Using Livescribe Smartpen as a Lab Notebook Device

As noted in Elizabeth’s blog post, Educational Technology and Media Services group has been sponsoring the pilot using the Livescribe pen as a lab notebook device. In this follow-up post, we share feedback from one of the pilot participants. We also introduce various sharing practices of the Livescribe notes for those who wish to try the Livescribe pen out.

Livescribe ConnectLast May 2011, Livescribe introduced Livescribe Connect as an add-on software to Livescrive Desktop. It helps share Livescribe notes easily without using their proprietary sharing method via the Livescribe online website, which was a major hurdle in sharing the Livescribe notes in the past. With current Livescribe Connect (version, there are four ways to share your Livescribe notes: Google Docs, Evernote, Facebook, and email/computer file. The table below summaries different features for different sharing methods:

Google Docs Evernote Facebook Email / File
Format Pencast PDF,
Pencast PDF,
PNG image
Embedded Flash Pencast PDF,
PNG image,
M4A audio
Downloadable Yes Yes No Yes
Searchable Text No Yes No Yes (in Livescribe Desktop)
Size Limit
for Sharing
No Yes
(25 MB – free,
50 MB – paid)
No Yes (when attached to email)

Livescribe’s Pencast PDF is a proprietary file format containing audio synced with the handwriting image in Adobe PDF. You need Adobe Reader X (version 10 or later) to interactively play the audio part of the pdf file while the image part can be viewed with any pdf viewers including Google Docs and Evernote viewer.

When uploading and sharing files via a cloud facility, the file size is an important factor to consider. Obviously, the size of the Pencast PDF file depends on the length of the audio part embedded in it. According to our tests, the Pencast PDF file takes up about 13.8 MB per one minute audio. This means that sharing Pencast PDF files on Evernote may be impractical because the upload size of one file is limited to 50 MB even with its paid premium account. But Google seems generous in allowing large PDF file upload (up to 10GB) to Google Docs. So to share a large Pencast PDF files, Google Docs would be your best bet. On the other hand, to search texts from your handwriting, Evernote is superior to Google Docs in that it offers text search feature by scanning Pencast PDFs and images.

There still exists the original (proprietary) way to share pencast files online: My Livescribe Online. Each Livescribe pen comes with 500MB online space to store and share your pencast files. Mobile device sharing is made possible through the online service. You can interactively play your pencast files on the My Livescribe space from iPhone or iPad using the Pencasts app; Android app is not yet available as of this posting.

Prof. Greg Lyzenga sent us his valuable and interesting feedback on the use of the Livescribe pen as a lab notebook device. He said, “My experience with the Livescribe was mostly pretty positive.  I found it to be pretty responsive to my writing style and the software was moderately friendly. One of the drawbacks is that you need to press pretty hard to make sure all strokes are recorded without missing or skipping.  As a result, your hand can get pretty tired after a hour of writing.  Another disadvantage as compared with an iPad or tablet is the inability to erase mistakes or use different colors.  For my personal use, I think I will prefer the iPad, even though it is a little slower in response to writing gestures.  But I will consider the Livescribe as a viable option for students who want to do electronic lab books.  For either option, pen or tablet, I am still exploring the best software and method for sharing, markup and version control. Ideally I’d like to be able to grade the notebook electronically and have my comments merged with the student’s archival copy.  I’m hoping that there is a drop box option within Sakai that will permit two-way document sharing with students so that I can do this.”

Our journey to exploit the Livescribe pen as an educational technology device will continue throughout the Fall semester. Please stay tuned for more feedback and information about the Livescribe pen from CIS.