Skip to content

Enter the smart pens #papershow v #livescribe. #uoltech #edtech

March 3, 2011

Slideshare announces Zipcast! While this is exciting news in its own right, it just made me giggle a little because I’d just been playing with a couple of smart pens together with @CraigAEvans: PaperShow and Livescribe. What’s the link? Well, Livescribe have also been inventing words: theirs is “pencast”. But more towards the end of this … keyboardcast :).

PaperShow and Livescribe are similar beasts (also similar price: £116 for PaperShow and about £160-£180 for Livescribe on Amazon UK), but not quite identical. They both feature pens with built-in cameras which know their place on their proprietary paper littered with microscopic dots used for positioning. But they have a fundamental difference:

  • PaperShow works with a computer. You have to plug in the Bluetooth dongle and run the PaperShow application, otherwise whatever you draw and write only exists on paper. You can’t record any sound with PaperShow, either. However, once connected to the PC, you can save your sessions and come back later and continue editing them.
  • Livescribe, on the other hand, has buttons on the actual notebook for recording both sound and writing. Tapping on the writing afterwards plays the sound recorded when writing that thing, too. Good sound? Kind of… personally not too convinced and I’ll tell you why later. You can’t write anything if you connect the Livescribe pen to the computer (via USB) – you only use the connection to transfer files off the pen.

In more detail: PaperShow

I first got into PaperShow when I got it as a loan from a couple of friends in the Uni (thanks, Vic and Liz). I liked the fact you didn’t have to install any client application (though you sometimes – on Win XP – need to browse the files on the dongle to launch the PaperShow application). I also liked the fact that you could export your doodles as PPT or PDF.  See what the whole kit looks like:

This is the kit: special paper, pen, Bluetooth dongle into the PC, and application on the PC

This is the PapersShow kit: special paper, pen, Bluetooth dongle into the PC, and application on the PC

I used it myself and it also came in handy when I needed to solve a problem: a colleague is teaching foreign languages in a room without a SmartBoard and needs to capture her handwriting to make it available to students in other locations. My initial thought was to use the Whiteboard in Acrobat Connect Pro. I had quite high hopes, but writing using my Toshiba tablet wasn’t accurate enough.

Next we tried a Bamboo tablet rather than the Toshiba touchscreen. Still within Acrobat Connect Pro. Better results, but not perfect and using the pen was not too intuitive (you’d have to trick it into coming back to the centre of the screen). Hmmm…

Finally, I thought of telling her about PaperShow. I’d only played very little with it but it had been extremely easy. I had used it to prepare a presentation for one of our informal learning get-togethers in my team and I had also recorded it using Windows Media Encoder 9 for screen capture and a Samson mic for sound.  Local folks were impressed and I was pleased because I had been able to prepare the introduction at home by writing a few things down, save the session in PaperShow, turn up to the meeting, connect the PaperShow Bluetooth dongle and continue annotating the mindmap I’d produced. Easy and slick with no sight of PowerPoint. Click on the screenshot below to see what it looks like.

Click to watch a .wmv file with the recording of the intro

Click to watch a .wmv file with the recording of the intro

So my solution to my colleague is: use PaperShow and also use the Desktop Sharing option in Acrobat Connect Pro in order to capture the interaction with sound. It will be easier than installing Windows Media Encoder 9 although it won’t allow for much post-processing. If post-processing is key, Media Encoder is the easier solution.

In more detail: Livescribe

Livescribe is another pretty cool pen. It’s secure (unlike PaperShow, which is more suitable for informal learning and sharing stuff). Its main advantages to me are:

  1. you can record things whenever and wherever you are – you don’t depend on having a computer linked to your pen
  2. you can print your own special paper from the Livescribe desktop client
  3. the notes you make get sync-ed with your PC and with Evernote if you wish and you can send sound and paper animations to other users as pencasts

In terms of disadvantages:

  1. it was a pain to set up: Livescribe needs a desktop client, it’s super secure and doesn’t allow the same pen to be registered for different users. Finding everything to switch on and off was a treck. Got there, though.
  2. no easy way of deleting pages apart from erasing the whole pen, and that’s quite difficult, too (you can do it on Livescribe online
  3. no synchronised writing on the pad and the computer screen; it’s consecutive rather than symultaneous interpreting
  4. in the Share menu, in Audio there is the option of sharing as .mp4 or .mov, which got me quite excited, but unfortunately it’s only available for audio. the page+audio together can only be exported as .pencast, to be opened with the Livescribe Desktop application

What a notebook page looks like in the Livescribe desktop client

What a notebook page looks like in the Livescribe desktop client

Notebook sharing with Livescribe

Notebook sharing with Livescribe


All in all, PaperShow is great for writing things up and having them displayed on a projected screen. You can’t do that with Livescribe.

On the otherhand, with Livescribe you can pass individual notebooks and pens to students working in groups and then collect the pens, hook them up to the projected computer and, provided the Livescribe client is installed and the pens registered under the same account initially, you can share the groups’ work with the whole class. Lots of ‘Ifs’, but doable.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: