e-pens offer a flexible, highly mobile and cost-effective alternative to tablet PCs. The e-learning team in the ESU have recently been looking into possible applications of e-pens for learning and teaching, as part of their role to explore potential new learning technologies.  At the Learning and Teaching exhibition in April 2011, staff  were able to try out these pens and several expressed interest in trialling them. Colleagues with their own e-pens have also identified potential. This pilot involves the purchase of a small number of e-pens to loan to staff so they can explore their use, for example in providing rich feedback to students. It will also evaluate the usability and effectiveness of the technology. At the end of the pilot, case studies and other findings will be disseminated, and if staff are making active use of the pens the loans will be extended.

Background - what are e-pens ?

This pilot will evaluate 2 types of e-pen, both of which can be used with staff’s existing PCs or laptops either as tethered input devices,  or on the move:

Type 1:  normally known as an e-pen (e.g. the Apcom), is like a conventional pen. It allows you to write by hand on normal paper, but records your handwriting on the computer screen and can automatically turn it into typed text if required. It can also be used to draw diagrams or make annotations.  You can plug these e-pens into most computers and then use annotation tools e.g. in Microsoft Word, to edit documents, such as for marking assignments.

Type 2:  known as Smartpens (e.g. the Livescribe), need special paper and also record synchronous audio , which can be played back  when you go to the relevant place in your notes. So for example you could record an interview whilst making notes which are synched with the audio recording.

Aims of pilot

  • To explore and evaluate the use of e-pens for feedback.
  • To explore and evaluate the use of e-pens for the production of reusable learning materials involving diagrams and notation (e.g. mathematics).
  • As a side benefit, to explore and learn more about the potential of e-pens to support learning and teaching in other ways.
  • To evaluate e-pens as a technology and surface any potential technical support issues.

Examples uses

Here are some ideas for potential uses, which staff  have suggested:

  1. Provision of rich personalised feedback  e.g. annotating essays,
  2. Using “pencasts” to support, in a more user-friendly way, teaching techniques that are not well supported by technology at present e.g. drawing and annotation of diagrams, mixing text with audio explanation, and taking learners through processes.
  3. In particular maths and stats support for students is an issue often raised by academics. Smartpens allow quick and easy creation of high quality re-usable multimedia resources which can be focussed on identified problem areas of learning. 
  4. Keeping records of meetings, seminars or groupwork
  5. Annotating slides in lectures, or using segments of audio-visual content during lectures or as pre-lecture activity
  6. Demonstration, for example approaches to answering exam questions
  7. Of these, feedback and the creation of learning materials involving diagrams and notation are areas of particular interest in terms of improving the student learning experience.

Time frame

  • Autumn 2011 - set up pilot
  • Dec 2011 - distribute e-pens
  • Jan - July - pilots by academics
  • Summer 2012 - evaluation
  • Autumn 2012  - dissemination of findings


  • Roger Gardner
  • Suzi Wells