Smartpens for Classroom Use

Some teachers hand out notes. Some teachers use powerpoints. Other teachers use fill-in-the-blank style packets, sometimes alongside powerpoints.

Then there are teachers who don’t do anything that could help the note-taking process. These teachers give lectures, and expect the students to learn the content, regardless of whether or not they can take notes. In these teachers’ classes, by the time you finish writing down the first sentence of the lecture, the teacher has said three more.

Usually, students in these classes end up not taking notes, relying instead on their memories alone to learn everything they have to.

Allow me to introduce smartpens, or rather a specific brand of smartpens: Livescribe.

A picture of Livescribe's Sky Smartpen.
Livescribe’s Sky Smartpen

Livescribe’s smartpens allow you to write on special paper, and then view what you wrote on a computer. More importantly, they can also let you record what is being said as you write, allowing for abbreviated notetaking. Besides incredible utility, livescribe pens are remarkably easy to use, requiring only a few simple steps: Press the power button. Open a livescribe notebook. Press the record button at the bottom, and begin writing. When you are done, press the stop button. Then, when you need to remember what the teacher said, you simply have to go back and tap on a word in the notes to hear what the teacher was saying when you wrote it.

The pens work because of the special paper they are used with, which has a series of small dots printed on it in a unique pattern. As you write, the pen records the dotes you are writing near. When you go back to the notes, the pen checks the dots you tapped on and plays the corresponding audio recording.

Besides simple voice recordings, Livescribe pens can function as calculators, translators, and more, simply by writing on a sheet of paper. The better pens have wi-fi capability and as much as 8GB storage for apps and audio.

Of course, there are drawbacks to this technology. Most noticeably, some teacher dislike being recorded, and could confiscate anything used to record them, unless the sudent ahs special permission. Recording secretly, on the other hand, is illegal under Massachusetts law. Another notable drawback is the inability to erase, which can cause problems in diagram-intensive classes, such as math, where it can make mistakes difficult to correct.

The newest model also has one feature which could be considered  drawback in the classroom. Instead of a built-in display and microphone, the Livescribe 3 (the company’s 4th smartpen) relies on being connected to a smartphone to record audio, which some teachers would obviously object to, as smartphones are a major source of distraction for many students.

A picture of the Livescribe 3 smartpen.
And it looks like a normal pen.

And, of course, a livescribe smartpen doesn’t come cheap, with the cheapest pen on their website priced at $120, and ranging up to $250.

In the end, though, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Most teachers could be convinced to allow the recordings, and most note-taking mistakes don’t need to be erased to be fixed. By avoiding the newest pens and sticking to the cheapest models, Livescribe’s pens could be an invaluable resource in the classroom.

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