Digital pens: Mightier than MSWord?

Digital pens are being used in classrooms to help students improve their note taking skills.

A significant key to students’ academic success is their ability to take complete and accurate notes during class–and recent developments in digital-pen technology might help students do just that.

A number companies have created digital “smart” pens that can digitize handwriting, convert writing into word-processing text, and even record the audio that corresponds to the notes students take.

Digital pens made by companies such as Livescribe, IOGEAR, and WizCom can be found in retail outlets and even in many campus bookstores. Developers say students who use the pens to capture and upload their notes to computers for review possibly could perform better in school. The pens also are a more convenient option for students who typically carry their laptops to class to take notes.

“The student becomes more efficient,” said Keith Renty, business development manager for IOGEAR.

With IOGEAR’s Mobile Digital Scribe, the pen emits an electronic signal that is attached to the student’s paper. The receiver has enough memory to store the notes on 50 standard-size sheets of paper.

Renty said there are several similar pens on the market, but unlike other digital pens, the IOGEAR Mobile Digital Scribe doesn’t require any special paper or ink. The receiver can be attached to any paper the user writes on, he said.

Livescribe’s pen, called the Pulse, is unique in that it not only records handwriting using a special dotted paper and a tiny camera attached to the pen, but it records audio as well, developers say.

“Taking complete and accurate notes is one of the hardest things to do,” said Andy Van Schaack, senior science advisor for Livescribe and a professor at Vanderbilt University. He said taking notes is, cognitively, as challenging as playing chess. “You have to listen, write, and as you’re writing you have to listen to what [else] the speaker is saying,” he explained.

By also recording audio while a student is writing, Livescribe’s Pulse enables the student to focus more on the lecture, as opposed to making sure he or she is jotting everything down, Van Schaack said.

“Usually students have to decide if they’re going to listen and understand or take complete and accurate notes,” he said. The Pulse allows them to do both.

“If you believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, when you add audio, it’s worth a million words,” Van Schaack said.

In addition to audio, the pen records handwritten notes written on the special dotted paper, which acts as a barcode for the pen’s microprocessor when digitizing the handwriting. Then, when students want to review a spot in their notes where the handwriting might be illegible or their notes incomplete, they simply tap that place on the paper–and the audio recorder plays what was being recorded at the exact time they were taking notes.