Livescribe Smartpen

By Caryl Frankenberger, Ed.M.


The Livescribe smartpen captures everything that you write and everything that is spoken. Inside the pen is a camera that takes a picture of your notes as you write them. It also has a built-in microphone that lets you record what is being said. Once the pen is turned on, which requires the click of a button, the pen will begin taking a picture of the notes that you write. The Livescribe smartpen works with Livescribe dot paper which comes in a variety of sizes. You can print your own paper if you have a compatible laser printer. If you choose not to take notes, you can record audio and replay the session.

If you are a slow writer, have difficulty taking notes, or simply want to record the speaker, tap on the “record” icon at the bottom of the page and the pen will record what is said from that moment on. Stop the recording whenever you want by tapping on the “stop” or “pause” icon. If you choose to record and take notes simultaneously, you can spend more time listening to the speaker and then write only the most important information. Later on you can go back and listen to any part of the audio recording by tapping anywhere on your written notes. The audio will begin from that point in your notes. If when listening to the audio recording you discover you have missed important information, you can add it to your notes at that time.

In addition to listening to the audio recording by tapping on your notes, you can transfer notes to your computer through Livescribe Desktop software. Your notes appear just as they were written. If you have used the audio recording you can place your cursor on a word and the audio playback will begin at that point. You can also search for a particular word and listen from there. You can add notes to your notebook at any time and then re-dock your pen to the computer. New notes will appear in a different-colored ink. Individual, customized notebooks can be created–one for science, math or history, for example. You can also share your notes with your friends through e-mail, Evernote, Facebook, and such. If you choose, you can even purchase additional applications, such as a dictionary for the Livescribe smartpen.

What We’ve Observed

In order to learn more about the Livescribe smartpen, the YCDC asked six students, five in high school and one in eighth grade, to use the pen for six weeks. The smaller sample of students allowed us to observe how these products were actually used by the student. Each student was given an Echo 4GB smartpen. They were privately trained for 90 minutes and had access to other training aids, such as the Livescribe getting started guide, Smartpen 101 tutorial, or the Livescribe website. All of the students received permission to use the pen in school. During the six-week project students were contacted once a week and asked to talk about their experience using the Livescribe smartpen.

The oldest participant, a senior in high school, used the pen frequently in Anatomy where he had to take extensive notes. Note taking in other classes was minimal so he used the audio recording device. At home, he listened to the audio playback and then took additional notes. He then docked the pen to the computer and stored his notes in a customized notebook that he created. He found this very useful when studying for mid-term exams and said he would use the Livescribe smartpen in college.

One eighth grader mastered the pen and found it extremely helpful. There is a bookmarking icon on the Livescribe smartpen paper which allows you to mark important information. He used the bookmarking system often, created custom notebooks, and e-mailed notes to his friends. He was a strong advocate; he requested use of the pen in all of his classes and his request was granted.

Another student found that taking notes, docking the pen to the computer, and creating notebooks facilitated her learning the material presented. However, given her auditory-processing difficulties, she did not find listening to classroom discussions helpful. In fact, she found it too challenging and chose not to use this feature of the smartpen.


Quick Points:

1-4 weeks to learn how to use
Most popular use: note-taking in the classroom
Great for college students, or high school students taking honors or AP courses

The Livescribe smartpen is an assistive technology aid that facilitates the note-taking and learning process. Recording classroom discussions and taking fewer notes allows the dyslexic student to spend more time listening and learning. When returning to the material for homework or review, students have an opportunity to listen to important information a second time, add notes that may be of significance, and review what has already been written.

Overall, the sample group really seemed to find the pen helpful and made use of it.  We feel that for students in honors-level or college-level courses the Livescribe pen is a very powerful study aid. However, there are students for whom the Livescribe smartpen may not be a useful tool. Someone with significant auditory-processing difficulties who learns little from spoken language may be challenged by listening to the audio playbacks.  Although one of the icons on the Livescribe dot paper allows you to slow down the rate at which the audio recording is played back, this feature did not assist the above-mentioned student, but perhaps it may help others.

From Our Technology Study Consultant

While the Livescribe smartpen is a newer aid for me, I am thoroughly enjoying the freedom it provides. Suddenly I am more available to listen, knowing that the pen is recording and that I can go back and re-listen to any part of a presentation whenever I need clarification. I jot down what is most important and then I use my notes to guide me to specific passages that I want to review. The more I use the pen the more facile I become, and I like the fact that I can dock my notes to the computer and go back and review them at any time. The pen is a time saver and a gift to anyone who chooses to use it.

Professionals who make recommendations on behalf of the children they evaluate should be familiar with the Livescribe smartpen as should teachers who work with dyslexic children. Both parties may find that after watching students use the Livescribe smartpen, they will want to purchase one themselves.

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