Blind students can now take a breather as far as their studies are concerned, for a new revolutionary smartpen and paper technology that works with touch and records classroom audio aims to bring subjects like - physics, calculus and biology to life for the visually-impaired students.
The technology is created by Livescribe, and it was developed by Van Schaack, the company's senior science adviser, a lecturer in Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of education and human development and Joshua Miele, a researcher at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute who is blind.
"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," Schaack said.
"Our goal is to enable students and teachers to produce and explore diagrams and figures through touch and sound using a smartpen and paper technology that is low-cost, portable and easy to use.
"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," he said.
"A new world of possibilities has opened for the rapid creation of portable, low-cost, high-quality accessible graphics enhanced with audio. 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," he added.
As for the way the Livescribe smartpen works, it recognizes 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 audio back through a built-in speaker or 3D recording headset. Files are uploaded from the pen to a computer using a USB connection.
Van Schaack and Miele will be using a prototype of the Livescribe smartpen and 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.
Students will be able to touch a hand-drawn figure with their smartpen to hear audio explanations of its features.
Also, Schaack believes that the possibilities for the smartpen are endless.
"It really is a new computer platform - it includes most of the technology found in a typical laptop, but gets its information from handwriting rather than from a keyboard and mouse," Van Schaack said.
"One of the most immediate uses of it 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. Later, when they are reviewing their handwritten notes, they can tap within them to hear what the professor was saying when they wrote a particular note, giving them the opportunity to annotate them for accuracy and additional detail," he added.
The smartpen is expected to be available during the first quarter of 2008 at a cost of less than 200 dollars.