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Science Educate-it

Digital 'writing'

In an online learning situation you occasionally want to be able to explain something in writing in both lectures and working groups. Especially for math and chemistry it is often easier to explain something written instead of typed. In the context of this we have investigated the possibilities for this.

For (live) online sharing of written text you have roughly 5 different options (from simple to advanced):

Write on (normal) paper and share it by placing a webcam above the paper. You can then share the webcam (live) via MS Teams.

Drawing tablet (e.g. Wacom). This is a digital device that consists of a hard plastic surface that can be used as a drawing surface and is sensitive to contact. In this way, movements of a stylus pen on the surface are transferred to a monitor. Drawing tablets exist with or without a built-in screen.

Smartpen. Smartpens write as 'normal' pens on specially made paper. The text you write becomes visible on the paper (with ink) and is then immediately visible in an application specially created for the pen and can also be transformed into typed text.

Tablet with styluspen. For both Apple and Samsung tablets there are different stylus pens on the market to make it easier to 'write' on your tablet.  

Laptop with touchscreen and styluspen.

On this page you will first find a general comparison between the different options. In the comparison table below, the drawing tablet is divided into drawing tablets with and without a screen. After the comparison table, a more detailed description for each option will be given and you will receive advice on which brand/type might be of interest to you. Want to go to directly to the type that is of interest to you? Then use the links below to go to it directly!

We end this page with some tips from fellow teachers about which apps to use to draw in. 

Comparison table

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Questions to help you decide

What is of importance to you?

Writing on paper and sharing this via a webcam


  • 0,- (if you have a phone or tablet with a camera)
  • €15-50 (if you by a simple webcam)

Please note: Loose webcams have not been tested for this comparison, because it is expected that most who will use this option will have a phone or tablet with camera at their disposal.  

Do you prefer to write with pen and paper? Then you can possibly 'hang' the camera of your phone or tablet above your paper and share this camera image with your students. You put your phone or tablet for example on a stack of books and place the paper you want to write on below. Then you can share your camera via for example MS Teams, where you choose 'Share camera'.  Having the Teams application on your phone or tablet is a prerequisite to do this. In the manual below, you can read how then to share your drawings in Teams:  

The tricky part is that you have to make sure that the camera is in the right position and not accidentally filming e.g. part of the stack of books. In addition, you must avoid blocking the text with your hand while writing. An additional disadvantage of the camera of your phone is that it is automatically shared on 'portrait' instead of landscape image. If you want to rotate your camera image you will need a separate app for this, e.g. the Landscape video camera app.   

See below what this option could look like in practice: 

Camera Ipad mini
Camera phone, portrait mode

Drawing tablet with or without a screen

Drawing tablets are digital devices that consist of a hard plastic surface that can be used as a drawing surface and is sensitive to contact. In this way, movements of a stylus pen on the surface are transferred to a monitor. Drawing tablets exist with or without a built-in screen. A drawing tablet with a built-in screen can be seen as an extra 'monitor' that duplicates or extends the image of your laptop/computer.  

Some things you can pay attention to when purchasing your drawing tablet: 

  • Price: How much money do you want to spent on this solution? The cheapest options are available from as little as €50, while the advanced tablets with screen and very precise stylus pens can cost up to €1000.  
  • Writing quality: In general, the more expensive the option, the better the pressure points of the pen and tablet are and therefore the better your text will come across. With a cheaper option, the pen may sometimes miss a written piece, whilst this will not come across as quickly with a more expensive option. 
  • Screen: Most important considerations if you choose an option without a screen: 
  • You do not see what you write on the tablet itself, only on your monitor / desktop. From experience we can share that it takes some time to get used to this, but after that it is easy to do. 
  • Multi-touch is usually not possible, so you can only zoom in and out or move objects on the monitor. This is also a matter of getting used to. Often the tablet or pen itself offers a number of buttons which can be used to possibly erase, zoom in and out etc.
  • Format: Usually you can choose between S, M and L. The smallest size is especially suitable for small notes on e.g. photos or powerpoint slides. Would you like to write whole formulas or make drawings yourself? Then you better choose an M or L format. 
  • Wireless: The cheapest options only work if they are connected via a USB cable to your monitor or laptop. More expensive options also offer the possibility to connect via e.g. Bluetooth.
  • Brand: Wacom's drawing tablets usually score the best in tests.  However, this is also reflected in the price. XP-Pen is possibly a good alternative that is also a bit cheaper. 

Within our faculty we have tried out the Wacom One Tablet, the XP Pen Star 03 and the Wacom Cintiq 16.  

Curious about the Wacom One tablet? Take a look at our tutorial here and contact science.educate-it@uu.nl to borrow the tablet temporarily.

Curious about the experiences of the teaching assistants within our Mathematics and Physics department with this tablet? Then read the document below;

Wacom One set-up


Smart pens write like 'normal' pens on specially made paper. The text you write (on special paper with ink) is directly visible in an application specially created for the pen by means of a built-in camera and can also be transformed into typed text.  

Most smart pens work through an application that you can download on your phone / tablet / desktop. You then connect the pen via Bluetooth to the application and share the application via MS Teams, as described in the manual below.   

From that moment on, students can see what you write down live. You also have the possibility to record everything you write and share it in the form of an MP4 file or a pdf file. The audio will be recorded from your desktop / tablet / phone.

You don't need to be connected to Bluetooth to save the written texts. You can also temporarily save the written text on the pen and later synchronize it with your application. 

Neosmartpen set-up

Within our faculty we have tried out the Livescribe Aegir Smartpen adn the Neosmartpen N2. Below you find a comparison of both types.

Curious about one of the two options? Please contact science.educate-it@uu.nl to borrow the pens temporarily. 

The main difference between the pens is mainly due to the Papertube application of the Neo N2 Smartpen.

  • Do you have a tablet available with Android > 5.0 or IOS > 11.1? Then we recommend the Neo N2 Smartpen. With the attached paper 'Papertube controller', see image below, it offers a lot more options.
  • Don't have a tablet with the right compatibility available? Then both options can be interesting. The matching paper with the Livescribe pen offers options to start, pause and stop a recording and easily send text at once to e.g. OneNote. The Neonotes paper does not have this option. The Livescribe pen is also a bit cheaper. However, the desktop application offers slightly less functionalities than the Neo Smartpen. With the Neo Smartpen the desktop application makes it easier to drag and drop text and change colors.
Papertube controller

Tablet with styluspen

Do you already own a tablet or are you planning to buy one? Then depending on the type of tablet, you might consider purchasing an Apple Pencil or Samsung S Pen. Both pens work in a similar way; you pair them via Bluetooth and can then start writing right away. Then you can use a drawing app on your tablet and easily share your screen via MS Teams. How to do this, you can read in the manual:

A Samsung S pen costs either €49,99 or 59,99. With the newest type of tablets, the pencil is sometimes already included in the price. 

Depending on the type a Apple pencil costs €99 or 135.  

Although each type of tablet is of course very different, the Samsung and Apple pencils hardly differ in terms of functionality. For both, the latest (and most expensive) types of pencils offer the most functionalities. Think, for example, of the possibility to 'change' the pen into an eraser by clicking twice on the pen (Apple) or by using the button on the pen (Samsung).  

Both pens can be used in different drawing applications. Within the UU, OneNote and the Whiteboard application of Microsoft Teams are well supported. However, the pens work in any type of application.  

Laptop with touchscreen

The most advanced (and most expensive) option is of course to purchase a laptop with touchscreen. What the (financial) possibilities are differs within each department. In addition, this is not part of the standard offers. If you can demonstrate that the touchscreen functionality is of real added value to you, the HP Elitebook X360 830 G6 is supported by ITS. This costs €1412.72 and comes standard with a matching stylus pen. The laptop itself offers the possibility to manually zoom in and out, scroll, type etc.  

You can also use the laptop in tablet mode (with or without keyboard) and regular mode. For writing you can use the above mentioned drawing applications, such as OneNote and Windows Ink.

HP Touchscreen laptop, tablet modus
HP Touchscreen laptop with stylus
















Tips for applications

From a number of teachers we have received several tips for useful applications to 'write in' digitally. Not all applications are supported by the UU, so use them at your own risk.

  • Microsoft Whiteboard. Although the Whiteboard in Teams occasionally responds slowly, the use of the separate Microsoft Whiteboard application works fairly well. You can also add post-its, images, powerpoint slides etc.

  • OneNote. This application is standard in Microsoft Teams and works quite easily for digitally written text. You also have the possibility to convert the written text into typed text. The same goes for formulas.

  • Word. Word also has the ability to convert written text into typed text and can do the same for formulas. It also has a formula editor, which works well for easy formulas.

  • Different types of math software such as Geogabra, Mathtype, Math Lab, Mathematica and Numworx also work well for written text. Numworx is now also offered by Educate-IT. 

  • Whiteboard.fi. It takes some time getting used to, but the nice thing about it is that you can easily view the separate whiteboards of individual students. 

  • Overleaf. This is an web based version of Latex and is easy to use.