Over the past month I've been given the opportunity to review a product from Live Scribe called the Pulse SmartPen. I found it to be an intuitive tool with easy functionality and potential for growth.
First off, the device. I was given the 2 GB pen, a 100 page paper notebook (with special pages), a pen case, USB cradle/charger, and ear bud headphones. This setup would currently retail for $199.00 and has the ability to record up to 200 hours of audio (a 1GB model is available for $149.00). This is all you need to get started and installation and setup was simple.
What this device allows you to do seems too simple to get excited about, but the simplicity of the technology is the key to it's adaptability and success. This pen lets you record your writings and audio from the time you were writing, into this pen. You might be thinking, “how is this different from a regular voice recorder?” Well, let me explain. Let's say you are taking lecture notes and recording your teacher while writing with a regular notebook and digital recorder. When you go to review your written notes, you have the hassle of rewinding and fast-forwarding your recording to find the place the teacher was speaking about the information you wrote down. But this is where the Pulse SmartPen is different. Tap the pen on the words that you were writing and it will jump directly to the same time in the audio and play it back for you. That's what makes the SmartPen smart. Sure you can use the same rewind, fast-forward feature with SmartPen, but it also lets you jump to the exact point that you wrote something and plays back the audio. You can even leave bookmarks in your notes to jump back to important points later.
But that's not all the SmartPen is good at. You can record your “sessions” of note taking and download them to your computer. It creates a movie file that plays your audio back and shows, in real-time, your writings being drawn on the screen. You can even post that file on the web as part of livescribe's web page for others to view by just visiting the provided URL. Your viewers can even point the mouse at words and have the audio skip to that point on the movie file, just like you can on the SmartPen notebook.
Like I said, it's the simplicity of the SmartPen that makes it a versatile, powerful tool for learning and teaching. I believe the SmartPen could be used by teachers in many ways to reach their students. For example, a math teacher could use the pen to recorder his/her thought process while solving a multi-step math problem, and post it online for students to review and reference at any time. An English teacher could do the same to show an editing process for composition. An art teacher could use the same technology to explain his/her technique for drawing, just like a music teacher could use it to explain music notation. The possibilities for teachers are vast.
For student use, besides the obvious note taking during a lecture, there are some other possibilities that intrigue me. The SmartPen could be used in student work as a tool for reflecting. Why not have a student talk about their thought process while writing or drawing. What an insight that could give a teacher. Also, listening to a lecture and seeing what the student writes down is a great way to teach the techniques for effective note taking. The possibilities for students with special needs are endless, but it's clear that the SmartPen is a tool that can fundamentally change note taking and how it is taught.
There are other features of the SmartPen not mentioned here, a calculator, a simple piano feature, even a basic language translator, but the best way to understand the power of this tool is to try it yourself. Soon LiveScribe will be offering the ability to print your own paper for free and the ability to run the software natively in a Mac OS X environment. There are many upcoming developments for the SmartPen, most of which will be offered as free upgrades. I would encourage any school to purchase a SmartPen, it is clear the educational benefits may only be limited by your imagination.