Pen Technology in Education

The use of pen-based technology at WPI breaks into three categories, as far as I can tell.  I am open to argument about this, though!

1.  Our amazing Interactive Media and Game Development courses.  I wish I knew more about what you do, but everything I see is beautiful!

2.  Writing in Class

The process of working through a problem or equation cannot be demonstrated by static text on a PowerPoint slide.  Many folks like to use the chalk board.  For years here at WPI, we have also had SMART Podiums (formerly Sympodiums) in our electronic classrooms. These nifty tools allow you to make your monitor an electronic whiteboard.  In fact today, a faculty member was describing to me the way his students shifted forward in their seats when he used a red line to make a connection between two numbers.  So simple to engage!  We are now in the process of introducing Wacoms into the newer e-Classrooms, which function a bit differently.

  • They don’t have the handy pen selection buttons on the top, so my talented colleague Jim Monaco has programmed a pen menu into the button.  Hit that rocker on the pen and you should see it appear.
  • Wacoms do not have the “SMART overlay”, which means you can only use the pen tools that are built into specific programs.  Microsoft has assisted by building them into all of their products.  We also have a GREAT program for annotating PDF’s (or just writing on blank PDFs) called PDF Annotator.  I’d recommend you use it instead of Adobe Acrobat because the pen tools are so much better.

We have also noticed the use of more personal tablets in the classroom!  Be you iPad, Windows, or Android, there are always options.  If you have an adapter, you can project by plugging your tablet into the VGA or HDMI cable in your classroom.  (Please note, on the iPad 1, only selected apps will display.)  What are some of our faculty’s favorite apps for writing in class?

  • Airsketch:  Air Sketch provides the user with a wireless remote white board. The possibilities are endless; use it to mark up PDF files, solve out equations, or hand to students to have them diagram a process!  You can open an HTML-5-enabled browser on the classroom machine and project the URL for your whiteboard into the classroom.
  • UPad and UPad Lite:  Use your finger or stylus to write as you would on the old-fashioned kind. Export to a pdf to share with your students, or archive for future use.
  • Bamboo Paper:  Available for iOS and Android, this relatively new app has a great writing interface.  Which isn’t surprising, given the manufacturer.

3.  Grading work

If you have a tablet at your disposal, you may be interested in using that digital pen to mark up your students’ work.  If you are able to connect to a PC, I recommend PDF Annotator (See Above).  If you are working on an iPad, I am in love with iAnnotate PDF.   It is worth the cost for one feature alone – you can flip pages without saving the annotations on each page.  At least one faculty member (you know who you are) mentions the importance of that feature to me on a regular basis.

Are you doing interesting things with Pen Based Technology?  If so, I have two suggestions.

1.  Comment below!  We’d love to hear about it!

2.  Consider getting involved with the Workshop on the Impact of Pen & Touch Technology in Education (aka “WIPTE”).  They produce a monograph after every annual conference which is most definitely worth checking out.

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Instructional Technology Specialist at WPI

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