The Magic Pen: A Big Hit with Accounting Majors at USA



Drs. Gregory Prescott and Carol Vann, both assistant professors in the Department of Accounting at USA, had been exploring for months various options for using technology to supplement their classroom sessions. Prescott and Vann realized that students are sometimes forced to miss classes due to illness or family emergencies while student-athletes often miss class due to required athletic competitions. These students often fall behind in their upper-level accounting courses due to these absences and many are unable to ever recover. Hence, Prescott and Vann were eager to find a technology that would enable them to address the problems associated with missed classes. A fortuitous encounter at a national conference with colleagues from other universities provided the insight that subsequently led to the adoption of Livescribe Pen technology in several accounting courses at USA.

In August 2014, the American Accounting Association held its annual conference in Atlanta. During one of the informal sessions sponsored by a textbook publishing company, Prescott joined colleagues from across the United States to meet with publishing company representatives to discuss current challenges in teaching upper-level accounting courses. “During the discussion, a professor from Brigham Young University mentioned that he had recently begun using a technology known as Livescribe in his accounting courses,” according to Prescott. When asked to explain specifically how he used the technology, the professor indicated when a student stops by the office with a question about a problem or homework assignment, “I work the problem for the student and then email the solution to the entire class.” It was this simple interaction that eventually led to the adoption of Livescribe technology by both Prescott and Vann– affectionately referred to by students as the Magic Pen.

“We had almost concluded that we were going to have to use a University-supplied video camera and take turns recording each other working our respective homework assignments in order to accomplish our desired goal,” said Vann. However, Livescribe brought a better solution. According to Vann, “the Livescribe technology allows us to supplement our classroom sessions with video demonstrations of us working our classroom and homework assignments without the hassle of having to record each other working the assignments to an otherwise empty classroom!”

Basically, the Livescribe pen looks similar to a fountain pen and has a camera built into its shaft and the ability to record audio. When the pen is used on special paper supplied by Livescribe, the camera captures the pen strokes on the paper while the audio records the professor’s step-by-step explanation of homework assignments. The cost of implementing the technology is minimal. The pens typically cost less than $200 and a four-pack of the notebooks with the special paper costs less than $25.  

Implementing the use of the Magic Pen into each course requires several hours of recording, but once completed, the recordings can be used for multiple semesters. They only need to be re-recorded if the new edition of the textbook makes changes to the assignments. The solutions are recorded as a PDF and provided to the students. Students save the PDF and are then able to view the videos on demand. One of the most useful features of this technology is that the recordings are interactive, enabling the students to either listen to the entire recording or only those parts that cover specific challenges areas.   

Both Prescott and Vann make the video solutions available to students only after the related homework assignments are turned in by students. As a result, the students have to make a genuine effort to work the assignments on their own. Afterwards, however, they have access to every solution to assigned material worked by their professors. “In addition to finding a creative way to address the needs of students who must miss class for whatever reason,” Prescott said, “we have also realized the unintended benefit of addressing the needs of students who learn through repetition – watching us work and explain a problem multiple times without fear of slowing down the rest of the class. Sometimes, as faculty members we make the mistake of thinking that everyone learns in the same manner that we learned as students; by reading student feedback concerning the Livescribe technology, I have learned that a sizable portion of our students learn best through repetition.”

Given how popular the technology has been with their students, Vann and Prescott were asked to deliver a peer-reviewed technology presentation on implementing Livescribe Pen technology into upper-level accounting courses at the Conference on Teaching and Learning in Accounting portion of the American Accounting Association annual meeting in August 2015. Prescott and Tiffany DeRoy, an instructor in the Department of Accounting at USA, who has also begun to implement the technology into some of her classes, recently delivered an additional presentation to a state-wide group of accounting faculty in Montgomery in October at the invitation of the Education Committee of the Alabama Society of CPAs.  

Overall, the technology is rather inexpensive, requires a minimal time investment by the professor, and offers huge payoffs for the students!


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