‘Smartpen’ Pilot Program Helps Students with Disabilities

by Molly Sheerer

An Office of Disability Services pilot program signs out ‘smartpens’ to students to assist them with note-taking in class. (Provided photo)

UNIVERSITY PARK – In fall 2011, Penn State’s Office of Disability Services (ODS) introduced a pilot program with the benefit of new technology to help students with disabilities improve their classroom and studying experiences.

Students are loaned “smartpens,” which use unique paper to record audio and digitize the notes written and the audio heard. The resulting digital content can be uploaded to a student’s computer.

Since its addition to ODS, the smartpen pilot program has greatly aided participating students. Administrative Support Assistant Deborah Austin said this semester alone, the office has signed out 60 LiveScribe smartpens.

“Students are very enthusiastic about the smartpens,” Austin said. “It offers a tool students can use in the real world, too, not just in the classroom.”

In addition, the department is realizing cost savings for the University by offering this technology in lieu of contracted note-taking services made available to those students. Students have said that their classroom experience has been enhanced with the use of the smartpen.

Sixth semester student Anthony Demchak enjoys the versatility and customization the tool adds to his day-to-day academic schedule. “With the smartpen, I can focus on what the professor is actually saying instead of focusing on getting down all the notes,” he said.

According to various students participating in the pilot program, the LiveScribe smartpen is very user-friendly. It also has applications that students can download for additional assistance with definitions, word translation and transformation of handwritten notes into typed files.

“While the use of the smartpen is advantageous to anyone who uses pen and paper, the benefits it has for disabled students are vast,” Terrell Jones, vice provost for Educational Equity at Penn State, said. “We’re sure to see many more benefits in the future from this and other technology-assisted study aids, including the ability to help disadvantaged students have a greater chance of academic success.”

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