Smart Study - Pen and Paper-Based E-Learning

Status: Ongoing

Smart Study is an educational platform allowing learners to continue using pen and paper for exercise solving, accomplished by using a digital pen and Anoto paper. Handwritten solutions are digitalized, automatically corrected, and animated feedback is provided by means of a tablet device. By using pen and paper, read-write learners can still use their preferred learning method while other types of learners can practice their handwriting. The use of a tablet for feedback and additional information makes it a lightweight and mobile platform, easy to use by children. The platform was evaluated by means of a case study involving a group of 15 children, showing that they were more motivated than usual and enjoyed making exercises using the Smart Study platform.



The Smart Study educational platform allows children to practice (i.e., make exercises) more autonomously while at the same time stimulating their handwriting. The platform is composed of a digital pen, exercise sheets (Anoto paper), and a tablet. We first discuss the technology used to realize the platform; next we present the architecture; and subsequently the workings of the platform.

The digital pen used is the Livescribe Echo Smartpen. This pen writes like a normal pen but can capture everything written on paper, using a tiny infra-red digital camera next to the pressure tip of the pen, which is activated every time you write something down on the paper.. The paper contains an Anoto dotted pattern. These are tiny printed dots (hardly noticeable) that have unique positions, so the camera in the digital pen can determine the exact location of the tip of the pen on the paper. The pen has a small display that can present information when certain actions have been done, a microphone to record audio, and a built-in speaker that can play back audio. The pen also has built-in memory that can be used to store what has been captured. It also has a processor and a built-in Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) engine, which is used to recognize the handwriting. This pen has a micro-USB connector to connect it via a cable to a computer device. Newer Livescribe Smartpens have the ability of connecting to a computer device, tablet, or smartphone in a wireless way via Bluetooth or WiFi. However at the time of development, we did not have an SDK for these newer pens at our disposal. Therefore, we decided to develop a prototype with the Echo pen for which the SDK was at our disposal.

The digital pen and dot paper are used by the learner to solve exercises. An Android tablet app is used for providing feedback to the learner on the correctness of his or her solutions. Since tablet devices are light, mobile, and easy to use by providing a touch screen, this was preferred over the use of a laptop or a desktop computer. Android was deliberately chosen because of the wide variety of available tablets in different price ranges.

Smart Study setup


Before learners can start using the platform, the exercise sheets need to be prepared, i.e., creating the Paper Designs, the corresponding Penlet, and the tablet feedback. Currently, this must be done by software engineers. However, we aim at having an authoring tool that is easily usable by instructional designers, focusing on the content and generating the necessary software automatically.

When exercise sheets are available, the learner starts by picking out a sheet and turning on the pen. The Smart Study Penlet is automatically activated when interacting with a recognized exercise sheet. The learner fills out the exercise page by writing the answers in the corresponding answer regions of the paper. Space outside these active answer regions is provided to allow the learner to work out the solution. Every time an answer is written in an answer region, it is recognized, stored, and displayed on the display of the pen. Exercises can be left open. The learner ends by tapping inside the area that displays the text Ik ben klaar! (Dutch for "I am ready!"). A text message (on the display of the pen), as well as a voice message is provided to inform the learner that the answers are saved successfully. An XML file containing the answers is automatically built and stored on the internal memory of the pen.

Smart Study exercise


Next, the data captured on the pen has to be stored into the database. As mentioned before, this is done by connecting the pen (with a micro-USB cable) to a computer running the synchronisation program, which will automatically execute the entire process cycle, including the processing of the information, comparing the answers with the solutions, and storing the data into the database. The learner can now switch to the tablet to get feedback. In order to do this, the Smart Study app needs to be launched. An active Internet connection is required. After authentication, the home screen is presented, providing the choice between correcting answers and viewing an overview of all results obtained so far.

When the learner opts for correcting the handwritten answers, the app will load the data related to the sheets filled out by the learner. The screen will show an overview of all the exercises on the sheet: the questions, the recognized answers, and an indication whether the answers were correct or not. Correct answers are shown in green, incorrect answers in red along with the correct answer in blue. The learner can tap an exercise to obtain feedback on how to correctly solve the exercise (static text or animated feedback).


Smart Study solution


Best Paper Award

The Smart Study educational platform was initially developed by Dieter Van Thienen as part of his Master's thesis. It was later rewritten into a paper entitled Smart Study: Pen and Paper-Based E-Learning and received the Best Paper Award at the KES 2015 conference on Smart Education and E-Learning (KES-SEEL 15).


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