Friday, July 25, 2008

Digital pens : Tablet functionality for $70!!!???

I recently saw an advertisement for a digital pen system which claimed to give tablet PC functionality to any computer, while skeptical, I figured it was worth checking out.

Several companies make digital pen systems The most popular is one being marketed to kids but requires expensive specialized paper.
The IOGear Digital Scribe system seems to have the features I was looking for without ongoing additional costs.

The IOGear digital pen system comes in two parts, the pen and the receiver unit. The pen is normal sized (not bulky) with no wires attached, and a button on the side of the barrel. The pen does have 2 small user-replaceable button batteries in the end of the barrel. The receiver unit is around 2.5 inches by 1 inch with an attached retractable USB cable (under 2 feet in length) The receiver unit is meant to be clipped on the top center or one of the upper corners of a piece of paper or notebook. Once the receiver is plugged into the computer and the drivers and software are installed, the unit is good to go. The pen can function in two modes, as a mouse or as a pen. Pressing the single button on the receiver unit allows you to switch between these two modes.

Using the notebook software that comes with the digital pen, the pen works quite well translating your “on paper” pen strokes to the screen almost seamlessly in real time. You don’t have to focus on the screen since what appears on paper is seen on the screen. (I am using this with standard laptop running XP and an LCD projector.) Using the pen in mouse mode is more difficult and requires more coordination since the virtual paper is sized as standard 8.5 x 11 inches in portrait mode whereas your screen is in landscape more. I find myself using the touchpad when I need most mouse movements. The software allows you to export and save your work as well as change your pen features (line width, color etc). The software also has a handwriting recognition function similar to Tablet PCs and Smartboards, but it does not recognize Hebrew nor will it work with my admittedly atrocious handwriting. The MyScript software provides a nice set of added features and functionality.

Advantages over a Wacom tablet

One of my pet peeves with using a Wacom tablet as a presentation tool in a classroom is the matter of eye-hand coordination. You cannot see what you are writing on the tablet, and have to coordinate your cursor position by looking at the screen (and thus away from you class). The digital pen writes normally on the paper, so there is a tangible image for reference.


One on the biggest annoyances I have had with the Digital pen is the extremely short 2 foot tether. I plan to use a USB extension cord, but I think having such a short cord is a design oversight.
There is a wireless model which records your writing to an onboard memory module to be saved to your PC later. However that model does not allow for real time on screen display so I did not look into it further.
The company maintains that it works with OneNote 2007; I have tried it but have found it to be somewhat buggy. I will be contacting their support department to see if this can be sorted out.


The digital scribe system seems to be a nice bridge between a standard PC and a TabletPC without the added cost factor of the specialized TabletPC. It is by no means perfect, and neither its functionality nor its versatility are in the same league as a dedicated Tablet PC. It is a relatively inexpensive way to get similar functionality. If I can get the OneNote bugs worked out, I would probably give it a resounding thumbs up since it would mean MS Office integration. For now it seems the easiest and cheapest way to have real time, on screen, handwriting display in your classroom.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Jewish History Power Point Update June 2008

Joseph Sonnenblick June, 2008
North Shore Academy High School
Great Neck, N.Y.

Avi Chai Education Technology Experiment Project
Jewish History Power Point Presentations

My educational technology project was to create Power Points in selected topics of Jewish History using Images & Video.

The main goals for the project were to create increase excitement & interest in the classroom, deepen the scope of the learning experience, and improve student’s retention of material. Over the course of the year I created approximately 20 presentations (listed below) and showed my classes about a 1/3 of those presentations due to time constraints. Of the 3 goals the first was most discernable. Students expressed a sense of enthusiasm and increased attention during the presentations. Especially effective in this regard were the video clips. Measuring a deeper understanding and better retention of the material was more difficult to assess but a number of students did report that it helped them study for exams. On a number of occasions they asked that I post the Power points on ANGEl, the school’s computer system so they could view them before the test.

Here is a list of the Power points.

  1. Jewish History Curriculum
  2. The Fall of the Northern Kingdom
  3. Jewish Return to Eretz Israel : Ezra and Nechemia
  4. Jews in the Hellenistic Age
  5. Chanukah and the Maccabees
  6. The Dead Sea Scrolls
  7. King Herod
  8. The Great Revolt
  9. The Rise of Christianity
  10. The Bar Kochba Revolt
  11. The Rise of Islam
  12. The Golden Age of Spain
  13. Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon; the Rambam
  14. The Jews in Medieval Christian Europe
  15. The Spanish Inquisition
  16. East European Jewry
  17. The Jews in America
  18. The Rise of Modern Israel
  19. The Miracle of Jewish History

My plans for the current year are to:

a) Develop more presentations (my ultimate goal is to do about 30)
b) Enhance the present list with more video clips
c) Collect and organize a data base of images and video clips that can be used with the Power points or independent of them.
d) Create lesson plans using the Power points in conjunction with Smart Boards