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Schools offer new tool for taking notes

August 30, 2011

Freshmen Madie Luck and Grant Schneider use a smartpen in an American history class.

NEW KNOXVILLE —An area school district and college has acquired new technology to aide students that have difficulty taking notes.
The New Knoxville School District purchased two Echo Smartpens, which record a lecture while the student is taking notes. Principal Linda Tebbe said she saw a demonstration for the smartpen at a workshop.
“I had just gone to a day-long workshop, and you can select different activities and break-put sessions to go to, and there was one on new technology in the classroom so I went to it and it was a lady that was demonstrating this (the smartpen),” Tebbe said.
While listening to the presentation, she remembered a former student who had trouble listening to a lecture and taking notes simultaneously.
“The whole time I was sitting there, I was flashing back to one of my students I had probably 20 years ago, who was a very bright student, but he had trouble with note-taking,” Tebbe said. “As a high school teacher, I would lecture, and he just looked at me and said, ‘Mrs. Tebbe, I can either listen to you or I can take notes, but I can’t do both. Which do you want?’ ”
She noted that she thought other students may have the same problem.
“When they talked about this, that boy’s name flashed in my head, and I thought of him and how many kids may have that same challenge — as soon as they go to take notes, they’re concentrating so hard on the note-taking and the transcribing, that they’re not hearing a word you’re saying,” Tebbe said.
One smartpen was purchased for the elementary school and one for the junior high and high school.
Middle and High School Special Education teacher Kay Webb is allowing a few of her students to use a smartpen.
“I’m giving it (the smartpen) to my students who are having difficulty taking notes,” Webb said, noting the student could have a processing problem or general note-taking problem. “Right now we are trying it in a history class and science class with two of my freshmen students.”
To use the smartpen, the students simply turn it on and hit the record button, located at the bottom of a special notebook. The student can then take notes while the smartpen is recording.
“If they want to start recording from the beginning of the class, they just have to hit the record button,” Webb said. “When the lecture is done, they can hit stop, and then they would be able to use the pen and click on a word and it’ll play back what the teacher was saying at the time that they were writing.”
She noted that the students may listen to the lecture several times.
“They can come back here and listen to lectures as many times as they want to,” Webb said. “They can jump ahead in lectures and go to different spots in the lecture.”
Students can also load the lectures onto a computer. While the students have only used the smartpens a few times, she said they seem to like them.
“We’re just writing down key words right now, so it’s not real detailed,” Webb said of the notes the students are taking. “We’re still in the processing stage of getting this perfected. They seem to like it so far.”
She said the smartpens have not been a distraction in the classroom.
“It hasn’t been a distraction in class, you can turn down the volume and it’s not going to play back unless they actually touch a word, then it’ll play back for them,” Webb said.
Overall, the smartpens hold students more accountable in the classroom.
Money for the smartpens was raised through the Kroger Technology Fund. Since its inception in May, the fund has accumulated more than $2,200. The New Knoxville Local School District receives 4 percent of whatever customers spend at Kroger, when using a gift card provided by the school. Tebbe said the Kroger Technology Fund is meant to supplement what the Technology Committee does.
The smartpens also have made an appearance at Wright State University-Lake Campus.
The smartpen also allows the student to tap anywhere in his or her notes and replay exactly what the professor was saying at that point, John Wolfe, Ph.D., director of Technology, Academic/Instructional Programs, and Services (TAPS) at the university’s Lake Campus said.
Students can even upload their notes to a computer to get a typed copy.
“I have noticed that many students using the device are now better at making critical decisions regarding what is important during the note-taking process,” Wolfe said. “That is to say, students are becoming more and more independent in their own educational process.”
Professors can tailor their classes to students with smartpens by creating “pencasts.” These recorded presentations turn notes and audio into an interactive document that students can replay on their own computers.
“The pen allows students to select exactly the material that you need to hear again,” Wolfe said.
While the pens’ features can enhance any student’s education, Wolfe and his team are particularly interested in what the technology can offer to students with disabilities. The smartpens can be used to help students with a broad range of disabilities, including mental impairments and physical disabilities. 
In many ways, students with learning disabilities have a harder time, Wolfe said. 
They often have to spend more time studying due to how they process and absorb information. It’s also less obvious to others that they need help and what type of help they need. Others may become impatient with them because they can’t see the disability.
Wolfe explained that many students with disabilities do not want to draw attention to their special needs. Smartpens are less noticeable than an interpreter or an aide. They also allow these students to be more self-sufficient.
“The likelihood of them having someone with them at all times on the job after college is pretty slim,” said Wolfe. “We want them to be as successful as possible in the real world. This might help them be more independent in the workplace.”
Of the 72 students with disabilities at Lake Campus, Wolfe was able initially able to provide about half with a Livescribe Echo smartpen and training on its usage. The remaining and future disability students will be able to borrow the devices and individuall learn how to use them while they are enrolled at the Lake Campus.
“This is a tool that is portable, lightweight and discreet,” said Wolfe. “It can help them compete on the same playing field as everyone else.”
Reactions to the project have been positive.
“I instantly fell in love with the technology,” said Shelia Goins, a student assistant in the TAPS office. “I no longer worry that I’m missing what the instructor is saying while I am taking notes.”

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