, we can all move forward at the same time, and I think that’s really cool!”
    • “In addition, we can easily see when people have modified something or not. It shows that it has been modified, by the last person who modified it. You can see everything easily, I find it very useful.”
  • LNB helps students
    • by the guidance provided in the assignment (structuring, instructions, etc.):
      “It was more guided on LabNbook: what we had to do, the questions we had to address. Now, it’s a little less so because we’re given more autonomy in writing. But at the beginning, it gave us a good indication of what we had to do.
    • Thanks to the feedback provided by the teachers:
      “Sometimes I saw that the teacher can mark things and interact with us. Sometimes they put questions that can guide us. For example, when our physics teacher, in this case, made annotations, on our report, we had direct access to them. Even now, for example, for the revisions, we have access to it again if we want to look at what was wrong. And I think it’s good that we can get quick and clear feedback.”
  • LNB allows a great deal of freedom of use:
    • “Either you have a really empty page and you have to do everything from scratch. And in that case, it’s good because you can structure it, you can organise it as you like.”
  • LNB is easy to use:
    • “It’s quite easy to use and quite easy to understand. You don’t have to have a manual on the side. I started with it in the second semester because I didn’t do physics in the first semester. At the beginning, it’s a bit of a trial and error process, but then you quickly understand how it works, it’s not very complicated.”
    • “It’s easier than Google Doc where sometimes people can’t open the document because the person who sent it didn’t indicate that it could be modified. Here it’s automatic, so we have everything at hand.”
  • LNB saves time:
    • “On the sheet, only one person writes and sometimes it can be slow. It can slow down. I think it can go faster on LabNbook. And then even for the teachers too, it can be easier.”

Otherwise, in a more general way, this is what we noticed in our monitoring studies

  • Students are very much influenced by their teacher’s attitude towards LNB:
    • If the teacher is not comfortable with LNB or is not convinced of its usefulness, students may not be motivated either,
    • Students are often satisfied with the platform when their teacher uses it to monitor their work and give them feedback.
  • The more students use LNB (different courses, different subjects), the more they appreciate it: the learning phase is over, students acquire routines and the time saving is really tangible. Moreover, some students regret that LabNbook is not used more systematically in their different courses or that they do not have the possibility to use LabNbook on their own initiative by creating reports for courses in which the teachers have not created an assignment (it will come).

To be quite honest, there are some negative points mentioned by the students. The two main ones are

  • Difficulties in using some tools, mainly the equation editor and the data processing tool:
    • for the equation editor we are trying to debug (but it is not always easy because we are not the developers);
    • for the data processing tool, a brand new version, more complete and more ergonomic, will arrive at the beginning of 2023.
  • The impossibility of editing the same Labdoc with several people in a synchronous way: yes… and yet we do not plan to change this behaviour. Advise your students to make small labdocs, that solves the problem!

Track your students’ work more efficiently

One of the advantages of LabNbook is the ability to track the progress of students’ work. However, this follow-up can be time consuming because it implies reading the students’ productions several times even if they have not evolved much. To help you, there is currently a star that indicates if there are any new developments in a labdoc since you last read it (click on the star to make it disappear and indicate that the labdoc has been read). There is now something better to save you time: you can display the changes made to the labdocs since your last reading!

1. In the student’s report, click on the button that highlights the changes

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The report is then “frozen” (i.e. if students change the report, the version that is displayed on your screen does not take these changes into account) and anything that has been added or deleted since you last read it is highlighted.
A demo is available here :

2. Once you have reviewed a labdoc, click on the star to remove it from the labdoc. This will allow you to see only the next changes made by the students during a later review.

3. To stop highlighting changes in the labdocs, press the +/- button or the snowflake if you also want to unfreeze the report so that it synchronizes with the student version.

Note that two limitations are linked to this new feature:

  • the highlighting of modifications concerns, for the moment, only text labdocs,
  • the activation of the highlighting of modifications prevents from annotating the report.
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