data logging software choices

The sensors and equipment you buy for school requires software made for it. There IS a generic program, called Insight (below). which works with lots of different manufacturer’s kit. It has the advantage of being excellent at what it tries to do. If there’s a disadvantage it is that the manufacturer’s software wins on warranty.

THIS PAGE IS AN ARCHIVE – it’s been kept in case you want to get some old equipment working again.

Insight – supplied by Insight Resources

Good easy software, does all that’s needed and does data analysis particularly well. Version 4 does a great deal and possibly even so much that it’s less the easy program that was version 3. Con: some manufacturers are precious about their kit working with Insight – check that the supplier that Insight will work with your particular kit. Pro: Works with a variety of equipment which is a considerable feat. Imports and exports SID files so that data can be exchanged between systems. 

While every data logger on the market has its own sensors, cables and software, Insight software brings a sense of order by offering one piece of software to worth with the majority of the UK made data loggers. As a third-party product that works with many different kits it will help you to shop around to buy what’s best. Insight lets you mix old and new logging equipment, and even the crustiest of computers. There have been many occasions when Insight has allowed us to rapidly move forward. More than this nice ideal, Insight aims to display data in ways to help understanding and then offers ways to analyse the data to extract yet more understanding from it.

After versatility, Insight’s strength is in the variety of analysis tools it offers. After working with it for several years, it’s to its credit that there is little here one doesn’t need and little that is missing. You should not, for example, ever need to export data to a spreadsheet – a fiddly procedure anyway – because the analysis tools that science teaching needs are all built in. In short, Insight is a solid, well-focused piece of educational software.

How people respond to Insight depends on what they have seen and used before. For the majority it is clear and straightforward. For some, particularly those who just want to display the results on the screen, Insight doesn’t have the plug and play ease of use that software designed for their particular kit seems to have.

Previous versions of Insight software:

The changes from version 2 of Insight to version 3 were slight. There is now an interactive tutorial, keyboard data entry and a table display. Insight 3 is nevertheless my version of choice. Version 4, called Insight Data Logging, offers more value for money by integrating Sensing and Timing functions. New features include automatic scaling of graphs which removes the need to set the recording time, while the screen layout puts a graph, digits, bars and results table all on screen at once. Lots of ‘intuitive’ hidden features merit a careful study of the manual. Physicists, of the advanced level kind, will be interested in a modelling feature allow them to add interactive equations which update live on screen. It takes some learning to get the hang of this modelling tool. Many will want to see how Insight’s data logging program, physics timing program and teach yourself module have now been melded into one. Versions for Mac computers exist but the latest software is aimed at the PC. Junior Data logging Insight is for primary schools. Supplier:

Control Insight

See the review of the primary version Junior Control Insight (below)

Datadisc Explore (ages 11-14) ** / Datadisc 32 (ages 15-18) **

Explorer and Datadisc Pro was Philip Harris’ software for collecting and analysing data from its own range of sensors. They work with First Sense sensors, SensorMeters and legacy equipment such as the Blue Box sensors. As with other software, SensorMeters are best switched on and set to the appropriate measuring range before launching the program. Datadisc has a ‘Blue Box demon’ to guide choosing the appropriate calibration range for these older sensors. It uses a series of screen windows to show the data as a graph, a table or spreadsheet. The existence of a table on screen is a good reminder that the graph is in fact a set of readings. I like this. The table lets you edit the readings, or display a subset of the data – for example, you can look at every tenth reading instead of a huge data set. Also, when you need to do a calculation with your data, Datadisc Pro has a nice way of presenting the equations to make very clear what function you are using. While the graph automatically re-scales the time axis as it records, check that your version labels the y-axis so you can work out the readings as they are being taken. This is much needed as feedback during the experiment. Essential tasks with graphs are not as easy as they should be – scaling the axes, looking closer at parts of the graph, taking an average reading, or measuring an area or time interval should be much more straightforward than this. While these are both quality packages able users can exploit, they miss out on the ways that data logging can enable people to do more with their data. (Disc for Acorn/Mac/PC from Philip Harris / ScienceScope)

Elab for LogIT range – not sold anymore

The key and perhaps the only data logging software for Apple’s Emate computer – the first portable designed specially for school. (From LogITworld data logging systems)

First Sense (age 8-10) not sold *

Software aimed at beginners with a version for all machines, even the BBC Micro and RM Nimbus PC186. It also works with the full range of Philip Harris sensors. Versions for the latest machines are much better due to a more familiar ‘Windows-like’ screen layout. It can record up to four different sensors “Sensors” at once but sadly does not show these together on the screen as you’d want if you were recording the room temperature, light and noise levels over time. It offers a nice bar display and can show two similar sensors together – as you would need in an insulation “Other limitations, such as a too-short maximum recording time make First Sense a package for casual use and maybe just for the first occasion you use sensors. Too many workarounds are necessary to do the investigations mentioned just here. To exploit what the hardware is capable of, find another package. (Disc for Acorn/Mac/PC/Nimbus/ BBC from Philip Harris)

Investigate (age 9-14) ** not sold
SoftLab (age 16-18) ** not sold

These two titles, which work with nearly all data loggers, take a novel approach to data logging. In essence you treat the machine as a recording instrument and assemble the items you need to do an experiment. You might need a graph, sensors, bars, meters and you drop these on the screen before you do the experiment. By doing this, learners are encouraged to think more about their investigations. Other clever features include an automatic time axis where you can record as long as you like and the graph re-scales to suit, intuitive ways of changing graph scales, and unusual flexibility. Interesting control systems can also be built without any programming skills. It does not handle high-speed timing using light gates as well as it might. A creditable feature found in Investigate is that it offers different entry levels for beginners and experts. The levels, and there are four, make available more or less features suiting it to a broad range of users. To its credit, the Dutch authorities selected Investigate for their national data logging initiative. The ‘thinking’ approach of both these packages has advantages and many keen advocates. For those that would sooner press a button and start taking readings the extra effort is a downside – but a better explanation is that both packages are ahead of their time. (Investigate: on disc for PC was from RM price £75) and SoftLab:on disc for PC.

Insight 2 (age 11+)**** Junior Insight (age 8-12) *** replaced by new versions

These data logging programs work with nearly all data loggers and machine platforms (Acorn/Mac/PC). Most of the things you need to do such as record, display and analyse the data happen on a screen with a graph. A likeable feature is that if you plugged in the equipment before you launched the software, just one further click on a green button starts you logging. The analysis features in Insight are numerous – areas, average readings, differences and time intervals can all be picked up from the graph. Separate windows show the data as a graph, bar chart and as meter digits. You can use these displays to replay and talk through your results. Arranging the displays to stop wasting screen space adds some clumsiness but this is no major fault. A number of shortcuts, mostly using the right mouse button allow you to take measurements from the graph and change settings. It is worth learning these though it is a pity that they aren’t intuitive. The Junior version cuts out most of the analysis features but still allows you to measure how much a reading has changed and how long a change took to occur. This may well be enough at this level although what is seriously missing is a way to display a series of discrete readings (say of different light levels) as a bar graph.

Both titles come with a separate program for measuring time using light gates and pressure mats. It records times and speeds in a spreadsheet table and facilitates all kinds of computation on the data. It makes accessible a good deal of high level work in Forces topics with little technical skill.

Both these programs are pretty sturdy and reliable when used with most brands of equipment. They work on hardware as modest as a 386 Windows PC so that those with a legacy of old machines can put them to good use in science. They come with a booklet of experiments where the various program features are worked through in context.

Insight 3 for Mac and PC computers only, now has an interactive tutorial, CSV file import, keyboard data entry and a table display. It’s averagely exciting – and many will find the upgrade benefits trivial (for Mac PC

Understanding Insight (age 15-18) not current***

An interactive tutorial package for learning how to use Insight data logging software. It takes you through the package bit by bit and will be welcomed by many. Teachers or learners can use this to help them set up experiments, collect data and analyse it. The place to start is the skills section that shows the graph handling features of the program. Here are eight lessons on looking at data, reading data, looking at changes, looking at graph shapes, looking for connections in data – and so on. It takes learners through these button-by-button, asking questions, asking them to do things and monitoring their responses. In fact, in the background it is marking and recording progress on a class score sheet that you can view later. These lessons take around 10-15 minutes each – meaning that it will be hard to do the lot at one sitting. The tutorials need to be read and followed closely as there are none of the animated demonstrations you often find in training software.

Another tutorial section offers handholding through four important experiments. For each of these (evaporation, reaction rates, pendulums, current and voltage) the screen provides setting up instructions, with photographs, for the computer and the experiment itself. You can use these as a worksheet for doing the actual experiments but example results are provided in any case. Further lessons take you though analysing these results as you might your own – though the results are so good that you would be hard pressed to better them. Nevertheless, they exemplify taking a complete experiment and working through to a conclusion.

‘Teach yourself’ is a leap forward for data logging software because it addresses an important training issue. It seems seriously concerned with using the technology fully and appropriately. Those interested in measuring how well learners progress through the tutorial have an intriguing pupil analysis tool. While this might be more than you asked for, teachers who want to plug into and learn data logging will value the tutorials. Although you do need a copy of Insight to use this, and the operations are specific to this program, the ideas here are generally applicable to the use of data logging in school. Version 3 of Insight had this tutorial package built into its PC version.

Lego Dacta data logging **

One of the more innovative approaches to data logging – allowing sensing to be combined with control projects. Finds its best uses in a ‘design & technology’ setting, although it can handle some of the UK science curriculum needs. Was sold with a kit of Lego hardware.

LogIT Lab (age 10+) ***

Data logging kits in the ‘LogIT’ family come with software to get you started straight out of the box. The software will record data and produce graphs with a LogIT, Live or Datameter kit system at no extra cost. The Acorn version of Link Pack is very acceptable for recording data, although experienced groups would want more analysis tools. LogIT lab offers fast real time recording at a rate of 500 readings per second. While third party software such as Insight can offer more analysis tools – it is unlikely to support what the equipment can do.  Contact Logitworld

Detector – Research Machines (age 8-11) *** not sold

Easy and inexpensive package that does the basics and suits casual use. The screen display shows a meter, readings and a graph all at the same time. This is an admirable way of showing pupils what sensors can do. It works with equipment that is part of the package; it also does a range of investigations for your money and this age range. Do appreciate though that this is a taster system – the accuracy of its temperature measurement isn’t too wonderful but you can countenance this at this price and this school level.

Palmtop and calculator software *** not sold

Several of the data logging “Data logging” kit manufacturers offer the cables and software to plug their equipment into inexpensive handheld computers. In this way science departments have been able to equip themselves with class sets. The computers include portable computers such as those made by Dreamwriter, Casio, Apple, Psion and the graphic calculators made by Texas Instruments. While you find limitations in what you can do, this is to be expected in view of the cheaper computer system. You have to get the specific software that works with the hardware, so make your choice after seeing the complete package. See if the software can do a basic set of experiments, see if you can put these on a big screen for a discussion and see if you can print your results.

Pasco Science Workshop (age 15-18) replaced ***

This software designed exclusively for the Pasco system scores a high mark for the way it treats the computer as a recording and analysis tool. With ‘drag and drop’ features familiar to SoftLab users, you plug in the sensors, choose the kind of display you need and then record your data. There are several analysis tools – averages, curve fitting, time intervals, highest and lowest readings as you would expect. Learning time is needed to work through the many buttons and options spread over the screen. You can use a special help window as a prompt or tutorial. This is very much a thinking approach to data logging, although they have not made this as easy as they might have. Also using larger screen elements would have allowed easier discussion of results on screen. (Included with equipment for Mac/PC from Pasco)

Pasco’s Data Studio (age 13-18) ****

Pasco’s software for collecting and analysing data with their sensor system. Whispered about for years, the software called Data Studio, does for data what Pasco’s sensor system does for science experiments – in a few moments use, it’s obvious you have a lot of power in your hands. You will find something that ranks beside other state of the art packages. Best of all, it is easy and even enjoyable to work with.

Many ‘data logging’ packages concern themselves with collecting data, some add interesting ways of displaying and analysing it. While everyone agrees that these jobs should be easy, not everyone agrees that the machine should do all the work for the student. Data Studio seems to follow this idea – it is the latest in a line of software which manages to encourage a thoughtful approach to data logging. If it helps to see where this is coming from, in this lineage you will find LabView, a US industrial monitoring package, Homerton College’s SoftLab and Lego’s Robolab system. To get the thinking juices to flow, when you use these packages you have to build a measuring system by connecting together sensors, meters and graphs on the screen. Instead of the instant gratification of ‘click and go’, you have to make meaningful choices to get started.

For example, if you want to see how a temperature changes over time in Pasco’s Data Studio, you use the mouse to drag the temperature sensor onto a time graph. You can similarly use the mouse to drag the data from your sensors and drop it onto displays such as meters, tables and graphs.

This much is passé but Data Studio moves the idea on another notch – in fact it’s probably unique: if you want the data from one sensor on the x-axis and another on the y-axis you physically drag the data onto each axis. If you want to re-scale the graph, you drag on the axis to pull it in or out. If you want to take a closer look at your data, change things or add a table – even while the system is running – this is no problem either. In short, the software is intuitive, flexible and exploits what a modern day machine can do.

Like much intuitive software, those more used to clicking around and taking risks will find what they want to do quickly. They will soon find how for example, to fit a sine function, or take the average reading of a graph, or subtract one graph from another. Rather than leave less experienced users to stall, stare and wonder how to do things,

Data Studio offers a brilliant way forward. When the software starts it asks if you want to load in an experiment ‘workbook’. A workbook is a series of screen pages, where the teacher can set out all that’s needed for doing an experiment. On these pages, which are quite easy to make yourself, might be instructions, pictures, and graphs ready to take data. In essence the workbook is a worksheet or lesson organiser that hand-holds beginners: it can run the data logging software, tell students how to handle the data or give them questions to answer. What is distinctive about the workbook is that, more than pages of details, these screen pages feature fully working software buttons and graphs. That’s a subtle point to see in practice, but the net result is to make Data Studio perfectly suited to beginners. What’s more, if people – meaning teachers and students – flounder with data logging software because they use it so infrequently, having the workbook to guide and structure an activity is one way to success.

For anyone using Pasco equipment, Data Studio could be this year’s great discovery. It combines the tools that data logging software really ought to have: from the workbook to write your worksheet, to the data’s collection and analysis. And as a sign of its attention to every possible need, there’s even an option to create take away edition of the program for students to use at home. With that and all else here that’s so well designed for school, Data Studio blows everything else out of the water. (For use with Pasco equipment for Mac/PC from Pasco)

Sensing Science (age 8-11) replaced ***

Sensing Science has four displays that change as fast as the sensors “There is a bar, digital display, time graph and meter with a needle. A vital ‘snap-shot’ feature takes one-off readings to compare say, different beakers of water and show these as a table or series of bars. It will also work out the difference between any two readings. A very nice, if brilliant feature lets children record for up to a minute and pause the display as they draw and predict where the graph line will go next. Another gem shows temperature change as a colour change. The line graphing section allows up to seven sensors to show at once which is more than most needs. A wizard helps with setting up and the analysis tools are basic yet adequate for this age group. The software works with Data Harvest equipment including Sense & Control, EcoLog and Easy Sense (from Data Harvest)

Sensing Science Laboratory ** replaced (age 11-15)

The latest Sensing Science has analysis features to suit work with age 11 up. It has on-line wizards with step-by-step instructions and an experiment library. The basic logging functions are fairly easy to use and the recording wizard for using light gates is welcome. Sadly it offers short measure on analysis and wastes such huge areas of screen space such that it’s hard to read what remains on screen. The experiment library was a very good idea though it’s hard to customise this. First impressions might be good but mostly this is one to send back for a redesign. The software works with Data Harvest equipment including EasySense Advanced, Fast, Sense & Control, EcoLog and Easy Sense (for Mac/PC from Data Harvest)

Junior Control Insight – software for computer control

(Review published in the TES)

Verdict: Good for ages 11-12 though a bit too hard for its intended younger audience. Much too good to dismiss: if you’re prepared to learn it you can teach with it.

Suitable for purpose 3 out of 5

Value 4 out of 5

Logotron’s ‘Junior Control Insight’ is a breakthrough in software for teaching ‘computer control’. The curriculum area, that lies somewhere between ‘ICT’ and design & technology, is one of the ‘must do’s’ in school. The idea is to give pupils a perch on the workings of clever things – we often start by understanding car park barriers and use these to underpin cleverer things like how the rides work at Alton Towers.

This software takes a new approach to all that – for example no longer need do you write a computer program which reads like, “when input two is on turn on output one”. Instead, you click buttons and end up with a sentence that reads “when the door gets opened, turn on the light”. Now rid of this ‘control-voodoo’, if you can read even bad grammar, you can work out what will happen.

While the program will control a real control interface box, but you can for once do without any hardware. You drag switches, motors and ‘modules’ on a picture on screen and then link them together. You edit the modules so that when something happens things might switch on. You can arrange the switches and so on in a real scene like a child’s bedroom or in another screen, or instead see how to wire things up on a control box.

So far, so brilliant and if you approach this right so it will remain. The key tip is that it’s best to work with the six on-screen projects supplied. Each is at a level of completeness, ranging from raw to finished. Starting with half-done versions, pupils from around the top of primary can use them.

To approach this wrong is to try to build a system from scratch. Not helping simplicity here are too many ways (toolbars, menus, and different views) to do the same thing and a tricky, cavernous dialogue box. But summon the patience to negotiate this, and a breakthrough will be at hand: at last you can do control with very little equipment.

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