ERCIM News No.33 - April 1998

Using Pen Scanners for Collection of Web-Material for Lectures

by Caj Södergård

Practical means are needed to integrate printed products with electronic media in the school environment. Web gives access to a practically infinite information base that could tapped, eg when preparing lessons. However, studies have shown that teachers refuse to use the Internet in the preparation of their lessons, because it is too complicated and takes too much time to filter the relevant information from the great number of references. Therefore methods must be developed to make the use of the Internet easier for teachers.

Teachers need above all hybrid solutions, where the printed course material is the basis, while further clarifications and illustrative cases are retrieved from the Internet. The retrieval must be straight-forward and give relevant information. The existing printed communication cannot use hypertext, even if printed references, indexes and Web addresses fulfill the same function in a more limited form. But to retrieve Web pages on the basis of printed URLs demands careful entering of text strings, which is laborious especially for beginners, and if there are several addresses. Long http addresses occupy space and make the typography of the printed page more complicated.

The System

A new type of hybrid media system has been constructed at VTT Information Technology for this purpose. The patented system uses a pen scanner to access Web hyperlinks on the Internet (see figure 1). Thus, the system forms a convenient bridge between printed and net media. The link anchors in the printed presentation are specially marked. The marked words are scanned with a pen scanner attached to a PC. By applying powerful text recognition and string matching, the predetermined hyperlinks are automatically chosen from a list of possible candidates and shown by the Web browser. In addition to these editorial links, the system also applies Web search engines for retrieving documents containing the link anchor text.

Testing Hybrid Media in Schools

The system has been tested by teachers in 5 comprehensive schools in the Helsinki region as a tool for preparing their lessons (see figure 2).

Social studies were selected as the subject, because the teacher of this subject needs plenty of background material. The teaching material consisted of a study book and special material for teachers to prepare their lessons. The 411 words in the index of the study book were selected as link anchors and these words were underlined red in the text.

Table 1 shows, that the system was used on the average 2,3 times per week 25 minutes a time. Most of the time the LINKER was used 10 to 15 minutes between classes. The teachers used Internet without the data pen approximately once a week In other words, they used the pen scanner three times more often than the keyboard to access Web pages.

Table 1: The use of the hybrid media system in schools.
User 1 User 2 User 3 User 4 User 5 average
Number of sessions/week 1,4 4 2,1 2 2 2,3
Length of the session (minutes) 34 18 20 26 26 25
Number of WWW sessions without data pen (own estimate) 1 1 2 1 0 1

A main result was that the teachers found it much easier to use the a pen scanner to access Web pages than to enter the URLs and search words in the traditional way by the keyboard (Table 2).

Table 2: Easy of access to WWW pages on the scale of -5...0...+5 (-5 = keyboard much easier, 0 = equal, +5 = data pen much easier).

User 1 User 2 User 3 User 4 User 5 average
Data pen vs. keyboard entering 2,3 4 5 4 2 3,5


The pen scanner based system constructed and patented in this work was in the school tests found to be well suited for teachers preparing lessons in social studies. It increased the Internet usage threefold compared to traditional keyboard use. The teachers also found the LINKER to be significantly easier to use for accessing Web than the keyboard. Similar benefits are achievable in many other hybrid media applications, where you need easy access to Web pages that are linked to a printed presentation. However, the system still need development before qualifying as a marketable product. Especially the price of the pen scanner has to be dropped to be attractive in schools. A problem is the significant amount of work that goes into the preparation of a relevant link list. This work can be lessened if the automatic search robots can be put to come up with more relevant search results by introducing language understanding software. However, a total automatic search does not seem to be possible. Some applications would benefit from a wireless pen.

Please contact:

Caj Södergård - VTT Information Technology
Tel: +358 9 456 5963

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