Keyboarding

by Jean Tower


I have had some interesting conversations recently about keyboarding (touch typing, really) and the shape that keyboarding instruction and expectations takes in various schools and at different grade levels.

I work in a school district in Massachusetts. Did you know that the Massachusetts state standards for students include a keyboarding expectation?
"G6-8: 1.5 Demonstrate keyboarding skills between 25-30 wpm with fewer than 5 errors."
(From http://www.doe.mass.edu/edtech/standards/itstand.doc )

In my school district students practice keyboarding skills in various grades in elementary and middle school. In addition, at our high school all students must take, as a graduation requirement, a computer explorations course. In this course students spend time practicing keyboarding in order to meet a standard that is even higher than that called for by the Massachusetts state standards document – we expect freshmen to keyboard (touch type) forty words per minute.

Why do we have keyboarding standards at all? I suppose it is indicative of a desire to have students demonstrate efficiency at using the computer for writing. Research shows that when our students compose at the keyboard, their writing is positively impacted in several ways – they write longer, write more fluently, and are more apt to edit and rewrite. But I contend that as soon as students are more efficient at the keyboard than they are at writing by hand, then students will indeed choose to keyboard. Touch typing goes further than necessary, I think. Touch typing is a skill meant for typewriters and I contend it is an outdated skill and we should be adjusting our thinking about and requirements for this skill for the computer age.

I think we need to modify the standards to reflect the tools that students are actually using, that is, we need to differentiate between typing and keyboarding . The reason it was important to be able to type 25 or 30 or 40 words per minute without errors, was that it was not easy to correct errors on a typewriter, especially once you finished a line or a paragraph or a page. If you left a word out of a typewritten page, you might have to retype the entire page. If you misspelled a word and had to go back and insert letters, again, you may have to retype the entire page.

The same is not true for keyboarding. Touch typing on the computer is unnecessary. As you word process, the software makes minor corrections as you type. Even most online forms ( google , for example) will prompt you with "did you mean. . . ?" if a typo is detected (or suspected). Students can allow software to correct minor errors as they keyboard, they can run the spell checker when they are done in order to help catch more errors, and then they can proofread and can go back and very easily make corrections, change word order, and edit, without having to redo any of the work that comes after the error, as they would have had to do on a typewritten document.

So what really is the point of requiring students to keyboard, without looking at the keys, 40 words per minute, with few errors? My guess is that it is a legacy standard, remaining from our old Underwood or Royal typewriter days.

What should the standard be? If we agree that we want students to keyboard and to be efficient at it, what would our requirement be and how would we articulate it? My guess is that it would not be something in the form of a certain number of words per minute, blind typing, and fewer than 5 errors. What would it be?

Image from: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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