Category Archives: Mobile Technologies

What is a Smartpen?

At St. John Fisher College, Office of Academic Affairs supports students with disabilities by loaning Livescribe Smartpens. The smartpens enable users to capture, search, and share handwritten notes. The smartpens synchronize handwritten notes with recorded audio. Currently we have three models available for loan; Echo, Sky Wifi, and Livescribe 3 smartpens.

How do smartpens help students with learning disabilities?

  • Note-taking help, homework help and before a big exam
  • Tap your notes and the smartpen will play back the professors explanation word for word
  • Organize your notes; play back controls allow you to slow down or speed up the audio recording, even bookmark key information
  • Capture everything you hear and write – be confident never miss a word
  • Capture words, scribbles and diagrams & syncs everything to what is said

Not all professors allow students to use tablets or mobile devices during class, students take notes via pen and paper.  It is still the most popular method of note-taking. Shocking but true. Reading your notes and/or listening to your recordings within a web based application such as Evernote allows users flexibility and control when reviewing what was captured, making the Livescribe pen a useful tool for today’s digital lifestyle.

The smartpens have an embedded infrared camera that detects pen strokes on special Livescribe paper. Below are my reflections on the 3 models and best use practices. More detailed information can be found at livescribe.com.

The newest smartpen is the Livescribe 3, this pen uses bluetooth technology; notes appear on your tablet or smartphone instantly when paired with the Livescribe+ mobile app.  Your notes are organized, tagged, searchable and can be converted to text.  Turns your words into action!

smartpen3Livescribe 3 smartpen

To transfer your handwritten notes to Livescribe+, connect your Livescribe 3 smartpen to an iOS device that is Bluetooth ready.

  • iPhone 4S or newer
  • iPad 3rd generation or newer
  • iPod touch 5th generation or newer

Notes:  Need iOS device and Livescribe+ app (free), additionally if your iOS device is NOT bluetooth ready, you can still use the Livescribe+ app to open and review pencasts that are send/shared with you by other Livescribe+ users.

Ease of use/setup:

  1. Download the free Livescribe+ app – via App store designed for both iPhone and iPad
  2. First time, pair device.
    • iOS device- ensure Bluetooth is on
    • Turn on your smartpen, by twisting the middle ring clockwise
    • Open Livescribe+ app – device automatically detects your smartpen
    • Tap/touch Pair when prompted, after it connects the LED on smartpen turns blue and  smartpen icon appears top right corner of Livescribe+ app.

smartpen3onFeatures of Livescribe+ app:

  1. The app can be installed on multiple devices- up to four.
  2. Real-time transfer of notes to supported devices.
  3. Enable sign-in and send notes to an existing Evernote account, as well as OneNote.
  4. Send each page or snippet as an image file, or PDF.
  5. Notes can be sent directly to your OneNote Notebook and/or Evernote app.
  6. Notes taken while audio is recording appear in green on your pages and you can play the recording while in Pencasts view.
  7. Rename, delete, and share pages of your Notebooks.
  8. Add content to handwritten notes, add photos, text, and audio as well as converting handwriting to text. Swipe from left to right- reveal the converted text.

My observations:  At first review of this product I was extremely excited not having to be dependent on Wifi and the ability to sync my notes to OneNote.  The students ( I worked with) who wanted to try the newest smartpen used their cell phone- none had an iPad.  I use this pen for meetings, conferences, and other business situations during my work day.  If you are asked to be a note taker – the smartpen can be a life saver!

The Sky WiFi smartpen records everything you write and hear using WiFi technology.  This smartpen can also connect to the internet through your computer and the Livescribe Helper application. This is an alternative for updating and synchronizing your recorded notes and audio with Evernote. Your words, your ideas, any time, anywhere!

skypenSky Wifi Smartpen

It takes 4 simple steps to get started:

  1. Create a Livescribe account- it is free  www.livescribe.com/setup
  2. Link and/or create an Evernote account – its free and need to authorize (link Evernote and Livescribe accounts)
    Both of the steps above need to be done before you can begin to use your Sky Wifi pen.
  3. Activate your smartpen- enter the characters displayed on the screen of the smartpen and connect to WiFi.
  4. Download and Launch Livescribe Helpter – I use the helper app to update the firmware on the smartpen.  If you don’t have access to WiFi this app is a convenient way to backup/synchronize your notes and audio.

helperRecording audio using the embedded microphone for smaller recording environments such as classroom or conference room.  For larger lecture hall, use the Livescribe 3-D Recording Headset, which contains a microphone in each earbud.  I recommended that students sit close to the front of the classroom to ensure that the audio is captured clearly.

The Echo smartpen uses USB technology to transfer notes from smartpen along with Livescribe Desktop software.  Notes can be shared to Evernote and exported in PDF format.  Capture it, Replay it, and Send it!!

echoEcho Smartpen

Get started by:

  1. Download Livescribe Desktop software – available for Windows or Mac OS.
  2. Connect the Echo using the USB cable to your computer. Connecting the smartpen will transfer your notes and audio to Livescribe Desktop automatically.   Don’t disconnect until transfer is complete.
  3. Register and rename smartpen.

My Observations:  I found this pen more time consuming when loaning out to students, depending on the age of their computer, installing the software can take time.  The Echo smartpen ties the student to their desktop/laptop to transfer/sync notes & audio files.  I have students who prefer this model, but struggle when their computer isn’t working or when they purchase new a computer and transferring notebooks/files.

What do all the smartpens have in common?

  1. Sync and transfer notes from smartpen
  2. Use the Livescribe Dot paper
  3. Search handwritten notes
  4. Replay audio from devices
  5. Direct sharing to Evernote
  6. Send/Share via email
  7. Export audio files
  8. A great tool for everyone- no student should go to college without one!  (my opinion)

Livescribe has a great Comparison Chart for you to reference/view all 3 smartpen features side by side. – See more at: http://techtips-rs.blogspot.com/#sthash.P2rrHoX3.dpuf

Resources:

Livescribe Smartpens. (2014, October 17). Retrieved from Livescribe, Inc.: http://www.livescribe.com/en-us/smartpen/

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Video Papers

Background

As a third-year faculty member, I’ve begun to cross over the bridge between teaching mostly new preps every semester to repeating some of my favorite classes. I’ve reached a point where I can focus on improving the experiences within the courses I teach, as opposed to being primarily concerned with having a lecture and activity ready for each day. One of the classes that I’ve been lucky to teach more than once and have begun to refine is SPST 270, Culture Through (Sport) Film. Per the course description, “This course uses sport films to examine relationships of power in society and the way those relationships are contested and reinforced.” This course provides a great medium for examining race, class, gender, and socioeconomic status through sport documentaries. For example, in past semesters we watched “Kicking It”, a documentary about the Homeless World Cup and discussed the use sport to stimulate social change. We analyzed power, support structures, and resources after we watched “Chiefs”, a documentary about high school basketball players on the Wind River Indian reservation in Wyoming.

I love teaching SPST 270 and have found that students really enjoy the experience. Many sign up for the course because there’s an assumption that the course is easy and that we’ll watch popular movies like Varsity Blues, so of course it’s going to be fun as well. After the initial shock of realizing that we primarily watch documentaries, and that many are in foreign languages with subtitles, the students typically respond in two ways: 1) a few students check out and refuse to become engaged, and 2) most students rise to the challenge and get excited to learn about sport and culture, beyond what they’ve seen on Sports Center.

For each class period, students are expected to come prepared having read journal articles related to the film’s dominant themes. The class period begins with a pre-lesson, and then we watch the movie and finish with a group discussion. In my first two semesters teaching the course, I utilized traditional papers as the primary means of assessment. Each week students were required to analyze the culture specifically portrayed in the movie and the themes from the reading and pre-lesson. The benefit of using the traditional paper assignment was that the format remained consistent throughout the semester. Students felt confident in the format of the papers, which aided them in focusing on developing their cultural commentary, as opposed to stressing out about the structure of the assignment. The detriment of such an assignment in this course is that it got very repetitious and by the fourth paper of the semester the analyses becomes somewhat rote. Over time I noticed that the quality of the commentary dropped off and students wrote generalized statements about culture instead of focused analyses on the particular social world we viewed in the film. In addition, in a class of 30-32, grading that many papers each week became quite tedious.

Adaptation

So what did I do? I started brainstorming (and Googling – why reinvent the wheel?) ideas to shake up the class. I wanted to get the students more actively participating in the cultural analyses and find a way to develop skills in addition to writing, like oral presentation skills and the digital literacies required to create and deliver a presentation using a technological solution. I recognized that the students would benefit from the practice of making an oral argument in a traditional class presentation activity. The problem with in-class presentations was that I had 30ish students each semester. To go through that many presentations would have eaten up a substantial amount of class time, and the chances of keeping the whole class engaged during that time was slim to none. So, I opted to assign video papers instead.

What is a video paper?

The idea behind my video paper assignment was that the assignment remained the same, the mode of delivery changed. It was a bit of a combination between writing a paper and presenting orally. Students were required to answer seven questions that were designed to build upon one another. This design allowed for a smooth transition between topics and created the sense of a naturally flowing conversation. The only thing I changed in adapting the assignment was to include technology requirements and clearly spell out the professionalism expectations for a video presentation, as you typically would do with an oral presentation assignment. I was particularly interested in getting students who would not dialogue in front of the rest of the class to be able to speak intelligently on the topic in a confident manner. Ultimately, I wanted them to be able to verbalize their analysis while speaking in a “normal” voice, speech pattern, and tone. I wanted students to recognize that they could give a formal presentation, but still be themselves, not a stuffy “official” version of them.

(Key Lesson Learned: One component that I added to the assignment after trying this the first semester was the requirement that students cannot read from a script. Some students resisted the change in modality, wrote the regular paper, and then read it in front of the camera. I added a clause in the assignment that stated that any student who appeared to read a script/paper was automatically assigned a zero. It seems harsh, but it prevented students from reading a paper verbatim and ignoring the intent of the assignment. I’ve never actually had to assign the zero once this rule was implemented.)

Technology

I worked with Katie (McDonald) Sabourin to prepare the assignment and make sure I had all the technical support the students would need. Katie sent me a list of technical requirements that I was easily able to copy and paste into the assignment. Students used SJFC computer lab computers, personal computers, tablets, and cell phones to record their videos. Some devices produced a better picture and provide for better audio than others (i.e., computer over cell phone), but the assignment was not about production value, so that did not impact my assessment of the students. Katie worked with me to set up server space using Ensemble for the videos and a link on Blackboard for submission. For a detailed look at the assignment and the technology details, you may access the assignment by clicking here: Final Movie Review.

My results

The following is a summary list of the results I experienced over two semesters of assigning video papers as final assignments:

Introverted Students Embraced It

Students who didn’t participate much in class embraced the format and went at the assignment with gusto. Students who barely spoke in class were quite articulate and thoughtful in their commentary. It reminded me that there is a difference between students who check out/ zone out and students who aren’t comfortable with sharing in front of a large class. This is particularly relevant to this course because with a P5 Core designation there is typically substantial variance in the majors represented. The students don’t necessarily have the level of comfort with their peers as they do in a major course. Unfortunately, this difference in assignment did not seem to make a difference with the students who were truly checking out/ zoning out.

Do Overs Made a Difference

Overwhelmingly, students expressed an appreciation for being able to pause their recording, regroup, and then proceed. They were happy to be able to record one answer, review it, and then rerecord if they didn’t like it.

Students Had Fun

My impression was that students who wanted to have fun with their assignment were more likely to do so when they risked being “geeky/nerdy/dorky” in front of their professor only and not their peers. For example, one student who was generally reserved in class recorded his video paper in eight or nine different segments. He changed his tie every single segment. He never drew attention to it in the video, but commented to me later that he was hoping I’d notice and find it funny.

You can also see an example of a video paper that was turned in the second semester I assigned the video papers here.


This student put a little polish on her video by adding some graphics and music at the end. Students knew that this was not an expectation, nor would it directly relate to their grade, but some still put the extra effort into they assignment.

Technology Can Still Be an Issue

The biggest technical obstacle to the video papers was the uploading part of the submission process. Generally speaking 95% of the students had no problem. However, students off campus tended to have more difficulty in getting the videos to fully upload. My suspicion was that this problem was related to network speeds. Students had a much easier time uploading videos on the campus network. So, for commuters my recommendation was that the students uploaded their video while on campus and not from home.

Personal Messages

At the end of approximately 25% of the videos submitted, the students gave me personal messages. Some were reflections on how much they enjoyed the assignment. Some were commentary on the course and me as their professor. While there is no guarantee of receiving such a message, it is quite touching to get a personalized “thanks for the semester” message. Each time it’s given me the warm, fuzzy feeling that we often need during finals week.

Grading

The video assignments did not lend themselves to giving detailed feedback. Unlike with a traditional paper, it is impossible to circle words, sentences, or phrases and write a comment about them in detail. However, they worked perfectly for giving overarching feedback on analyses and delivery. This is part of the reason why I felt the video paper was particularly appropriate as an end of the semester assignment. Although the videos felt more fun to grade because they got me out of my habits as well, they were not any faster to grade. Students recorded videos that varied in length from around five minutes to around 20 minutes. Instituting a cap on time may be beneficial for some assignments.

In terms of student performance, what seemed to change the most was the depth of the cultural analyses. I believe the assignment modality itself led to this, but I’m not exactly sure why. The content of the assignment was almost exactly the same as previous traditional papers assigned in the course, but with a different film. This was the eighth time in the semester that students answered this set of questions. There’s always a chance that the film was more accessible and they had a great degree of practice in answering the questions, so that resulted in a deeper cultural analyses. However, anecdotally the assignments seemed better than even the traditional papers turned in the week before that corresponded with a very engaging film.

The Biggest Take-Away

Ultimately, the biggest take-away for me was that the students were engaged and produced quality work, and the introduction of a video paper brought variety into the course. I didn’t need to know that it was more effective than a traditional assignment. Rather, I was pleased that it was different and effective.

If you would like to learn more about my experiences with assigning video papers, don’t hesitate to email me at kburakowski@sjfc.edu.

Geeking Out In the Cloud with Evernote

Last week my parents brought a dusty box to my home. “What’s in here,” I asked, as I looked around my den, already cluttered with magazines and random papers. “It was in the attic.” Ugh. I don’t have anywhere to put this, and if I haven’t needed it for 18 years, why would I need it now? I opened the top of the box and discovered notebooks and binders and papers from my undergraduate studies. That got me thinking about how over many years, moves, and changes in technology – it has been awhile since I’ve worked from a 3.5″ floppy disk – I lost some good work, including graduate research and writing still relevant to my professional work today. I wish I knew where it was and could access it with ease. I also wish that the students with whom I work had a simple way to archive and access their college work. And that got me thinking about Evernote.

What is Evernote? This 50-second video explains the cloud-based storage service for information and ideas.

Evernote’s best features include ease of depositing information and easily retrieving it anytime, anywhere.

A few quick examples of things that you can do with Evernote (occasionally referred to as “EN” from this point forward):

Academic – Professionals
  • assemble content (PDFs, Word and Excel docs, etc.) for use in lessons, write and store lessons and syllabi
  • quick access and easy retrieval of ideas: thoughts typed out, pictures taken with a mobile device, articles (full or snippets) seen on the web, musings recorded on smart phone – a great help in the car, EN can even transcribe your long voice note into text
  • record audio from a student presentation with a smart phone, reference it for grading and send back to students for their review
  • collect e-mails, papers, and other items to reference for annual performance review

Academic – Students
  • store scans or photos of returned papers, tests and quizzes for future reference, creating a simple to use, easily accessed e-portfolio
  • using a mobile device, take pictures of the white board at the end of class and pay more attention to the lecture (with instructor permission?)
  • type outlines for class notes and readings – review anywhere
  • rehearse for a presentation by creating an audio note on a smart phone
  • collect research materials for papers – Evernote automatically records the URL of all saved content

Personal
  • keep pictures of a driver’s license, ID card, library card, medical insurance cards, important receipts, contents of a suitcase, closet, or other valuables in a residence hall or home
  • storage for all instruction manuals (PDF, scanned, web) and warranties
  • recipes clipped from the web, scanned from a recipe box or as pictures taken from a magazine with a mobile device
  • lists containing long term goals and checklists of things to do and items to pack for different kinds of trips
  • pictures of price tags for items when you’re comparison shopping – should I buy razors at Target, BJ’s or on Amazon?
  • record audio notes and capture artwork from young children, automatically stored in the cloud and easily shared

Getting information into Evernote is easily accomplished with desktop, web and mobile applications. You even get your own Evernote e-mail address: anything sent there goes right into your EN account. Notes can be placed into a specific notebook, much like a folder on a PC, and individual notes can also be assigned tags. For example, I have dozens of notes in a “Tricks” folder where I keep different activities for warming up a group, goal setting, decision making, self-disclosure, etc. Some of the activities are specific to only one purpose, and are tagged as such. But I can use my “Face to Face” activity as a general group warm up or to focus specifically on disclosure, so that note gets both tags.

EvernoteScreenShot1

As you can see, this note was once an index card, one of many, but the EN version also contains my notes on uses for the activity. Now that I’ve scanned my “bag of tricks” index cards I can easily search for a group activity or study strategy at home, in my office on campus, or in the classroom.

Organizing notes can be as simple as throwing everything into one notebook, or more complex by utilizing multiple notebooks nested into different stacks. No matter how you work it, EN’s search functionality makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. It even recognizes pictures of handwriting and typewritten words, so if you’ve taken a picture of a poem that you scrawled out on a napkin a couple of months ago, just search for a word from that poem and the note with the photo should show up. Here’s the main page of the EN for Android app looks like. To take a picture of that napkin and automatically send it to EN, I just press “Snapshot.” 

EvernoteAndroid1
If the note wasn’t legible, search all notes with pictures by date – it’s in there!

Notes can be shared by e-mail and to various social media hubs. My Freshman Seminar Peer Advisor and I would meet to discuss upcoming classes, and I’d take notes during those meetings in EN. From those notes, I’d write a lesson plan, complete with all attachments and links to other relevant notes that I had already created. Then I’d e-mail my Peer Advisor the link to that note, which brought her to a neatly formatted page, locked from editing. I wrote this blog post in Evernote – here’s the shared link: http://www.evernote.com/shard/s55/sh/393ed150-445c-4982-8285-952e1c27f46c/69f4b8a06381209c5551fbd144d74ade. If I want to break the link, I can tell EN to stop sharing.

You can even share an entire notebook, giving individuals various levels of access: view, modify, and invite others.

Notes can also be linked together. Students who take pictures or scan their returned papers and tests into Evernote could link them together to create a coursework master note, allowing them to easily reference those materials as they prepare for a final. If students were encouraged to use Evernote to do this with all of their work, they’d be developing their personal e-portfolios.

Evernote has a number of companion products. I recommend Web Clipper, a browser plugin that simplifies importing web content, and Clearly (Chrome and Firefox), which creates a distraction free web page reading experience. They’ve also developed partnerships with existing companies and software that you might already use. Check out what they’ve done with the iPad in Evernote PeekLivescribe and Moleskine. The company has done a nice job cultivating communities (education, organization, parenting, etc.) with Evernote Ambassadors. Foodies will like Evernote Food, a separate but similar application that is especially robust on the iPhone and iPad.

Concerns about privacy are addressed in a reasonably written privacy policy. Your information is password protected and your password is protected by encryption. That said, Evernote is among the most recent victims in a history of hack attempts on major web service providers. They responded quickly by notifying all users by e-mail and forcing password resets. They are aggressively pursuing two-factor authentication for their users, a security option that Google, Dropbox, and others offer. Evernote also allows you to selectively encrypt text in individual notes, but there’s no way to retrieve that text if you lose your special encrypted password. If you ever want to pack up your data and go elsewhere, you can export your notes.

Want to try Evernote for yourself? Get started with a free account for basic use. Overall storage is unlimited, but the amount of synchronized data that you can add in any given month is capped at 60MB/month with a 25MB limit per note. There’s no limit to local storage. You can go premium for $5/month or $45/year and enjoy 1GB of uploads each month, single notes up to 100MB, and a number of other features. I started as a basic customer, but after a year I decided to upgrade when I scanned my wife’s grandmother’s recipe box into EN and then shared that folder with her. She still uses the box, but when she can’t find what she’s looking for I swoop down to the rescue.

So what of that box from the attic? For now I’ll just wedge it into a corner in my attic. Maybe someday I’ll get a scanner with auto duplex and stuff those papers into Evernote.

What uses have you found for Evernote?