This module models the UDL Principles of Representation and Action and Expression.

Livescribe Pen

Capturing Information to Increase Representation, Expression, and Engagement


The Livescribe™ smartpen is a technology tool used to provide linked auditory and visual information in a linear or nonlinear format. At this time, the Livescribe™ pen is the only smartpen that synchronizes written notes with recorded audio. Livescribe™ smartpens were developed to be used by note takers, such as students, who wish to audio record lectures which correspond to their handwritten class notes. Professors Leonard Trujillo and Timm Hackett use this technology for instructional purposes in their postsecondary classes.

Mr. Timm Hackett, an East Carolina University English instructor, initially chose to use this technology because he felt it was the most easily accessed high-tech tool he could use that would allow him to move beyond podcasts and offer him the ability to provide linked auditory and visual information in files called pencasts to students, especially his distance-education students. One distance-education student remarked that Hackett’s voice was the first instructor’s voice that he had heard in his two years as an online student. Some students prefer visual representation of information, while others prefer auditory information. Hackett says that with the Livescribe™ smartpen, “Students could listen to the audio, but they could have written notes—like I was writing on a chalkboard in a face-to-face class. Universally, it’s been the most well-received technology that I’ve implemented in a course—better than my website, better than a podcast, better than the mobile website I have.” While Mr. Hackett began using the Livescribe™ smartpen for convenience, he has continued to incorporate it even more extensively in his classes because his students request it.


Dr. Leonard Trujillo, an ECU professor of Occupational Therapy, uses the Livescribe™ smartpen because of its simplicity of use and the fact that it isn’t obviously different from other pens Thus, it can be used discreetly. Students can use the Livescribe™ smartpen for taking notes in class, capturing the audio of the instructor’s comments and linking it to their notes as described in the Instructional Practice section of the module. A student can later review the class, listening to any subsection of the lecture or discussion. In his role as an instructor, Dr. Trujillo views the Livescribe™ smartpen as a normal part of his briefcase package—laptop, pen, and paper. He can create pencasts and distribute them with ease for student learning, while keeping them private for his students. As the chairman of his department, he is a busy person who also appreciates the support the Livescribe™ smartpen offers. He can quickly jot a note and audio record an idea he wants to remember for later consideration. This simplicity of use is important.

This module provides details on the many ways Livescribe™ smartpens can be used. Their use reflects the principles of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and its support for using new technology to meet the needs of diverse learners.



This modules will:

  1. Provide resources for getting started with Livescribe Pen
  2. Show examples of student and faculty produced content, and
  3. Hear from students about their experiences using the Livescribe Pen

UDL Alignment

Each College STAR module will explain how a particular instructional practice described within the module aligns with one or more of the principles of UDL. For this module, the focus will be on Provide Multiple Means of Representation, Principle I; Provide Multiple Means of Action or Expression, Principle II; and Provide Multiple Means of Engagement, Principle III.

Principle I, Provide Multiple Means of Representation

Using Livescribe™ smartpens aligns in several ways with the UDL principle of Provide Multiple Means of Representation. This tool provides multiple options for students to access information. When used for taking notes by students or for creating pencasts by faculty, this tool provides paired visual and auditory information, which can then be accessed in linear or nonlinear ways. Rather than having to hear the whole recording, a student may select where to begin listening by tapping the associated text or symbol with the pen. Subcomponents of the lecture can be heard multiple times as needed. Information recorded using a Livescribe™ smartpen can be accessed as a file via the device’s Livescribe™ Desktop function from any computer. Students and instructors are not limited to the keyboard symbols when writing or drawing with the Livescribe™ smartpen, increasing the ease of representing information graphically or with unique symbols. Faculty members may emphasize the “big ideas” through an outline or the headings they use within a pencast as well as through their spoken comments. When used to create a Livescribe™ embedded PDF, an instructor can link handwritten comments and spoken comments about a student’s assignment directly onto the student’s digital document. This provides clarity to the student regarding which specific components of the assignment the student needs to review.

Principle II, Provide Multiple Means of Action or Expression

Using a Livescribe™ smartpen can also address the UDL principle of Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression. Students can demonstrate their understanding of concepts by creating a pencast that incorporates written, drawn, and spoken information, allowing the student alternate ways of presenting information. The navigation tools printed on the bottom of Livescribe™ dot paper facilitate retrieval of information, while also allowing the user the option of adjusting the volume and playback speed. Students using the Livescribe™ smartpen to take class notes can record their written notes and the lecture, or they may choose to only record the lecture if writing notes distracts them from concentrating on the lecture. If students or instructors create pencasts or files, they can be saved and organized for retrieval through the keyword search feature of Livescribe™ Desktop.

Principle III, Provide Multiple Means of Engagement

Recording with a Livescribe™ smartpen aligns with the principle of Provide Multiple Means of Engagement. Students are accustomed to taking notes in classes and using those notes when they study or complete assignments, but sometimes they face difficulties when the lecture is either delivered rapidly or it contains challenging new information. The features of the Livescribe™ smartpen enable students to capture the entire class. Students remain engaged and do not feel anxious when they cannot take notes quickly enough since they can review the lecture and supplement existing notes later. Additionally, the combination of visual and auditory information possible via this technology enables the students, when reviewing a lecture, to select the information format which best fits their learning preference or need. Autonomy is supported by the use of this smartpen because students, especially those with identified learning differences, have the independence of recording their own notes rather than being dependent upon a class note taker.

Instructional Practice

Instructional Practice Introduction

This module covers information about using Livescribe™ smartpens, which is clearly linked to all three principles of Universal Design for Learning–Multiple Means of Representation, Multiple Means of Action and Expression, and Multiple Means of Engagement.

What is a Livescribe™ Smartpen?

The Livescribe™ smartpen was initially developed for people who take copious notes, such as students. This smartpen is a paper-based computing platform. The required elements are the pen and special dot paper shown below in Figure 7. The software applications used with the smartpen and dot paper change the ways that people capture, use, and share information. The dot paper includes the navigation controls that the user taps with the pen to record or to listen to the auditory information that’s paired to the notes.

Shaped like a large, thicker fountain pen, the Livescribe™ smartpen contains a miniature infrared camera near the tip that captures everything written on Livescribe™ dot paper and links it to audio that's recorded via a miniature microphone on the pen. Each page of dot paper has a unique pattern of microdots. Livescribe™ dot paper comes in several formats, including traditional spiral notebooks, such as those often used by students, along with smaller notebooks, lined journals, notepads, and even sticky notes. The navigation icons printed on the dot paper are shown below in Figure 8.

After turning on the pen, the user taps “record” on the bottom of the dot paper to begin recording audio that’s linked to the handwritten notes, and then taps “stop” to end recording. To begin reviewing a lecture, the user turns on the pen and then taps the symbol or notes that were taken at a specific point of the lecture to listen to that part of the lecture. Tapping “pause” stops replay until the user taps “pause” again to restart it. There are also navigation icons that allow the user to control the speed and the volume of replay.

Livescribe™ has created some excellent demonstrations. More features of the smartpen are discussed within this module, but if you are interested in learning more immediately about the features of the Livescribe™ Echo smartpen, consider viewing the video in Figure 9 shown below, “Smartpen Features” [transcript].

There are currently two versions of the Livescribe™ smartpen available—the Livescribe™ Echo smartpen and the newer version, the Livescribe™ Sky smartpen. The information within this module is focused on the Livescribe™ Echo smartpen. The Livescribe™ Sky smartpen has the same capabilities along with a few more.

Student Use

Student Use of the Livescribe™ Smartpen

At the most basic level of usage, the Livescribe™ smartpen can be used by a student to capture auditory lecture information that is linked to the student's class notes, either handwriting and diagrams or drawings. The Livescribe™ headset can be attached to the smartpen and used as a microphone to improve the audio recording in large classrooms. The student can later access the auditory data in a nonlinear way, choosing to review specific parts of a lecture by tapping the pen on the corresponding locations on the page. This method of lecture review might be helpful to the student when completing out-of-class assignments or reviewing for tests. The video shown below in Figure 10, "Record and Playback" [transcript], demonstrates the record and replay features of the pen.

Once a person has captured notes and audio on the Livescribe™ smartpen, the information may be maintained on the pen or downloaded to the Livescribe™ Desktop on a computer. Files downloaded to the Livescribe™ Desktop may be accessed by the user from any computer or shared with others.

It is also possible to print files onto Livescribe™ dot paper and then use the pages to record notes and audio during class. For example, if a professor posts PowerPoint slides online before class, a student could print the slides onto Livescribe™ dot paper and use the pen to make notes and record audio in the usual manner. This would allow the student to write notes related to each slide while recording the professor’s spoken comments. Rather than trying to duplicate any diagrams the professor has incorporated on the slides, the student would be able to listen to the professor and write key points. While this would benefit all students, it might be particularly helpful for students with learning differences.

Faculty Use

Faculty Uses for the Livescribe™ Smartpen

Encouraging Student Use of Livescribe™ Smartpens

One of the simplest ways that instructors can use the Livescribe™ smartpen is by introducing the pen in their classes and encouraging students to consider using one to record class lectures or discussions. Dr. Trujillo recommends that his students use Livescribe™ smartpens in class because the pens allow students to capture the entire lecture while tagging specific segments. Instructors often share vignettes that help to clarify or suggest ways some information might be used. These vignettes might not be in the students’ notes if the students are only recording the main points. Using the Livescribe™ smartpen captures those stories, so when the students replay parts of the class, they can hear the vignette and remember the “aha” moment they had during the lecture, or they can clarify for themselves something they might not have grasped immediately during the lecture or discussion.

Livescribe™ smartpen recordings may also be helpful for the student in a math or science class who may have felt he/she understood the solution to a problem during class, but later experienced difficulties with practice problems or sequence of steps. The student who used the Livescribe™ smartpen to record the class can turn on the smartpen, open the notebook, tap on the problem and the solution copied from the board during class, and replay the instructor’s explanation. If they still are having difficulty, they can share that specific segment of audio with a tutor who can use that to build on and best-help the student understand the material. This nonlinear access to the recording, as demonstrated in the earlier video, Figure 10, means the students can select precisely the part they wish to review and hear it repeated as needed.

There are many reasons students like the convenience and replay features of the Livescribe™ smartpen. An additional reason mentioned by students with learning differences (who may be using the smartpen as an assistive technology) is the discreet appearance of the smartpen. This design makes its use less noticeable. All students in class are taking notes with a pen or pencil and writing on paper. Also, these students are no longer dependent upon having a class note taker, making them more independent.

Faculty Uses of Pencasts

Lectures or Presentations

Mr. Hackett uses pencasts as a way to deliver class instruction in online classes. He feels the Livescribe™ smartpen provides flexibility of time and location for creating his pencasts. Hackett can write an outline for his class presentation in a notebook or pad of Livescribe™ dot paper wherever and whenever he has some time to write a few notes. Later, he can go back to the written notes when he is in a quiet location, turn on the smartpen, click record at the bottom of the page, and talk about the key points of his outline. This does not have to be recorded during a single session—he can turn on the pen, circle the first point, record information he might want to provide about that point, and then click to stop recording. He can go back to the Livescribe™ notebook at a later time, turn on the pen and click record, circle the next point in his outline, and record more of his presentation. Additional notes or drawings can be added to this document while he records. All of this can be done in places convenient for the instructor: in an office, at home, in an airport, in a park, etc.

Once the presentation is finished, Mr. Hackett connects the Livescribe™ smartpen to a computer and downloads the file to the Livescribe™ Desktop. Using Livescribe™ Connect, files can be sent as pencast PDF files to people or locations. However, Hackett prefers another option for sending the file—posting a hyperlink. Having students access the pencast via the hyperlink means they do not have to download anyfiles. They can simply click on a link to view them. Using this technique for sharing the pencast is important for students who may be using campus or work computers with download restrictions. Using the free Adobe Reader version X or higher and Adobe Flash Player, the student may use the computer cursor to click on parts of the PDF document to hear an instructor's audio recording. For example, Mr. Hackett's students have the experience of hearing his comments while viewing his writing as if he were writing on the board during a face-to-face lecture. They may choose to listen to the whole presentation or replay subcomponents repeatedly to clarify concepts.

An example of a pencast created by Mr. Hackett for his English 1200 Composition [transcript] class is shown below in Figure 11. As noted earlier, you need Adobe Reader version X or higher and Adobe Flash Player to view all the elements of the pencast. As you move your cursor over the document, you will see a series of red dots. To start at the beginning of the pencast, click the arrow on the floating tool bar. To pause the pencast, click on the arrow; to restart, click again on the arrow. To hear the audio and written comments at later points in the document, click the cursor on a red dot. Clicking on the red dot is a way to begin playing the pencast from that point.

Click on the image below in figure 11 to review Mr. Hackett's pencast for his English 1200 Composition class.

(Individuals using Apple computers will not have the interactivity but can hear the speaker.)

Mr. Hackett’s Pencast for English 1200
Making Flash Cards

Dr. Trujillo uses pencasts for other purposes. He uses his Livescribe™ smartpen to make pencasts that act like electronic flash cards for his students. These pencasts might include the description or line drawing of an item on which he has drawn a dot that corresponds to audio recorded information. Students can use these to test themselves, attempting to answer the question before tapping the dot to hear the correct response.

Specifically, Trujillo teaches an occupational therapy course that includes the nomenclature of the hand and involves learning about all of its parts. Students need to know this information when customizing splints for a client. Using his Livescribe™ smartpen, he can create a pencast that begins with a drawing of a hand and he can record drawing a crease on the hand along with his spoken description. The student viewing the pencast can see the line being drawn on the hand to emphasize the crease while they hear Dr. Trujillo’s description of it. Another example of the pencast is allowing the student to review the different muscles of the body. Knowing their “origins” and "insertions" along with the "actions" and "nerve supply" are important aspects for the occupational therapists, enabling them to understand the anatomy and kinesiology that then can be applied towards increasing functional independence for the client. Figure 12 shown below shows an example of Trujillo’s pencast electronic flash cards [transcript].

Pencasts for Multiple Content Areas

If you are interested in viewing pencasts designed for use in a variety of settings, you will find examples from across many content areas on the Livescribe™ website and in the Livescribe™ Community. You may view these pencasts by clicking on the document with your cursor. Please take a few minutes to view some examples from your content area using the viewer rating stars to guide you in selecting good examples.

The video clip below, Figure 13, titled, "Livescribe™ Story: Sue Glascoe, Professor" [transcript], captures the ways one math professor uses pencasts to enhance instruction and interaction with students, while also saving instructional time.

You can see from these examples that, in addition to presenting information to students via pencasts, pencasts may also be used to answer students’ questions. Posting a pencast response to a question may, as professor Sue Glascoe noted, reduce the number of times the instructor has to reply to the same question.

Student Pencasts

Pencasts created by students could be helpful for sharing alternate representations of lecture information or as a way for the instructor to gather formative assessment data. A few students may be assigned each class period to use Livescribe™ smartpens to record and save their notes during a lecture presentation in face-to-face classes, upload them to the Livescribe™ Desktop, and send the pencast to the instructor. These student pencasts could be shared electronically with all class members, who can view more than one way of organizing the class information. The instructor could also use this as a way of gathering formative assessment data on the level of accuracy demonstrated by students seeking to grasp concepts or key points.

Mr. Hackett asks students in an online class to record pencasts for the students who will be taking the class the following semester. These student pencasts then become a source of information for students about what to expect in the course and they provide a clear student perspective. This offers another level of communication often missed in online classes.

In a setting where all students have access to Livescribe™ smartpens, an instructor might create an assignment or quiz requiring students to respond with pencasts. Below are some examples of possible student pencast assignments:

  • Student pencasts could serve as a form of class presentation that would be posted by the instructor in an online class. Students might be required to view a set number of each other’s presentations and write a critique or ask questions. If student presentations were viewed outside of a face-to-face class, it wouldn’t decrease the time allotted for instruction.
  • As a type of formative assessment, the assignment might require students to create a pencast demonstrating and describing the solution to a math problem or the schematic for an engineering problem. (This could, of course, be broadened to cover other content areas.) With the pencast’s written and oral description of the process, the instructor can more easily determine where students are making errors.
Creating Pencasts for Students

Instructors can use the Livescribe™ smartpen to create files, or recordings of their presentations or lectures, which provide both the instructors’ handwritten notes or slides, along with the instructors’ voice in an interactive format. Students can be sent these files called pencasts, created as pencast PDF files readable by Adobe Reader version X or higher along with Adobe Flash Player. (Both of these programs are free downloads from

The following video tutorial developed by Livescribe™ titled, “Pencasting Introduction” [transcript], shown below in Figure 14, describes in greater detail the creation of pencasts and their many uses.

Instructions for Creating Pencasts

Using the Livescribe™ smartpen, pencasts can be made with the visual information linked to spoken information in an interactive format. Said simply, the first step in developing a pencast is talk through the information you want to convey, while writing some basic notes of placehoder marks with the smartpen and specialized paper. The next time the smartpen is connected to the computer the file will be uploaded to the Livescribe™ Desktop. The resulting electronic file can be converted to a PDF pencast by dragging it to the Livescribe™ Connector.

Another option would be to use the connectors on the dot paper. Once a session is complete, it can be converted to a pencast by drawing a line back and forth and writing PDF above the line. The next time the smartpen is connected to the computer, the file will have been added to the Livescribe™ Desktop as a PDF file, which can be sent using the available connector options on Livescribe™ Desktop.

Student Comments about Pencasts

  • "I feel like I’m sitting in the classroom with you." (Comment from a student in an online class)
  • "If I don’t understand a concept, I can immediately go back or take my cursor and tap on something and hear it again."
  • "Universally, you will know more and learn more because of these pencasts." (Student comment on a pencast developed for students taking the same online class in a subsequent semester.)

Faculty Feedback via Embedded PDFs

Instructors using Livescribe™ smartpens may also choose to create embedded pencast PDF files, which allow the instructor to provide handwritten and verbal feedback directly on a student's document or to annotate pages from books. This process involves adding a watermark to a pencast so the instructor can record on the document. Hackett says, "…even though I put comments in track changes on the Microsoft Word document and they can see it, without the audio to reinforce it, there is a disconnect. So now, they have the handwritten comment, they have what they typed, and they have my spoken comment explaining (it)." 

Below in Figure 15 is an embedded PDF created by Timm Hackett [transcript] to provide written and spoken feedback on a student’s writing assignment. You can use your cursor to navigate through the document to view and hear his comments to the student after you click on the image.


Please note that in addition to having a Livescribe™ smartpen and dot paper, the instructor will also need to have the Adobe Acrobat Pro software to complete the process of creating an embedded pencast PDF, sometimes called a pencast PDF overlay. The student, or user, will not need to purchase Adobe Acrobat Pro to view the interactive pencast PDF. The user only needs the free version of Adobe Reader version X or higher and Adobe Flash Player.

An introductory video from Livescribe™, Figure 16, titled, “Print on Paper and Watermarking,” [transcript] suggests some possible uses for embedded pencast PDF documents, in addition to providing feedback on student documents, an option Mr. Hackett uses. It also describes the creation process. This creation process does involve several steps which will be reviewed below.

To ensure that you understand the steps involved in the process of creating an embedded pencast PDF, consider reviewing Figure 17 shown below, the Livescribe™ video clip titled, “Pencast PDF Watermark” [transcript]. This brief video clip clearly states the steps in the sequence.

The attached PDF document contains a list of the steps in the process for creating an embedded pencast PDF watermark in order to provide written and spoken feedback on a student's document.

Mr. Hackett created an embedded PDF or pencast PDF with a watermark to describe and demonstrate the process. He began by referencing a typed document showing the 10 steps for embedding a Livescribe™ pencast. Viewing this document provides a more detailed overview of the process, highlighting the steps involved. The following pencast PDF with watermark, Figure 18, will enable you to experience the interactive nature of an embedded PDF as you use your cursor to navigate around the document to hear his comments or listen to the whole presentation (15.00 min.).

Click on the image below to begin listening to the pencast.

Examples of Some Uses for Embedded Pencast PDF Files
  • Record written and verbal feedback comments directly on a student’s paper, whether typed or handwritten, giving the student access to the electronic document.
  • Insert written and verbal instructions on a worksheet to guide a student through an assignment.
  • Provide a translation quiz, creating a series of items spoken in another language for which the student must write the translation in English.
  • Record the instructions and response options for items on a quiz for a student who needs a verbal presentation of the information.


Student Comments about Embedded Pencast PDF Feedback

  • "Can you please do this more because I’m learning more?"
  • "This is the first time I felt that I had a conference about my writing with a faculty member. I have talked on the phone with a professor while I looked at my document and the professor looked at my document, but we were constantly questioning about which paragraph and which line. With the pencast on top of my writing, I could see exactly the place where you (the professor) were talking and make the connection."
  • "Okay, I like the pen. I've used the pen, but I want to learn how you do what you do with the pen."

Research Uses of Livescribe™ Smartpens

While not a direct instructional use of the Livescribe™ smartpen, it is important to note that the smartpen may be used for collecting data for research purposes. This might include using the smartpen to record notes while capturing the linked audio when conducting individual interviews or focus groups. Another example might be having students describe the steps or reasoning as they write the solution for a problem or draw a diagram. The Literature Base section and the Additional Resources list in the Learn More section of this module contain some examples using the Livescribe™ smartpen for capturing data for research.


Student Voice

What Students are Saying

In addition to hearing what instructors say about using Livescribe™ smartpens, it is also important to hear from students what they perceive to be the impact on their learning of using Livescribe™ smartpens in postsecondary settings. In the spring of 2013, two East Carolina University students shared their experiences of using the Livescribe™ smartpens in Timm Hackett’s English class. The brief videos below, Breanna [transcript] and Carolyn [transcript], offer insights into the advantages of the smartpens and the students’ opinions about application in college settings.




Students and faculty members report the following potential benefits of using Livescribe™ smartpens, but instructors should remember that not all students benefit from audio without transcription. Each instructor will need to make individual decisions about potential uses and benefits in specific postsecondary classes.

Outcomes of Livescribe™ Smartpen Use For Faculty

  • flexibility in recording interactive lecture pencasts over time rather than all at once
  • reduction in multiple responses to the same questions through posted pencasts
  • ability to provide precise written and spoken feedback on a student’s document
  • capture of data in research studies

Outcomes of Livescribe™ Smartpen Use For Students

  • ability to capture all of the information presented in a class
  • less anxiety about writing everything when taking notes
  • opportunity to hear parts or all of a class presentation many times
  • clarity of instructors’ feedback on digital documents
  • independence from note takers


Remember: it is not the technology, the Livescribe™ smartpen, but the pedagogical practices for which the instructor uses the technology that make the difference in learning! 

Learn More

Literature Base

Note Taking

Taking notes in class, despite being a long-held general expectation for students (Crawford, 1925), may be challenging for some (Boyle, 2007; van der Meer, 2012). Hurriedly selecting key points to record, while learning new information, places significant demands on executive functions, such as working memory (Piolat, Olive, & Kellogg, 2005). More is involved than copying down the words of the speaker or instructor. Decisions are continuously made about which information to include, resulting in the possible omittance of crucial examples, explanations, or vignettes (Boch & Piolat, 2005). Still, the process of taking notes, which helps students to remain actively engaged during lectures, and reviewing the lecture notes later, has been shown to improve memory and performance (Bohay, Blakely, Tamplin, & Radvansky, 2011; Kiewra, 1989, Kiewra et al., 1991).

A number of strategies have been suggested to improve student note taking. When low-performing students are given the opportunity to rehear a lecture and annotate their notes it has been shown to improve their notes' accuracy and completeness (Kiewra, 1989). Some specific note-taking strategies have been suggested for students with learning differences (Boyle, 2007; Maydosz & Raver, 2010; Ruhl & Suritsky, 1995; Weishaar & Boyle, 1999). In a series of experiments about typed notes and transcription of lectures, the findings suggest that typing transcriptions of a lecture may be a useful note-taking strategy for individuals with poor working memory, but the authors note the study did not evaluate conceptual understanding, which is often the desired outcome in postsecondary classes (Bui, Myerson, & Hale, 2012). Bohay and colleagues (2011) found no difference in student recall in a comparison of written and typed notes, and they indicated that note taking, in general, appears to facilitate deeper understanding of lecture content.

Using the Livescribe™ smartpen when taking class notes has the potential to address some of the challenges noted above and facilitate note taking by capturing all of the auditory information during a class, which is synchronized to the students’ handwritten notes. Reviewing the saved information after class affords the student the opportunity to annotate written notes while rehearing the lecture without the pressure of time constraints.


Providing effective feedback on students’ work is expected within the academic community as a key component of the instructional process (Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Hattie, 2003; Hattie & Timperley, 2007). In a synthesis of more than 500,000 studies, Hattie (2003) reported the most powerful influence on students’ achievement is feedback (Effect size 1.13). Feedback is often thought of as occurring after instruction and a student action, when the instructor provides commentary, or more than a grade, about a student’s performance to guide the student. According to Hattie and Timperley’s model of feedback, “…the main purpose of feedback is to reduce discrepancies between current understandings and performance and a goal” (p. 86). Yet, students have been critical of the feedback they receive, reporting illegibility, negativity, and more frequently, the perceived ambiguity of the feedback (Price, Handley, Millar, & O’Donovan, 2010).

Instructors know that providing some forms of feedback can be time consuming (Stern & Solomon, 2006) but they also understand its importance and may welcome new options for giving feedback. Faculty members commonly provide written feedback on student assignments. For digital documents, the feedback may be provided via typed notes or “track changes” function. Providing feedback through recorded speech has been done for some time using audiocassettes (Clark, 1981), with Audacity and MP3 files (Ice, Curtis, Phillips, & Wells, 2007; Merry & Orsmond, 2008), and using iPods (Ribchester, France, & Wheeler, 2007). Using the Livescribe™smartpen to provide feedback on students’ papers may enhance its effectiveness by providing feedback in more than one format, both visual and auditory, while simultaneously reducing the time required of the instructor.

The Livescribe™ smartpen enables the instructor to precisely target words or sections needing the most feedback in order to guide the student to begin moving from novice toward becoming more knowledgeable. Some instructors find it more efficient to post vocal comments than to handwrite or type lengthy responses. Additionally, the interactive nature of a Livescribe™ embedded pencast PDF allows the student to review the instructor’s comments as many times as desired in order to reach the goals of the course.

Livescribe™ Use

Livescribe™ smartpens have been used across a wide age range for instructional purposes and for recording research data. This smartpen was originally designed for people who wanted to take notes with linked audio, but the possible uses for the pen have expanded. Some examples are provided in the sections below.

K-12 Education

The Livescribe™ smartpen has been used in a variety of ways in K-12 schools. In a white paper, Van Schaack (2009) shares a review of scientific evidence that supports its use in those settings.

An interesting article about literacy instruction describes third-grade students using the Livescribe™ smartpen to verbalize and elaborate on the stories they were developing (Bogard & McMackin, 2012). Students recorded with the smartpen as they orally rehearsed the stories they were writing, simultaneously sketching related pictures. They could then tap the page with the smartpen to listen to segments of their recordings. For some students, the drawings served as scaffolds for the elaboration of details in the stories, and the audio may have helped reduce the cognitive load associated with transcribing ideas into written text (Bogard & McMackin).

For a high school physics course, Rundquist (2012) incorporated student voice in assessment. All student assessments had to contain an element of student voice. One of the options used was student-created pencasts. Rundquist reports the element of student voice in assessments increased his awareness of what his students understood.

Assistive Technology

The Livescribe™ smartpen, though not designed to be an assistive-technology device, can be repurposed to provide support for students with learning differences. K-12 students with learning differences can record what they are writing and any accompanying audio, such as a class lecture or presentation (Bouck et al., 2012). Students may listen again to the presentation, adding to the notes they have taken. Repurposing of the Livescribe™ smartpen has been done in the development of smartpen-based portable, audio/tactile, print/Braille transit maps for people who are blind or visually impaired (Kehret, Miele, Landau, 2011; Miele & Landau, 2010). Livescribe™ smartpens also have been used successfully in speech therapy with older adults with aphasia, a language disorder often associated with brain damage (Piper, Weibel & Hollan, 2011).

Postsecondary Use

Although to date, we have found no current research about the impact of the Livescribe™ smartpen on student learning, there have been reports of positive student response to the use of pencasts in a pharmaceutical calculations course (Powers, Bright, & Bugaj, 2010) and a macroeconomics course (Murray, 2012). Some research on the use of the Livescribe™ smartpens for sketching in engineering design indicates students like using the pens and having the ability to share sketches with the group members via pencasts (Schmidt, Hernandez & Ruocco, 2012). It is clear that instructors are moving beyond the original note-taking feature of the Livescribe™ smartpen.

Collecting Data

Collecting data with Livescribe™ smartpens provides an effective, discrete way to write notes and record audio during focus groups or interviews. For example, this could include thesis and dissertation projects (Bouck, 2009; Cox-Davenport, 2010). Published articles describing the use of the Livescribe™ smartpen to gather data include interviews about biochemistry students’ understanding of the representation of enzymes (Linenberger & Bretz, 2012) and students’ understanding of external representations of the potassium ion channel protein (Harle & Towns, 2012). Researchers could revisit the data captured via the smartpen when analyzing research findings.

Research Support

In a series of presentations and publications, Oviatt and colleagues (2006, 2010, 2012) stress the importance of designing interfaces that help people think and reduce the cognitive load. A study with high school students solving biology problems compared paper and pencil, a digital pen and dot paper, pen tablets, and graphical tablets. Students were faster and more accurate when using paper-based tools (Oviatt & Cohen, 2010). In a study using the Livescribe™ smartpen that focused on whether the digital pen interface helps students make correct inferences, the findings indicated an improvement in correct inferences equivalent to a letter grade, even for low-performing students, suggesting that the digital pen interface is helpful for learning (Oviatt, Cohen, Miller, Hodge, & Mann, 2012).

Two dissertations present information about using the Livescribe™ smartpen when teaching foreign languages. In a dissertation focused on the effectiveness of the Livescribe™ smartpen comparing computer-based and Livescribe™ smartpen-based paper writing for beginning and intermediate-level Chinese learners' writing, Kang (2011) found the smartpen paper-based writing was superior in terms of writing clarity and organization although computer-based writing resulted in fewer character errors. Additionally, a home-based study focused on revitalizing the Native American Myaamia language using booklets created with the Livescribe™ smartpen. They found that the smartpens allowing individuals to hear the spoken language both improved pronunciation and increased the speed of learning (Obonyo, Troy, Baldwin, & Clarke, 2011).

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About the Author

Timm Hackett

Timm HackettEnglish
East Carolina University



Leonard Trujillo

Leonard TrujilloOccupational Therapy
East Carolina University