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.
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.
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.