About Keyboarding

A great article in Dear Otto today titled “Do Students Still Need to Learn Keyboarding” had me doing a little thinking about it.  Learning to keyboard was one of the best things that I ever did for myself.  In fact, I took “Typing” in Grade 9 and got a mark in the 60s at the Christmas reporting period.  At about the same time, they were replacing typewriters where my father worked and he bought an old Underwood and brought it home for me.

In the beginning, I used to use it as a weight and did some weight lifting with it.  If you’ve ever lifted an old typewriter, you’ll know that they are very heavy.  Eventually, it became part of my routine and I would type my notes as practice in the evenings.  There were two side effects.  I became very proficient as a keyboarder and my marks actually went up in the subjects I was taking.  I guess there’s something to reviewing the concepts taught.  And rhythm.  You need to have rhythm.

It was a great skill to have during university – particularly in programming classes where keyboarding was a real benefit.  I often joked that high school made me a good keyboarder but COBOL made me a great keyboarder.  Later, working in a Business Education Department, you could see the skills in students develop and the benefits of keyboarding spill over there.  On one of my first portable computers, I got really interested in enhancing the speed.  I seemed to have plateaued at something like 80 wpm!  We all know of the alleged story of the design of the QWERTY keyboard and how the layout was supposedly designed to stop the mechanics of the typewriter from jamming.  Now that you take the mechanics out of the equation with electronics, there are other options.

A popular one is the Dvorak Keyboard.  I configured my keyboard to the Dvorak layout and spent some time learning how to use it.  It’s true.  You are so much faster with a layout that recognizes the frequency of use of letters in the English language.  I became much faster.  The downside, of course, is that you don’t always have a Dvorak keyboard wherever you happen to be.  Eventually, I gave up and went back to QWERTY.

DVORAK Keyboard Layout
By Kalan (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

My first reaction to the original question about should we teach students keyboarding was a resounding yes.  After all, it was good for me, why shouldn’t it be good for them?  There is another train of thought though that has seen the minimalizing or removal of teaching of keyboarding and that’s that the student will pick up the skills on their own.  When you watch someone who doesn’t have even the simple skills makes you fear for a generation of hunters and peckers.  Will this create yet another divide between those that can and those that can’t.  To help the cause, there are plenty of free and affordable options for those who would like to learn.

The move towards BYOD makes me sit up and wonder about my position to support keyboarding.  With all kinds of devices finding their way into classrooms, the question soon becomes “whose keyboard?”  Is it the keyboard of a traditional computer?  For the most part, the layout hasn’t changed much over the years.  You’ll now find ALT and FN keys and multi-function keys on most keyboards but most of the rest remains the same.

But, for those who would type on glass…

I guess it’s pretty fortunate that the traditional QWERTY keyboard layout remains the same.  Is that a concession to those of us who learned to keyboard on a typewriter?  When you think about it, like my experience with Dvorak, there are better layouts.

While the traditional layout remains the same , it’s the second level of characters that seem to be open to the designers’ choice of preference.  Even at that, where does suggestive spelling fit?  How about alternative keyboard layouts?  How about sliding from letter to letter rather than tap, tap, tapping?  How about voice recognition input?

I know personally that if you put me in front of an old school keyboard, I’m pretty handy.  Put me in front of glass and I’m okaaaaay, but I grind to a halt when it comes to special characters.  And I hate suggestive spelling – witness my “Lunch with Bobby” messages when I take Bubby out for lunch.

I wonder if the question “Do Students Still Need to Learn Keyboarding?” is the right one.  Is keyboarding the literacy that needs to be taught or is it just a small part of a bigger package.  Sadly, I think that most of this gets ignored.  Other literacies take on more importance in the classroom.  Is it going to take standardized testing done at the keyboard before we determine an answer to this?


3 thoughts on “About Keyboarding

  1. Doug, I quite enjoyed this post, as I actually question if we need to teach keyboarding. I never took keyboarding in high school even though it was offered to me and even though my step-dad was insistent that it would be a very important skill to learn. To this day, I don’t understand the concept of “home row keys” and my fingers always feel funny when I try to type traditionally. That being said, I usually type with three fingers (two on my left hand and one on my right — sometimes a thumb on my left-hand thrown in for good measure), but I type incredibly fast too. I transcribed lectures throughout university for a hearing impaired student, and at my prime, I could type 90 words a minute.

    I think that the more that we type, the quicker that we become. I never taught keyboarding with my Grade 1 and 2 students, but they used the computer so much, that they quickly picked up speed. The same is true for me. Does it really matter if we type traditionally assuming that we can use the tool that we need productively?

    Now if students are incredibly slow at typing and they are not picking up the skill even with practice, then I would usually suggest some free online programs that help with speed. Parents appreciated this and these programs worked. Could this be the differentiated approach to typing?

    So much to think about …


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