Case study: Worked examples using smart pens in biochemistry


School of Biochemistry, University of Bristol

Tools used

  • Livescribe Echo smart pen


Gus Cameron, School of Biochemistry,


  • Evaluate the use of smart pens to produce educational resources

What was done

Using the Livescribe Echo pen, a number of model answers and worked examples were created. These were then provided to students as playable PDFs, showing the process of writing along with an audio commentary.


What worked well

  • Resources were well-received by students.
  • The pen was easier to use (and to create a legible result) than tablet devices.
  • Producing resources this way is fairly quick, so long as you are realistic about not producing a polished resource.
  • Pens are also really useful for taking notes in meetings.

Problems and/or issues

Gus says:

"I think the secret is not to be too precious about the quality of what is produced. The worked examples worked because they were obviously just me working through things in real time in response to a student question. They were not presented as model answers, let alone best-in-class, near textbook-quality resources. To do the latter one would need to edit audio and visuals and/or an awful lot of practice, or possibly just more raw talent that I have. Ideally it would require the ability to draw in different colours and the ability to mix digital and handwritten media."

"In summary, ePens have their place for producing educational materials and I’m slowly finding out what that is. I can see me using the pen to produce worked examples to supplement existing feedback. Unfortunately this makes them yet another “me too” tool that pleases the students that want more help, but creates work for me. The trick is to find where they are replacing exisiting work and I'm not sure I'm there yet."

Student feedback

Students were very positive about the resources and said they found them helpful. There were no reported problems.