Writing is a complex human activity. The writer has to compose a coherent message and formulate it in accordance with linguistic rules (grammar, spelling), all the while taking the characteristics of the potential reader into account. The ability to manage all these various mental activities, as well as their time course, can be regarded as an indicator of the writer’s expertise (Alamargot & Chanquoy, 2001). For the cognitive science researchers we are (but also for people interested in these questions), identifying the rules that govern the engagement and course of these mental processes is an essential step towards a greater understanding of writing and processing (Levy & Ransdell, 1996). The Eye and Pen software was designed to help researchers reach this goal (Chesnet & Alamargot, 2005; Alamargot, Chesnet, Dansac & Ros, 2006).
Eye and Pen can be mainly (but not exclusively) used in the context of handwriting studies, whatever the graphic format (from text to drawing). The Eye and Pen software was designed to allow the synchronous recording of handwriting (by means of a digitizing tablet: coordinates and state of the pen) and eye movements (via an optical eye-tracking system: eye coordinates in the task environment). The conjunction of these two signals allows us to study the synchronization between eye and pen movements during pausing and writing periods. For instance, it makes it possible to study not only the visual control of graphomotor execution, but also the reading of the text in order to revise it and the consultation of documentary sources with a view to summarizing them. Eye and Pen allows users to conduct these investigations in a continuous way, without interrupting the activity underway or increasing cognitive load.
In short, this software makes it possible to establish a link between the visual input of writing (gazes on documentary sources and/or text produced so far) and its graphomotor output (pausing and writing phases, drawing). This link can be studied in various situations and media (paper, computer screen, screen tablet, etc.) The Eye and Pen software can be regarded as a type of digital video recorder, which allows users to watch and play-replay the process of graphic generation and associated eye movements as often as they wish. A semi-automated coding system enables users to characterize and classify ocular and graphomotor events.
Eye and Pen can also be used without an eyetracking device to only record handwriting data, for example, in a school classroom.
Some tablet manufacturer (ask your reseller) also sells true inking pen for their devices. Thus, one may use a sheet of paper (or even a booklet made of many pages) on the tablet. Handwriting situation is then very “natural”, with a subject writing with a pencil on a sheet of paper, the tablet serves as a “place mat” the subject can move to feel comfortable.
Eye and Pen has two different modes of operation:
- the acquisition mode, allowing the recording of data and stimuli presentation (audio, video, text, picture);
- the analysis mode, allowing to display, select (with various filters) and edit data (in text format, to be imported into spreadsheet or statistical analysis software).
The “official” citation of Eye and Pen is:
Alamargot, D., Chesnet, D., Dansac, C. & Ros, C. (2006). Eye and Pen: a new device to study reading during writing. Behaviour Research Methods, Instruments and Computers, 38(2), 287-299.