We’re finding that attempting to keep a traditional/strict paper bound engineering notebook is less effective than using cloud based technologies. Although we have a sort of hybrid approach this season using the official VRC books and print outs in binders, we’re considering going completely digital for future seasons. The plan would require teams to submit digital copies of entries for feedback and prevent changes/maintain integrity (e.g. submit entries to a Moodle or Google Classroom after each team meeting). Any non-digital artifacts (e.g. napkin sketches, notes on white board) would be scanned/photographed and uploaded.
Even though both the judge’s guide and award appendix mention that the notebook can take any format, there seems to be the expectation that a bound paper notebook be submitted especially in the example given in the “Judging Engineering Notebooks” section of the guide. Threads on this forum seem to go either way as to what is acceptable. Can you please clarify if digital notebooks are officially acceptable or not? If going paperless is an acceptable approach, could notebooks then be submitted digitally (e.g. saved onto digital media, access to cloud storage, etc.). Even if going paperless for judging isn’t feasible this season, would it ever be?
You are correct that digital notebooks are acceptable in the VRC and VEXU programs. You have also correctly identified one of the biggest challenges that teams have in maintaining a proper design notebook digitally. Specifically, having a mechanism in place to maintain the integrity of the notebook by preventing well intentioned team members from making changes to existing entries. Teams are often under the impression that a good design notebook must “look good” in order to be pleasing to the judges. The reality is that judges should not be looking for “pretty” notebooks. They should be looking for design notebooks that are a detailed record of the teams design process. This includes those ideas and designs that work as well as those that rejected by a team during the design process. Notebooks must also include last minute design changes. Judges often give feedback that the physical robot they see is not reflected in the design notebook. Documenting these changes may be difficult in a digital, cloud based notebook.
There are several caveats that teams must be aware of when submitting digital notebooks:
• Remember that at Worlds teams that are eligible to be considered for the Design Award will turn their notebooks for the judges during the check in process. These notebooks will be reviewed on Wednesday afternoon at Worlds.
• Teams should not expect judges to be able to access cloud based notebooks. Internet access is often limited at events such as Worlds due to cost constraints.
• It is the responsibility of teams submitting digital notebooks to make sure that the medium they are submitting is compatible with the technology judges have available. We have had cases in the past where digital notebooks have been submitted on thumb drives which judges were unable to access. In these cases attempts to open the files were made using multiple computer platforms and operating systems.
• Teams must also be aware that many judges are hesitant to access files on team thumb drives due to the potential for computer viruses.
You are also correct in that the judges’ guide and awards appendix do lean towards a more traditional engineering notebook. Please remember that this is an international program and that the reality is that many schools do not currently have the resources needed to produce a digital notebook. The Robotics Education and Competition Foundation is dedicated to providing a program which is affordable and sustainable at all schools.
Finally, it is important to note that while many aspects of the engineering profession have gone digital, professional engineers typically still maintain personal engineering notebooks.