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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Apple Pen Patents Suggest New Horizons for Tactile Learning

Apple Pen Patents Suggest New Horizons for Tactile Learning

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On May 24 the US patent and trademark Office published a series of patent publications by Apple Computer that suggest entirely new uses for the computer stylus. Unlike current computerized pen technology, Apple's new patents look to fundamentally change how the pen and the touch screen work together. Using haptic vibration technology and speakers the new pens will be able to mimic the actual tactile feedback of a real pen or pencil. In the near future using an electronic pen will feel like stroking a real felt pen on a piece of paper or like using a wet brush across a canvas.

The new technology is being developed for artists and graphic designers but there are outstanding implications for education. Kinesthetic learning or Tactile learning is one of the broad categorizations of learning styles in the Fleming VAK/VARK Model. Some dyslexic learners and other students with learning disabilities have successful used Tactile learning to improve retention and comprehension. The development of a writing device that delivers direct feedback and feedback that can be complexly integrated into learning programs will provide the ability to conduct controlled tests on Tactile learning and further develop educators' use and understanding of Kinesthetic learning.

The introduction of basic haptic technology currently exists in the simple vibrations of mobile phones. Further complex haptic vibrations are also part of the new X-box gaming system where the technology has been well received. Walk into almost any college dorm room and you will find expensive game controllers that use TouchSense haptic technology. Haptic vibrations provide additional sensations that keep gamers engaged in video games. College gamers find these controllers attractive enough to spend significant amounts of money on them. It is reasonable to assume that haptic pens that can provide encouragement and feedback to students should similarly raise student engagement in traditional learning and class work.

New Haptic Pens May Provide Budget Relief for Overworked Teachers and Schools

Alongside the development of haptic pens, are the by now common touch computer screens. Apple is also a leader in the development of touch screens. They have already developed touch screens that are able to mimic uneven surfaces. The combination of screen and haptic pen technology promises a future where the physical learning space and the computer learning space will no longer be separate. To date most computer learning in the classroom has been preformed in addition to traditional learning. As such, computerized learning often creates more, rather than less, work for teachers. The introduction of a computerized pen that actually writes like a real pen changes the fundamental double work of teaching students on two separate platforms.

Moreover, with the use of touch screens and haptic pens each student will be able to enjoy the accompaniment of a personal tutor as they learn to write, learn to read or learn to draw. Unlike the use of the rudimentary computer applications that exist now, students will be learning skills that can be completed either on a computer or in a traditional environment. Once the technology is perfected the transition from electronic to real materials should be almost seamless.

In the near future, these new types of pens should provide countless schools that can no longer afford art education the ability to reintroduce it into their curriculum at substantially reduced costs. One of the most attractive parts of this technology for schools is that complex art applications have already been developed for private industry. Apple's wide scale production of touch screens and pens will eliminate the prohibitive cost of the art board interface and bring this technology to classrooms and the general public fairly quickly.

Apple is not the only company to venture into this brave new world where the keyboard holds less and less appeal. Microsoft pioneered much of this technology more than a decade ago. Another pioneer in the development of haptics, the Immersion Corporation has several haptic products that they have introduced into everything from microwaves to automobiles. Where this technology will eventually take the classroom learning environment is unclear, but one thing is for certain, the future classroom will look and feel far different than it does today.

Lisa Pluth, PhD, is a writer and researcher for RHL.org the best source for residence hall linens and twinXL bedding on the web.

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Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

This is exciting stuff, Lisa. Especially when one considers the movement by Apple to make their laptop and mobile operating systems very similar. Personally, as a teacher, I reckon there are heaps of applications - not least in marking. Sometimes, I just want to write all over a students essay (even when it's in an online format) to show them how to improve their work.

Lisa Pluth's picture
Lisa Pluth
Researcher and Writer

Hi Keith, I certainly hope this will make the lives of teachers easier. There are so many times when the computer/pen barrier just makes more work for both teachers and students. In addition, there are many amazing design programs/games that just never make it into the classroom. I hope that Apple keeps the educational community in mind as they develop these pens. There is just so much potential!

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