smart pens for research

I have three students working with me this summer doing collaborative research (that’s the hot phrase for that here at Hamline U.). I like using these research opportunities to teach students the value of a lab notebook, since I don’t think they really get that from doing week-to-week labs in our early curriculum. What I’ve never liked about lab notebooks is I don’t have easy access to them other than when they come in for meetings with me. I also don’t like how none of us really remember all the details of a calculation or experiment several weeks later, even though I try to get on them to take notes often, especially at the end of every day.

In comes the notion of having them use a smart pen and notebook from Livescribe. I had that brainstorm last Monday and already I’m loving it! For my teaching, I purchased seven pens a couple years ago. All I had to do this summer was get new notebooks for them ($24 for 4 large notebooks). I’ve now checked both a pen and a new notebook out to each student. I’ve encouraged them to use them the same as a normal notebook, but to turn on the audio recording often, if not always.

The value to me so far is to be able to collect back the pens, load the content onto my computer, and listen to their issues/reasoning/questions with notes to go along with them. I was home on Thursday and collected their pens on Friday. After listening in the morning, I felt fully prepared for our group meeting where we made plans for the next steps.

I’m also excited to have a full digital copy of all their work at the end of the summer, to aid in bringing new students into the project in the future.

One downside we’ve discovered already is that it feels like a waste of the somewhat-expensive paper to paste in a printout of something, like I would normally encourage them to do with a regular notebook. We’ve decided to tackle that by having them post digital copies of anything they’d normally paste in onto our google site with cross-references both ways. I imagine that’ll work ok, but I’ll watch to see as the summer goes on.

How do you use research notebooks with your students? What up- and down-sides do you see for this approach that I haven’t thought of?

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
This entry was posted in physics, teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to smart pens for research

  1. bretbenesh says:

    Hi Andy,

    This sounds cool. I think I have already asked you this, but: how did you get the money to buy the pens? Start-up funds? Out-of-pocket? Grant?

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      I just used some departmental funds to get them since we saw how it would aid in teaching/learning.

  2. Pingback: Digital lab notebooks: what works and what doesn't? - ProfHacker - The Chronicle of Higher Education

  3. henkpostma says:

    We have set up a wiki for my students to use as a lab notebook. Works reasonably well.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      This summer we’ve been using the new Livescribe sky pen that auto-syncs to evernote via wifi. That’s been pretty cool.

  4. Joaquín says:

    This comes a bit late… but I was wondering how did this progress over time.
    Did you manage to hone a system to embed images into the digital version of the notebook?
    I’ve just started to use Livescribe 3 for myself (which updates the digital notebook on the go in the smartphone or tablet) and this is the only bit I am finding a bit difficult – it would be great to be able to embed digital images but it does not seem to be possible right now.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      I never solved that problem. Instead I switched my students over to OneNote this past summer using a collaborative notebook. I gave them a wacom tablet to use for handwriting but they just typed everything.

      On Thu, Sep 11, 2014 at 2:44 AM, SuperFly Physics wrote:


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