Keyboarding: a vital skill

I was very excited to read Linda Starr’s article, Teaching Keyboarding, When? Why? How? as it made me feel less alone in my belief that keyboarding should be a standard curriculum subject.  As a result of the proliferation of computerisation in the 21 century, surely it would be relatively accurate to say that the keyboard is as much a part of literacy development as is handwriting. Learning a foreign language is a compulsory subject for all school children in Australia, yet little value is placed on a lifelong skill such as keyboarding, therefore I cannot understand why keyboarding is given such little emphasis in education. Traditionally, keyboarding has been taught as a vocational subject. In my school days it was reserved for the non-academic student yet it was one of the most useful skills I learnt at school.  Brighter students were not given the option of learning keyboarding (which would have indeed served them very well in their pursuance of academic subjects).  There is no doubt that proficient keyboard mastery will assist learners throughout their school career, adult life and future learning.

Today’s learners need keyboarding skills

Where typewriting or keyboarding (as it is more commonly known today) can be rightfully described as an essential skill, what has changed is the type of student who would benefit from learning it and how keyboarding today is taught.  There is a difference between traditional methods of teaching typewriting, the type of learners of yesteryear (ie preparing for an occupation in office work) and the type of skills they were taught on the typewriter compared to today’s keyboarding needs. Whereas mastery of the keyboard and keyboarding speed still maintains some importance, skill mastery is aimed at in order to facilitate the writing process and generation of ideas without being hindered by the physical action of trying to keyboard inefficiently.   The word processor has revolutionized writing: they facilitate making corrections and rewrites extremely efficiently for the writer and the focus can then be on developing written expression and composition. Where in previous years typewriting was generally used to transcribe the thoughts of another (for example, employer’s correspondence) today’s keyboard user is generating their own thoughts and ideas. Instruction, therefore needs to be tailored to the needs of today’s learners who are in the main, self-composers.

Benefits to learning-disabled students

Having spent time teaching learning-disabled students, these students have the stress that writing alone places on them, replaced with the tools that would enable them to focus on learning: keyboarding.  Even when reading difficulties have been addressed, there remains for many LD children a difficulty with the fine motor control required for handwriting and as a result their handwriting may be illegible. In addition these students have increased difficulty in spelling, grammar and sentence structure which is added to their writing frustration; it slows them down and hinders the writing process and interferes with the higher-level cognitive processes required during generative writing.It is also worth noting that even if writing strategies to facilitate writing tasks, are taught to LD students, such writing processes involve a considerable number of rewrites (to finally achieve the best piece of work), a daunting task for these students (whose standard never matches their non-LD peers). Furthermore, these students are often penalized on the appearance of their work, which consolidates their feelings of inadequacy in this area. Where non-learning disabled students learn how to plan, monitor, review and evaluate their work, mastering keyboarding would support these processes for LD students. Additionally, keyboarding skills provide:

  • increase satisfaction in appearance of work
  • increased performance and productivity
  • promote opportunities for lifelong learning
  • increase employment opportunities (many jobs today require keyboard input)
  • facilitate equal opportunity in education

Time allocation to learn keyboarding

Keyboarding is a motor skill  and ike any other skill: dance, driving a car, riding a bike, it requires regular consistent practice. I have seen the subject taught in 3 week blocks, the goal being students are expected to touch-type after this period.  Ideally, students should have lessons 3-4 times a week for a year.  Linda Starr has great tips for Teaching Keyboarding, When? Why? How?

Such basic skills as keyboard mastery are the literacy tools of today.  The young people of today are society’s most valuable resource.  To deny them, especially those (LD) learners struggling with fundamental basic language skills (handwriting) is an injustice to their intelligence and capabilities and denying society their unreleased potential.

If you are interested in a little bit about the history of keyboarding and why we are stuck with the QWERTY keyboard arrangement, read on.

The first typewriter designed in 1829 was actually slower in operation than using pen.  An improved version of the first was invented in 1868, patented as the “type writing” machine.  The keys on a typewriter were originally organized in alphabetical order but this resulted in the keys clashing together when typing fast.  As a result, the arrangement of the keys was changed to an order that would prevent the keys from clashing when struck.  Since this time, 1872, the QWERTY keyboard (the arrangement of keys on typewriter or keyboard) have remained the same.   Attempts were made in the following century to improve the layout of keys on the typewriter.  Studies identified that the universal keyboard as it is known, resulted in identifying that the left hand performed more actions than the right.  The conclusion drawn being that the typewriter layout is actually a left-handed device and lacks any evidence to support the continuation of its layout.   Another interesting observation is that the keys most struck were on the third row, next the home row and the most infrequently struck keys on bottom row.  However, despite recognition that this fairly antiquated arrangement of keys could be improved, the same arrangement of keys remain today.   The Dvorak alternative, claiming a better balance of finger stroking movement and a reduction of long awkward reaches and in contest trials, better performance, offers a superior arrangement.  The reasoning for widespread non-acceptance can be traced to a reluctance to re-train staff proficient in the universal style and to avoid the confusion of the presence of two types of keyboard layouts existing.   So in this day and age, we still have the antiquated QWERTY!

Any feedback on the importance of keyboarding in education would be most welcome. What do other educators think?

Keyboarding resources:

A guide for schools: Elementary Keyboarding Guide

Rapid Typing Tutor

Dance Mat Typing

A host of great links for games, lessons and practice from Kate Olsen’s school link.

References (for history of keyboarding):

Russon A R & Wanous S J, 1960, Philosophy and Psychology of Teaching Typewriting, South-Western Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.