New software turns paper into an inexpensive digital tablet

Livescribe's Echo smartpen aims to help students take complete and accurate notes.
Livescribe's Echo smart pen aims to help students take complete and accurate notes.

Over the last year, Livescribe has promoted its digital “smart” pen as an educational tool not just for capturing and recording class notes, but also sharing these notes online in a technique known as “pencasting.” Now, the latest version of the company’s smart pen, called the Echo, adds more digital storage capability, and new software enables the pen to stream all notes taken live, in real time, to a computer—turning special dotted paper into an inexpensive digital tablet.

In a recent demonstration for an eSchool News reporter, company founder and CEO Jim Marggraff showed how the technology could be useful for instruction. As a user jots down notes on the special paper, these notes are recorded in the pen’s memory and also streamed live to a computer, where they can be displayed for an entire class to see in real time. (For now, the pen must be connected to the computer via a USB cable.)

“Livescribe’s mission is to enhance the capture, access, and sharing of written and spoken information to improve communication, collaboration, productivity, and learning,” Marggraff said in a statement.

A number of companies have created digital “smart” pens in recent years: tools that can digitize handwriting and even convert writing into word-processing text. Developers say students who use the pens to capture and upload their notes to computers for review 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 to a receiver that is attached to the student’s paper. The receiver has enough memory to store the notes on 50 standard-size sheets of paper. Unlike Livescribe’s solution, the receiver can be attached to any standard notebook the user writes on, Renty said—meaning it doesn’t require special paper.

But Livescribe’s Pulse smart pen was the first to capture audio as well as handwritten text.

By recording the audio from a lesson while a student is writing, Livescribe’s pen lets the student focus more on the lecture itself, as opposed to making sure he or she is writing everything down. Simply by tapping the paper with the pen, students can hear what the instructor was saying at that very moment in their notes.

The ability to record sound as well as writing has led to the creation of what Livescribe calls “pencasts,” or recordings of class lectures or demonstrations that can be uploaded to a school web site in Flash format, making them available for any student to access.

Watch a sample pencast here:

Livescribe’s Pulse has 2 gigabytes of memory and costs $129.99. The new Echo is available in an introductory bundle to educators for $199.95, which includes  Echo 8GB smartpen – recording about 800 hours, small starter notebook, micro USB cable, Livescribe Desktop software, and 2 ink cartridges. The $199.95 price is for up to 9 “intro education bundles,” with the price dropping to $179.96 when 10 to 99 pens are purchased, to $175.96 when 100 to 499 pens are purchased, and $169.96 when 500 or more pens are purchased.

The 8GB Echo smart pen features storage for up to 800 hours of audio or a combination of audio, digital ink, and applications. Applications range from reference tools such as a complete 70,000-word American Heritage Desk Dictionary to simple games and study aides, available from Livescribe’s Beta Application Store, which now includes more than 60 applications.

With its introduction of the Echo, Livescribe has added several new features as well.

eSchool News Staff

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