Case study: Using a smartpen to demonstrate answering exam questions


School of Oral and Dental Sciences
Faculty of Health Sciences
University of Bristol

Tools used

  • Livescribe Echo Smartpen


Dr Angela Hague,


To demonstrate to students how to answer exam questions concisely, especially showing how to draw an acceptable quality diagram in a short time.


Students in Dentistry are required to draw diagrams as part of their answers to exam questions. Some spend too long trying to draw detailed and high quality diagrams, when a more basic sketch would be sufficient.  This case study emerged from an ESU trial of an e-pen called the Livescribe Echo Smartpen.  This resembles a normal pen but records audio as you write, meaning that you can record "pencasts", for example working through an exam question on paper whilst recording a commentary at the same time.

What was done

Angela used the pen to show students the type of exam answers that she might expect, especially focussing on how to draw quick simple illustrations. As she could record this with a commentary in real time the students were able to see in reality how long it should take to write their answer. Also, as the pencasts can be saved as audio-enabled pdfs and made available on Blackboard, students could access them as many times as they liked.


Angela reflected:  “I did find it useful with the Livescribe for showing the types of exam answers I might expect - that proved a good application because you see what is possible in the time and how tacky a diagram is acceptable and how useful they can be. It would be great for chemical structures and formulae in the same way that I used it for embryology."


Although some people may be able to record pencasts spontaneously, in this case Angela found it more effective to do some initial preparation. She had 2 tips for others using the Livescribe pen: firstly plan what you are going to do in advance, and secondly practice using the pen before recording pencasts. 


Angela plans to continue to use the pen, and has also recommended it to others, including dyslexic students and others who had difficulties with note-taking.