What is a Pencast?
A 'Pencast' is a video of someone writing on a notebook page, while describing what they are writing. It is made with a special ballpoint pen, called a SmartPen and made by LiveScribe, that has a small video camera looking at the tip and a microphone to record audio.
Pencasts can be used to complement face-to-face lectures or they can enhance an online class. Students in our face-to-face classes reported appreciating that they could return to our lectures to listen again to worked-out problems that were difficult to learn the first time. In our online classes, we use Pencasts to complement readings, discussions and online quizzes.
What is Covered?
The Pencasts on this website over most of the content that is commonly taught in six college-level economics courses that typically form the core of the curriculum for a major in economics. Each course on this site has between 8-15 major units which coincide roughly with a chapter of a textbook. Each unit has several Pencasts, most between 3-5 minutes, covering most of the content that would typically appear in such a chapter in an economics textbook. The collection of Pencasts in each course should be able to complement most of the core content in a face-to-face class or online class, or facilitate an independent study in the given course.
Making Your Own Pencasts
The SmartPen has a camera looking down from an otherwise normal ink ballpoint of the pen which is used to record the pen's actions, and it has a microphone to record audio. The special paper is covered with tiny, light dots that are barely visible to the human eye, but visible to the SmartPen's camera so that it can tell where on the page and what page in the notebook the pen is writing. The SmartPen stores this information digitally, which can then be transferred to your computer using the software that is freely available from LiveScribe. Every page on the special paper includes recording "buttons" (record, pause, stop, play, volume adjust, etc) which you can simply tap with your pen to create Pencasts like those above.
Benefits: Pencasts have a number of benefits over traditional videos. First, they are more interactive. Viewers can click anywhere on a page to jump to that part of the Pencast. Our students report it is useful to easily jump ahead or move back to an important part of the video which they did not completely understand. Pencasts are also useful for teaching applications for graphical models because the instructor can describe while setting up a problem what they are doing and why. Finally, this technology is easy to learn and Pencasts can be created quickly with some practice.
Drawbacks: The following are some drawbacks to using Pencasts:
- Video editing is not possible with Pencasts. Once you have written or said something, it is part of the Pencast. If your mistake is significant, and near the end of your lesson, the only remedy is starting over. For this reason, we suggest keeping your Pencasts short, limiting it to one page if possible, and limiting it to 4-6 minutes. Do not do too much work that you do not want to redo.
- It is not possible to write on top of a printed document. Perhaps you would find it convenient to start a Pencast with a problem already typed out on a page, or a table, graph, or definition already printed on a page. This is not possible. The only content that can become part of the page is what you can write with the pen.