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Monday 10 December 2007

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Something every one should know!!!!

Subjects like physics, calculus and biology are challenging for most students. But imagine tackling these topics without being able to see the graphs and figures used to teach them, and you will know the plight of blind students.

Now, scientists in the US have developed a new smartpen and paper technology that works with touch and records classroom audio, aiming to bring these subjects to life for the visually impaired.



“Mainstream approaches to teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses all rely strongly on diagrams, graphs, charts and other figures, putting students with visual disabilities at a significant disadvantage,” said Andy Van Schaack, a lecturer in Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development.

“Our goal is to enable students and teachers to produce and explore diagrams and figures through touch and sound by using a smartpen and paper technology that is low-cost, portable and easy to use.”

Van Schaack worked with Joshua Miele, a blind researcher at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute. Together, they applied the new technology, created by technology firm Livescribe, to this effort. Van Schaack is Livescribe’s senior science adviser.



“My area of expertise is instructional technology. I spend a lot of my time trying to figure out how to use technology to make teaching and learning more effective, efficient and accessible,” Van Schaack said.

“A new world of possibilities has opened for the creation of portable, low-cost, high-quality accessible graphics enhanced with audio,” he said. “For example, a visually impaired psychology student could learn neuroanatomy by exploring a diagram of the brain, with each lobe, gyrus and sulcus’s name spoken as the smartpen touches it.”

The smartpen recognises handwritten marks through a camera inside its tip that focuses on a minute pattern of dots printed on paper. It captures over 100 hours of audio through a built-in microphone and plays back audio through a built-in speaker or 3-D recording headset.

The pen also has a USB connection, allowing for recorded files to be uploaded to a student’s computer for future use.

One of the key aspects of this gadget is that it will be much more affordable and portable than previous products used for this purpose. Students can simply put it in their backpacks with the rest of their books and notebooks..

The researchers will be using a prototype of the Livescribe smartpen with a Sewell Raised Line Drawing Kit – a Mylar-like film that is deformed when a student writes on it with a pen, creating raised drawings. The students will thus be able to touch a hand-drawn figure with their smartpen to hear audio explanations of its features.

As for other uses of the smartpen, Van Schaack believes the possibilities are endless.

“It really is a new computer platform. It has most of the technology found in a laptop, but gets its information from handwriting rather than a keyboard,” he said.

“One of its most immediate uses that I see will be for college students. It will allow them to spend more time listening in class while taking more of an outline form of notes and revise them later, giving them the opportunity to annotate for accuracy and additional detail.”

The smartpen is expected to hit stores in 2008 at a cost of less than $200 (Rs 7,900 approx). The Livescribe interactive notebooks will cost about the same as a good quality notebook, the researchers say.


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