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.