Noteworthy

Transcribing handwriting to the computer just got easier.


EPOS's Digital Pen and USB FLash Drive captures pen strokes via wireless digital positioning.

No student likes transcribing notes from paper to a computer — it's a tedious exercise, to say the least. Yet most schools don't have laptops or tablet PCs at each desk for students to type notes during lecture time. But what if handwriting could be captured and sent electronically to a computer by using a standard ink pen and regular paper?

Israeli company EPOS has released a digital pen paired with a USB Flash drive that does just that. Unlike a touch screen whiteboard or a tablet PC, the digital pen, which is equipped with a small battery and an acoustic transmitter, allows students to use regular paper to take notes. A small USB flash device that also features an acoustic transmitter is placed near the paper; the pen and the USB Flash device constantly communicate via wireless protocols such as 802.11, BlueTooth, and infrared, thus capturing the pen's movements. Those movements — words or sketches — are then stored in the USB drive.

When the student finishes taking notes or drawing, he or she separates the Flash drive from the transmitter, connects it to a desktop's or laptop's USB port, and then uses handwriting recognition software to identify and transfer the information.

The pen could help students edit and share class notes and speed up the brainstorming process during writing; for schools looking to overcome limited resources, this technology could keep students productive while they wait for computer access.

"Imagine a class of students working on their writing, then quickly putting their writing in electronic format — which is typical for schools with low access [to computers]," says Miguel Guhlin, director of instructional technology services for the San Antonio Independent School District in Texas. "[It] seems to be a fantastic tool to facilitate student writing."

Being able to capture handwritten notes via technology is nothing new; whiteboards made by companies such as SMART Technologies have long been able to capture notes written on their touch screens and save them to a computer. Tablet PCs with styluses have also used handwriting recognition software for electronic note taking.

In the same family of digital pens is LeapFrog's FLY (for a review, go to www.techlearning.com/FLY), though that product requires special paper and doesn't transmit notes to a computer (the FLY is essentially a computer in itself).

What separates this product from other technologies, says EPOS CEO Oded Turbahn, is the cost and flexibility. The pen and a 512 MB Flash drive costs about $75 (larger drives are available; 50 pages of notes takes up about 2 MB). The pen's batteries are designed to last for 75 hours of continuous use, Turbahn says, and the device goes into Sleep mode after 30 seconds of inactivity.

"One of the key points is that because it's [wirelessly secure], many students can sit next to each other, and their information will only go into their USB flash drive," Turbahn says. "It's unique and coded."

Mark Smith is managing editor for Technology & Learning.

Tags