DigiMemo: $100 Digital Notepad

bySerhat Kurt, Ph.D.

We take notes daily for various reasons. Note taking is very popular in school settings and generally recognized as an effective learning strategy, yet most students probably have never considered just how complex a process it is, requiring understanding, selection of information and writing. DigiMemo is a new tool to facilitate note taking. In this report I'll describe DigiMemo, then explain how I use it in a higher education setting as a faculty member.

DigiMemo is a digital notepad with a pen very similar to an ordinary ink pen. It senses the pen movements while you are writing or drawing on regular paper and saves this information as BMP, JPG, GIF or PNG format or as PDF file. DigiMemo stores this information in its built-in memory (this memory can store up to 999 handwritten pages) or in an optional flash memory for expandable capacity. The files can be transferred to a computer hard drive via USB port, or sent via Bluetooth technology as email through a cell phone. DigiMemo lets users digitally view, edit, organize, email and share their handwritten notes without scanning.

The pen is light and compact; it can easily be held in one hand, and feels very comfortable to use. The notepad fits into a briefcase. Hand written notes are transferred into digital format accurately. DigiMemo’s closest competition is Tablet PC, which does a better job turning notes, especially non-character-based information, into text. However, at about $100, DigiMemo costs a lot less than Tablet PC .

There are two downsides to this tool. The first one is the handwriting recognition software (which is available separately). With this software, characters can be converted into text to be edited in MS Word or Excel as opposed to a scanned image of whatever was written or drawn. However, I find that using this feature is problematic. Converted texts usually have some errors and require work to clean up the mistakes. To avoid the mistakes, you have to write very neatly. Consequently, I rarely use the handwriting recognition software.

Another downside is the DigiMemo is only fully compatible with Windows. In order for Mac and Linux users to use this tool, they need separate third-party software, which is not supported by the manufacturer, CompAmerica. Therefore, if you are a Mac or Linux user, it is likely that you will be able to use this tool only on a limited basis.

Despite the downsides, I use DigiMemo frequently. It makes it much easier to take digital notes while I’m on the move. As part of my job, I regularly go to classrooms in my university to determine their technological needs. While I make my rounds, I take such notes as “the computer in room 102 needs a new mouse” on my DigiMemo. At the end of the day, I email my notes using my DigiMemo to our building manager -- who is responsible for buying, installing and fixing our equipment -- and he takes care of the rest. Not only does this process save time, but it also makes it possible for busy people to work together, each on his own schedule, which would be otherwise very difficult to do.

Most of our classrooms have a projector and computer. In class occasionally I use DigiMemo as a graphics tablet by hooking it up to the computer to project notes on the screen. My students and I add notes on the DigiMemo and these notes are projected on the screen for the whole class to see. I do this during discussions and brainstorming sessions to record and share students’ ideas to facilitate the learning process. Students can easily obtain a digital copy of the material they collaboratively created. This method is also a cost effective alternative to graphics tablets.

I also use DigiMemo when giving feedback on students’ assignments. As I mentioned, with this tool you write on regular paper. When students hand in a paper assignment, I place the student’s paper on DigiMemo and write my feedback on it. Then I give the student’s paper back with my notes on it and I keep the digital version for future reference. This is especially useful for big assignments that students turn in piece by piece during the semester with the final version given at the end. This way, I easily follow students’ progress.

In the course of my work, have found even more uses for DigiMemo: I take notes with it in faculty meetings, conferences and in other similar professional occasions. It’s very convenient when I prepare course materials since I can easily add my hand-drawn notes (especially diagrams, charts etc) into Word, PowerPoint, Excel or Web-based documents I prepare for my classes.

Note taking is part of our daily lives and an essential component of the educational process. In my experience, educators who are looking for affordable solutions can benefit from DigiMemo.

Serhat Kurt, Ph.D is an assistant professor at Ataturk University in Erzurum, Turkey