Saturday, 18 February 2012

Livescribe Pen as a Feedback Tool

In a recent post over on Google Plus, I asked for advice on any tool that would allow me to record and send feedback to students on their spoken English quickly and easily. I was thinking of using some kind of app on my mobile phone but  Adrian Greig suggested using a Livescribe pen.

Basically, the pen allows you to record both handwritten text and audio at the same time using a built in dictaphone/processor on the pen and special dotted paper. It's difficult to summarize here all the things it can do - and there are many - but it's most basic function is to make handwritten notes when listening in a lecture/meeting and then being able to listen back to precise bits of audio later by pressing on the words you wrote at the time that audio was being recorded. It's all incredibly clever...

The Livescribe pen and special notebook

To be honest, the dictaphone capabilities are nice but not essential for me, which is good because while the dictaphone is reasonably senstive, it cannot help picking up the scratching sound of the pen at the same time. This means that you have to strain a bit to follow speech because of this annoying scratchy sound in the background. It doesn't make the speech inaudible, it's just an irritating presence whenever you listen. 

For me, more important is the fact that I can use the Livescribe to take handwritten notes in class, write a quick command on the paper (e.g. Google Docs, Email) and when I next connect it to the computer, it will automatically send it to whatever service I specified. This is great for being able to send error corrections to a shared Google Docs folder or emailing it to a specific student for review. The file is sent as a PDF, so nice and easy for anyone to open (here is an example of a couple of test pages I did)

I tried it in class last week with one group and it worked well. I could just walk round and make notes as I usually do on students' spoken performance, but then I was able to send those comments to them individually fairly quickly afterwards. Sending pages to individual emails is a bit of a faff, you have to scroll through a list of predetermined names/emails on the small pen screen and then select. This was ok with one small class, but it would become unwieldy with lots of classes/student email addresses to scroll through. Thinking about it now, the best way is to probably transfer the notes to Google docs and then share them with individual students. 

I've only tested this once, but I'm cautiously optimistic that it could prove a useful tool in the classroom. I've always felt that I don't provide enough individual feedback to students on their classroom performance, and time has always been my excuse. This might make it a bit easier to share individual comments with them.

The only other thing to be aware of is that you do need to buy special notepads that the pen can recognise and have the special commands built into them. They aren't too expensive - a pack of four A5 notebooks cost £10 - but you do need to go to specialist shops to get them or buy them online. 

The commands at the bottom of the notepads

If anyone has any questions about the Livescribe, feel free to ask them in the comments below.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

ESL Video reviews and Getting Started Guide

Over the last few weeks I've posted up a few video reviews of ESL apps on my Google+ page. First up is an excellent flashcard app for Android called Flashcard Buddy Pro:

There is a full demo version available if you want to try it out for a limited time. I also reviewed Karaoke4English (both iOS/Android), an interesting app that combine reading/audio versions of text and vocabulary revision.

I also reviewed Practice English Grammar 1 for Android.

I also made some suggestions for getting started with mobile learning at the beginning of term:

Suggestions for getting started with Mobile Learning

  • If your school/college/university has wireless, find out how to connect smartphones to it and go through it or print it out for students. This ensures that they are able to connect to the internet during the lesson. 
  • (suggested by Rob Lewis) To get students familiar using their phones in class, get them to note down homework/test dates etc on the calendar on their phones.
  • devote a section of a lesson to students looking at their own/each other’s mobile phones, exploring what functions they have (e.g. internet, radio, voice recorder) and discussing how they could be used to improve their English. 
  • encourage them to use dictionaries on their smartphones to quickly look up words. Here is a blog post I wrote about free dictionary apps for android (though many of them are also available for iphone) 
  • set up a Posterous blog for them to contribute to as a class. Add their email addresses so they can contribute and then they can send pictures/text directly from their mobile phone. Get them to tell you about their weekends for discussion on Monday morning.

I hope you enjoy these summary updates. Please circle my Google+ page if you want these as they are published.