Tip: Combining Echo Smartpen and Cornell Notetaking

Echo Smartpen

One of my favorite types of assistive technology that is offered by CSDTech is the Echo Smartpen developed by Livescribe. As students, we may have been in situations where we miss what the professor had said as we were writing down notes. The Echo Smartpen solves this problem by recording audio that syncs with the lecture notes as you’re writing. As a result, you will be able to read your notes, listen to a playback of your professor’s lecture, and fill in any information that was missed. Research shows that the more senses you stimulate, the better you are able to retain information. With the Echo Smartpen, your tactile (writing), sight (reading), and hearing (listening) senses are being used, and so you’re making more connections with the information.Livescribe Echo Smartpen

I can go on and on about how awesome the Smartpen is, but if you would like to know more, please check out and read about in greater detail in a CSDTech blog. For the rest of this post, I want to tell you about how you can make this device a more powerful learning tool. In addition to using the Smartpen to memorize information, combining the device with an effective note-taking strategy can help you go one step further: applying the learned knowledge.


Cornell Notetaking System

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, its Cornell as in the Ivy-league university. The director of Cornell University’s reading and study center, Walter Pauk, created a note format that he developed and explained in his best-selling book How to Study in College. According to a study performed at Harvard University, Cornell Notes has become one of the most frequently suggested note-taking strategies by university websites for student support.

Using this format, each page of your notes is split into 3 columns like this: 

Cornell Page FormatNote-taking Column:

  • Record: Write in this section during lecture, a helpful tip would be to take notes in your own words.

                                                Summary Column:

  • Review: In this section, summarize all the main ideas on this page after class. If you spend at least ten minutes every week reviewing all your previous notes, you’ll better retain essential information leading up to, during, and after the exam. Reviewing early and often is the key!


  • Questions: After class, come up with questions based on your notes. Writing questions helps to clarify meanings, reveal relationships, establish continuity, and strengthen memory. The sooner you figure out what questions you may have; the sooner you can ask the professor for clarification before the exam.


  • Recite: Best way to know if you understand the materials is to test yourself. I know it’s an obvious strategy, but in terms of reviewing, self-testing is more effective than re-reading. Cover the note-taking column and use the questions in the cue column to answer (in your own words) the questions. You can also explain the facts or main ideas indicated by the cue-words.


  • Reflect: Reflect on the material by asking yourself questions, for example: “What’s the significance of these facts? What principle are they based on? How can I apply them? How do they fit in with what I already know? What’s beyond them?

Tips on Combining Echo Smartpen + Cornell Notetaking

  • Draw the columns in your notebook before class. The columns do not have to be the exact dimensions mentioned above. As long as you have enough room to write, then you’re good to go!

    Cornell and Smartpen Format


  • Although you can still use the Cornell Notetaking system while typing notes, researchers in a Princeton/UCLA study found that students who write their notes understood the information better because they summarized the main ideas.

The benefit of ink and audio recording with the Echo smartpen is that students can jot down a few notes in order to capture the big ideas, while all the information (that is said) is recorded and can be reviewed later
Brian Kemp Taking Better Notes With Professor Andy Van Schaack

  • When writing in the note-taking column, come up with a symbol system to indicate notes to be reviewed after class. For example, use the asterisk symbol to indicate this is a cue word, fact, or important idea. In addition, the question mark can be used to indicate questions you have or questions the professor may have asked the class. In the cue column, write down the cues and questions you had made note of.
  • While reviewing your notes, you can always click on the symbols you made with the smartpen to playback the lecture recording that corresponds with your notes. This is especially helpful when you want to hear all the details of the main ideas you wrote in your notes.
Adapted from How to Study in College 7/e by Walter Pauk, 2001 Houghton Mifflin Company