A smartpen is a high-tech writing tool that records spoken words and synchronizes them with notes users write on special paper. A student can thus record everything a teacher says and later replay any part of a lecture by tapping the pen's tip on words written throughout the class.
The Echo and Pulse from Livescribe are among the most popular smartpens.
Though it looks and writes like an ordinary pen, the Echo is actually a multimodal computer. It has an ARM‐9 processor, OLED display, micro‐USB connector, headphone jack, and microphone. It's a publishing platform that supports third-party Java-based applications.
How Do You Use a Smartpen?
When you turn on the Echo Smartpen, you hear a beep. You set up your pen by tapping its tip on information bubbles in an interactive brochure that comes with it. The pen uses text-to-speech to describe each step and function.
The information bubbles teach you how to use the pen, practice, record a lecture, upload notes onto a computer, and what all the buttons do.
The Menu button, for example, enables you to set the date, time, and audio quality, and to adjust playback speed and volume.
Once configured, you turn the pen on at the beginning of a class or presentation and write as you would with any other pen.
What Type of Paper Do Smartpens Work On?
Smartpens require special paper that Livescribe sells in notebook form for $7.00. Each sheet contains a grid of thousands of microdots that make the page interactive. The smartpen's high-=speed, infrared camera reads the dot patterns and can digitize handwritten notes and sync them with corresponding audio.
The bottom of each page displays interactive icons you tap on to perform functions such as recording or pausing audio or placing bookmarks.
What Benefits Do Smartpens Offer?
Smartpens make note-taking less stressful by eliminating the fear of missing anything said during a class or meeting. They also remove the time-consuming task of transcribing a complete lecture by enabling students to access any part of a recorded lecturer by merely tapping on words. Digitized notes are also easier to store, organize, search, and share.
How Can Smartpens Help Students with Disabilities?
Students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia sometimes struggle to keep up with class lectures. In the time it takes to hear, process, and write down information, the professor has often moved on to the next point.
With a smartpen, a student can outline key concepts by writing bullet points or symbols, e.g. a leaf representing photosynthesis. Providing easy access to any part of the lecture can enhance note-taking skills and build confidence and independence.
For college students with disabilities (including those who qualify to receive audio-recorded lectures), a smartpen can sometimes replace a personal note-taker -- a low-tech solution many disability service offices assign to students to make classes accessible.
How Do I Access What I've Written and Recorded?
When a lecture ends, you hit "Stop." You'll hear a second beep. later, you can hit "Play" to listen to the entire lecture, tap words, or jump among bookmarks to hear specific parts.
If you took 10 pages of notes, and you tap a bullet point on page six, the pen replays what you heard when you wrote the note.
The Echo smartpen has a headphone jack for listening in privacy.
It also has a USB port to connect the pen to a computer to upload lectures. The "Getting Started" guide instructs users how to download the free Livescribe software.
What Does the Software Enable Users to Do?
The software displays icons representing notebooks. When you click on one, all the notes written within that notebook pop up.
The software displays the same icon buttons that appear on each notebook page. You can navigate online with mouse clicks the same way you do tapping the pen on paper.
The program also has a search box for locating specific words from a lecture. You can also listen to just the audio.
How Much Do Smartpens Cost and Where Are They Sold?
Livescribe smartpens (the Echo its forerunner, the Pulse) start at $99. They are available in a 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB capacities, storing roughly 200, 400, and 800 hours of audio respectively. You can buy pens, paper, apps, and accessories at livescribe.com. Smartpens are also sold through Best Buy, Apple, Brookstone, and select Staples stores --both online and retail -- as well as Amazon.com.