Volume 1 Issue 1 - Summer 2001
|Keyboard skills are often the first port of call for people struggling to think of how to teach computing. But is it such a bad idea? Will there ever come a time when touch typing will be relegated to an arcane art? Gerry Pittaway considers the trusty input device.|
“Don’t worry about teaching pupils keyboard skills; entering text via a keyboard will be out of date in two years. Just concentrate on the uses pupils can make of IT and the rest will fall in to place.”
The year – 1984 – I was talking to Bill Broderick, he had the distinction of putting the first computer into a school in the UK and a person of considerable foresight.
Subsequent advice to myself as an advisory teacher has continued to be in the same vein, but I have been thinking recently about the lack of change in the area of keyboard entry in what is nearly 20 years!
My own daughter was taught some keyboard recognition skills at Year 5 by a teacher who gave the class keyboard overlays and then proceeded to practice the clusters of keys much as you would when learning to touch type. Regular sessions and some raised eyebrows by advisors followed. Consequently, or surprisingly, she is now much quicker on the keyboard than me – although I use a keyboard virtually every day for several hours. I say surprisingly because she wasn’t actually using a real keyboard just an acetate overlay.
I haven’t developed much keyboard familiarity in the twenty years that have passed, ok, I type with two fingers but it’s still painfully slow. I have tried though - I performed contortions with my digits to learn the Quinkey keyboard in which we were encouraged to make letters through pressing five keys around a device on which your hand rested – but I can think of few other attempts to get text to screen without the traditional keyboard.
|And how keyboards have changed during that time – a few extra keys to run Windows or the Internet – some interesting curvy shapes and some very pretty translucent ones but basic functionality remains the same. Has any device received such little attention from designers and inventors whilst the rest of the computer use has been transformed out of all recognition?||
Although voice recognition software is around, it has not made much impact in mainstream education. New devices still feature the need to enter text manually, the Ipac and the Visor may allow you to enter text with a pen type arrangement but you are restricted to a fairly slow rate of text input. I noticed that these devices are now being provided with fold up keyboards as an optional extra. Those that have fixed keyboards like the Jornada have keyboards that are far too small for someone with stubby fingers such as myself.
So, where are we heading? Mobile phones have encouraged a massive increase in the amount of text messaging that is occurring not just in pupils but by us oldies too. Communicating with relatives, friends and colleagues right around the world. Predictive typing is a feature on many mobile phones - once mastered it enables a more rapid entering of text – how about a similar feature in word processing?
|Coincidentally, I’ve just finished reading
the winning poems in the Guardian SMS poetry contest (Guardian Online 3rd
May 2001). The winning entry:
The full article (page 4 Online “The message is the medium” by Peter Sansom) makes interesting reading. It is certainly an entertaining form of expression and judging by the millions of text messages sent each day – the need to communicate is alive and well.
In an increasingly point and click society why haven’t we developed a whole range of devices to enable us to commit text to paper. A Dictaphone that just outputs voice as a text file. Difficult? - surely the technology is around at the moment. As I write (sorry type) this article there is a man taking his annual holiday on a space station! A hand held machine that converts voice to text-type seems almost trivial by comparison.
Yet the printed word is one of the most powerful things - the media, the internet and the vast libraries of the world all function through text. Maybe the reason we have not developed easier methods of text entry is more political in nature. The ability to put out information is naturally constricted at the point of input – few people sit and originate ideas and commit them to paper in one process. Even journalists are typing with two fingers – most business managers are getting typists to copy their handwritten material to turn it into word-processed copy.
The word processor for me is a real tool that allows me to structure my ideas and commit them to paper in one process. Later I return to it as an almost separate exercise in which I re-read and edit bits and move around text to improve the flow of the article.
Returning to pupils in school, I have frequently heard advisors and inspectors decrying the use of word processors for copying work that has been previously hand written outside the computer room or away from the computer. “Pupils aren’t learning anything and should be originating their ideas and using the word processor in a more constructive way.” is the frequent complaint.
Lots of ideas, collaborative writing, editing text rather than creating it, accessing information already in text form, working from a prepared electronic worksheet or an internet/intranet source, scanning text from various sources and editing the material to suit their particular needs. Producing audio accounts is a useful activity but for teachers to assess them is very time consuming. Children find them difficult to edit and the desire to “get it just the way they want it” means many repeats to the recording process. All are useful and educationally valid activities for pupils to be involved in. But, what they are doing is allowing pupils to become less and less keyboard orientated and when they do need to input text then it is still painfully slow.
Pupils are getting more ICT time in school than they have had previously and ICT is a tool, which they are actively encouraged to use in many subject areas. Indeed it is only through using their ICT skills in a wide variety of situations that real learning and consolidation will occur.
We are in a society in which everyone has plenty to say but only the few commit it to paper.
Being able to commit to “paper” allows you the ability to reflect on what you are about to say. To change meanings and emphasis that may not have been intended.
And the answer is . . . . .
Well we could return to the secondary school model of training pupils to touch type as a practical skill. Perhaps we could include the other 50% of the population in the process this time!
Maybe we could set RSA type stages that pupils could take each year to build up their skill level as they move through school.
Or maybe just maybe, someone is at present working on the smallest of small black boxes that will do what we all want. I would like to make a wager - that we will see it first in a mobile phone rather than a computer!!!
London Borough of Havering
Volume 1 Issue 1 - Summer 2001