ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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The 'Magic Pen': Using digitised pen and paper to collect, analyse and link audio and written data

Lisa Gibbs, Colin MacDougall, Karen Block

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 10 - Law Building, Room 105
Date: 2012-07-10 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Last modified: 2011-11-22


Conducting rigorous social science research requires constant refinement of techniques and methods as well as a preparedness to trial new and innovative tools, particularly in complex research circumstances. In this paper we describe the use of the livescribe pen, a commercially available low-cost device which writes, records, digitises and links the audio and written records of the interview or focus group data. It does this by acting as an audio recording device, of equal or greater quality than standard digital recorders. It also writes like a normal pen on specially digitised writing pads which allow you at any time to touch the pen to any point in the notes to play back the audio that occurred at the time those notes were written. These written notes can then be uploaded onto a computer and stored as pdf files with the accompanying software package allowing file sharing, word searching across files, and audio playback of either the whole recording or specific moments in the interview activated by the touch of the cursor at the appropriate point in the notes on screen.

We will present some case studies in which the pen was dubbed the ‘magic pen’. In particular we will describe research conducted approximately four months after the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in February 2009. This research needed to be conducted in a short timeframe to inform the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. We will also present research conducted to evaluate a program for young people with refugee backgrounds who are new arrivals to Australia. We will discuss how for both of these research studies, the features of the pen created such interest among the participants that it acted as an effective icebreaker in the initial introductory stages of research and thus helped to build rapport. We will demonstrate how it supported rapid transcription and analysis in time-pressured and confidential studies. We will also compare the features of the pen in comparison with more established tools such as digital recorders and software analysis packages to support appropriate selection of research tools for a given research context.