Digital pens

Digital pens allow for the creation of an electronic copy of whatever is written with them, and they sometimes also record sound. Also known as e-pens or smart pens, a number of different makes are available. The Livescribe Echo is the model that has proved most popular when trialled here but there are plenty of alternatives.

The Livescribe Echo Smartpen feels much like a normal pen, but it records audio as well as your notes while you write. Once you have made a recording you can play it back by tapping the pen on the relevant point in your notebook. Recordings can also be made available as playable (animated) PDFs, also called pencasts, using the desktop software provided with the pen.

Some members of staff have been using these pens to produce interactive learning materials for students and for note-taking.

Uses and examples

  • Worked examples / model answers to questions, which can be saved as pencasts
  • Personal note taking (particularly for students who have problems taking notes in lectures and seminars)
  • Note taking in meetings

Getting started

They are simple to use and no training is required

The University does not supply these pens, but they are relatively cheap (starting at around £100). Several digital pens, Livescribe Echo included, require special paper which can be printed or bought - it costs around £17 for a pack of 4 notebooks.


  • Don't worry too much about producing high quality textbook-type resources.
  • Practice using the pen before making recordings for students.
  • Use the pause button (in the bottom left of each left page in the Livescribe notebooks) to give yourself time to think when making a recording.
  • If you turn the pen on and then don't use it for a while it can switch itself off, so check it is on before starting recording again.
  • If making a complex pencast e.g. with complicated diagrams, you can prepare some parts in advance of recording.
  • Because of the way the desktop software works, these pens are not well-suited to being shared: we recommend one pen per user.


The digital pen page on Wikipedia has a list of the makes of pen available.