Mobile Learning #2: Livescribe SmartPen

When I was reading the resources for this week, I ran into Bonk’s (2009) description of Livescribe. The book described a product called “Pulse,” which apparently has gone the way of the dodo since 2009. There are a few other options now.

What Does It Do?

The Livescribe SmartPens allow you to write on special paper and record sound (on some versions) if you want then transmit the whole mess to a smartphone or computer. The program can then translate your hen-scratch into typed text that can be searched. For a writer who still indulges in writing with pen and paper sometimes, that is WAY too cool.

Educational Uses

Being able to write and transfer to a computer is nifty, but how does that help the student? The Livescribe site is way ahead of the question. The company has a blog just for educational uses of the technology.


One possible use would be just taking notes. That sounds like a ridiculously simple thing to do with a smartpen, but I would probably burn through a huge amount of ink and paper using the thing right now. See, I work a full-time job as an optician, take online Master’s degree classes in Adult Education at Walden University, and work two contract jobs as an editor for a couple small presses. Time is at a premium, and I have to come up with some creative ways to get everything — including naps, cooking, and bird care — done in 168 hours per week. Whenever I work more than 6 hours at a time at work, I get an hour for lunch. It doesn’t take me more than 20 minutes to eat, so I spend the other 40 minutes (or the whole 60 minutes, depending on what lunch is that day) reading. I’d like to read my books for class, but if I take notes on paper, I have to then go home and transcribe into my computer. Being able to search my notes by keyword speeds up writing papers and really helps when I have to refer back to my notes two or three classes down the line. I can’t do a keyword search on paper notes. With a smartpen, I’d be able to take notes during lunch, move them to my computer more easily at home, and put my lunch time to better use so I can actually have spare time to write my next novel or short story.


Inevitably, two people listening to the same information and trying to take notes will record different things. For a face-to-face class, Nilson (2010) recommends allowing students to compare notes periodically in pairs or small groups to augment and correct information based on what they have.

Using a smartpen, students could transfer their notes to their group’s smartphones and computers or take handwritten notes, translate them into text and send them on to the group. That way, everyone has a copy to look at while they’re discussing the differences between the various note-takers.

A smartpen could also make catching up easier when students are out sick. If the smartpen has the recording function, parts of the discussion could be recorded and played back.

Just a High Tech Toy?

So what about it? Is this just some rich kid’s toy? Is it really a useful device? There are low tech or alternate options for all the possible uses. I could take my iPad to work with me and type my notes into an email that I send to myself then simply copy and paste into a word document, but finding a quiet place to prop up my iPad and books would be tricky. A student returning after an illness can just make a photocopy of someone’s notes.   Sure, there are options, but technically speaking, a ballpoint pen is just a higher tech version of quill and ink.

(c) 2010 Anoto AB / Retrieved unchanged from Flickr Creative Commons on this date
(c) 2010 Anoto AB / Retrieved unchanged from Flickr Creative Commons on this date


Bonk, C. J. (2009). The world is open: How web technology is revolutionizing education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


6 thoughts on “Mobile Learning #2: Livescribe SmartPen

  1. Hey Cindy,

    I had not seen these, so this is interesting information for me. In my response I am looking at something called Vidopop that allows videoing lessons, lectures, etc and distribution to students. One use is allowing students who miss class to get the content.


  2. I love the pen! I still look at the keyboard when I type so in a meeting where everyone uses an I pad I am the only one with a spiral notebook. When taking notes old school I can concentrate on the topic while taking notes. The thought that the notes could easily be translated to the computer is wonderful. Thank you for a great post.


    1. It does sound like a handy thingy. The downside might be the specialized paper. I didn’t see how much that cost, but if it’s anything like printer ink, the paper might be more costly than the device.


  3. Hello Cindy! The pen is beyond COOL!! I am guilty of still using pen and paper to take notes and even compose a first draft. If I had this smart pen it would make things easier! Many of my students use pen and paper to take notes and this would help them keep better track of their notes and keep them organized (hopefully :)). I would be interested into knowing how much the special paper cost because I would see that being the downside to this product. Technology is a great thing, but still very costly. Great technology find!


    1. Until a couple years ago, I was still doing first drafts and first edits of my novels on paper. Typing it in later, though, proved to be hard on the wrist and very time consuming. So… now I type my drafts into the computer. Sometimes, I’ll still print things out and edit by hand, though.


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