A Point About Smartpens

Story by Garet Marling, Instructional Developer for eLearning, Educational Technologies at Missouri

You’ve heard of smartphones. Now meet the smartpen. Brilliant little devices, the Livescribe Pulse and Echo smartpens capture audio along with your written notes. “Big deal,” you might be saying, “so does a tape recorder.” Fair point.

What sets these smartpens apart is the impressive ability to tap—literally, tap—anywhere in your written notes and have the corresponding section of the accompanying audio played back to you. Using special dot paper and an embedded infrared camera, the smartpen syncs your written notes with the audio recording of what was going on in a given room while you were writing. It even makes a digital copy that can be used in a variety of forms.

The parallel I drew to smartphones is not totally fair; the pen doesn’t do as much as a smartphone does. Though there are “apps” for it, there aren’t many, and they aren’t that impressive. However, the pen accomplishes its core function very well: it helps you take more effective notes, and makes reviewing those notes much easier.

Obviously, there are issues with recording people. Courtesy—and laws, depending on the situation—dictate that you should at least notify someone that he or she is being recorded, and it may be necessary to obtain their written permission.

It’s important never to see a new learning technology as a panacea, but these smartpens can be leveraged as a powerful learning tool, and I am personally very excited to see where they go.