The pen is mightier with the words

van der Sluis, Hendrik and Loughlin, Colin (2012) The pen is mightier with the words. In: ALT-C 2012: a confrontation with reality; 11-13 Sep 2012, Manchester, U.K..


Effective note-taking and subsequent review, are essential skills for students in Higher Education. Studies have highlighted the diverse range of cognitive abilities required to fully participate in lectures and produce meaningful notes and that although students develop individual note-taking strategies, the resultant product can impact on academic performance and be a significant barrier to learning (e.g. Kiewra, 1985). A possible step towards overcoming the limitations of current technologies that aid note-taking (such as passive lecture recordings) is the use of digital/audio pens. Here, notes are taken in the traditional way, but onto specially printed paper with a digital pen; the digital images are transferred to a PC together with synchronously recorded audio. The notes can then be revised and edited by listening to specific sections of the audio relating to particular notes; alternatively, the file can be manipulated with software to create a more comprehensive set of revision notes. The object of this study is to examine the capacity of digital/audio pens to enhance student note-taking and the possible consequences on their current patterns of learning. Students from a UK HEI agreed to use the digital pen over several weeks; semi-structured interviews were then used to capture their individual contextual experience (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009). The study is structured according to the Engeström (1987) adaptation of Activity Theory. The findings show the pen and software to be useful in a variety of contexts, including; classroom note-taking, revision and student research projects. Most students report that the pens can be an effective augmentation of note-taking skills, supporting some of the expectations of Van Schaack (2009). However, there appear to be some issues surrounding the integration of the pen into existing routines, such as, the organisation of digital and paper copies of the same notes. In some cases software compatibility across systems limited collaboration and the sharing of resources. This presentation will report from the work in progress and will focus on the students’ experiences, exploring how this technology might best fit into existing practices and, its relevance for a wider audience.

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