‘Typing is the process of inputting text into a device, such as a typewriter, cell phone, computer, or a calculator, by pressing keys on a keyboard. It can be distinguished from other means of input, such as the use of pointing devices like the computer mouse, and text input via speech recognition.
The world’s first typist was Lillian Sholes from Wisconsin. She was the daughter of Christopher Sholes, the man who invented the first practical typewriter.
User interface features such as spell checker, auto-complete and auto-replace serve to facilitate and speed up typing and to prevent or correct errors the typist may make.’ [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typing]
2. Typing Techniques
Many students use the hunt and peck typing strategy, with the typists keeping their eyes on the hard copy, whether it is their own writing, an article, newspaper clipping, worksheet, text or an article.
Touch typing involves the use of the home row method, where many beginner typists keep their wrists up and elevated. This can cause overuse or even carpal tunnel syndrome. Resting the hands on desk or keyboard rest reduces fatigue and improves performance. To avoid fatigue and back/shoulder pain, typists should sit up tall, slightly leaning forward, from the waist. They should place their feet flat on the floor in front of them with one foot slightly in front of the other. It is best to keep the elbows close to a typist’s side with forearms slanted slightly upward to the keyboard. The typist’s fingers should be curved slightly resting on the home row (i.e. the a s d f and j k l ; keys).
Many competent typists touch typists and users who are blind or visually impaired use keyboard shortcuts or hotkeys when typing on a computer. This allows more efficient and easier editing with more productive time, as they do not have to take their hands off the keyboard to locate, grasp and use a mouse. An example of a keyboard shortcut is touching the Control key plus the P key to print, Ctrl-C to copy with CTRL-V to paste or the Windows-E keys to bring up all computer drives.
Many experienced typists can feel or sense an error. As they type, they quickly hit the backspace key and make the correction without losing their train of thought or reduce speed and accuracy.
Typing involves hand and finger positioning, placement and movement, ergonomics, good posture, setting appropriate chair and table heights, competency, speed and accuracy; therefore realising increased efficiency.
Words per minute (WPM) is a measure of typing speed. For the purposes of WPM measurement a word is standardised to five characters or keystrokes. Therefore, "sixth" counts as one word, but "sixteenth" counts as two. Accuracy involves decreasing unwanted or keystrokes that are made in error. Competency increases over time with continued practise.
It is often a very solitary and boring regime but with persistence and useful coaching, typing lessons, keyboard drills and/or computer based tutoring software, skills can be developed that prove to be life-long. Students who learn at an early age can become quite proficient. These skills ensure greater productivity and work output in senior years of schooling. It then carries over to further study, work training and other workplace opportunities.
Study and research involves note taking, essay writing, project creation, creation of lists and other documentation. Keyboarding skills are attractive to potential employers. Typing skills can be transferred from computer to other devices that involve keyboard data entry (e.g. PDAs or mobile phones with external mini or standard sized QWERTY keyboards).
The issue of typing and introducing the necessary skills to children at school is often raised. Using computers, library resources or computer labs to formally teach typing skills may tie up resources intended or needed for other educational or research purposes. Some useful strategies to incorporate some typing practise at school might include:
- Short bursts of 10-15 minute practice sessions early in the morning on classroom computers
- Photocopying the school’s/classroom’s computer keyboard, laminating it and having students ‘type’ for short periods (i.e. 2-3 minutes end of a lesson, before breaks, in down time)
- Paint a large keyboard on the ground – young children enjoy making up word games, spelling lists, jumping on letters of their own names or music and sports celebrities
- Paint a large keyboard on a wall or structure for ball games, target practice
- Use old unwanted PCs and place them in a location where children can use free software for typing
- Have typing competitions throughout the week concentrating on typing spelling words, thematic words or interesting names and places into MS Word with students timing each other (using touch typing methods and not looking at the hard copy)
3. Keyboard Options and Technologies
QWERTY is the most common keyboard layout, but it can be argued that it is not the most efficient keyboard layout or arrangement of alphanumeric keys. The QWERTY design is based on a layout created by Christopher Latham Sholes in 1873 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the Sholes and Glidden typewriter and sold to Remington in the same year, when it first appeared in typewriters. It became popular with the success of the Remington No. 2 and No. 3 and No. 389 of 1878, and remains in use on electronic keyboards due to the network effect of a standard layout and a belief that alternatives fail to provide very significant advantages. There are alternative layouts including Dvorak (Svorak), Colemak, Maltron, Neo and Turkish F. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QWERTY#cite_note-fable-0 ]
a. Specialised Keyboards
A large number of keyboards are available to meet every conceivable need, from specialised keyboards for point of sale (POS), banking, data entry, ATMs, biometric and security, telephony, health care, stenography and the list goes on.
Specialised keyboards are available for education and to cater to people with disability. These different options include design features and factors:
- Different keyboard layouts, sizes, heights, dimensions weights and number of keys
- Compact or mini keyboards (e.g. TASH, Cherry)
- Expanded or Enlarged keyboards
- Ergonomically designed keyboards
- Games keyboards
- Programmable keyboards (e.g. IntelliKeys)
- Illuminated or back lit keyboards
- Flexible or rubber keyboards (easy to wash, fold and store; safer for some students – and staff)
- Keyboards with or without number key pads
- Keyboards with trackpad or rollerball style mouse (wired or wireless)
- Infra Red (IR), Bluetooth, wireless and or USB keyboards
One of the major benefits in using a USB dongle or wireless capable keyboard is that there is no cable. Users can access the computer remotely and at a distance. Many schools use these with computers with Interactive Whiteboards as staff or students can roam and/or share the keyboard. Students in wheelchairs can have the keyboard on their wheelchair tray or table. Elderly people can sit in their favourite or most comfortable chair and interact with a computer or TV.
People often forget that a computer can have more than one keyboard active at any one time. Educators and support staff can connect another wired or wireless keyboard to a Notebook, Netbook or desktop computer and share a task, guide a student, note take for them or interact in a game or on a document or website. The student remains focussed on the task and has the monitor in front of them. The ‘helper’ can monitor typing, assist with difficult words or passages or type on the student’s behalf during a lesson or whilst a teacher is talking.
b. CLEVY 2 Keyboard
Some keyboards have the ABC layout and configuration that appeals to younger children, those who cannot cope with the QWERTY system or children with ID or with special needs. Keyboard that are available with this system, from the factory, include the popular CLEVY 2 keyboard http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/product/clevy-2-keyboard .
This innovative keyboard is very attractive to children for their writing and computer skills in primary schools. It assists in the development of the motor system connected to the education of handwriting. This large, robust and colourful keyboard stimulates young children to interact and engage with computers in an educational way. The keys on the Clevy 2 keyboard have bright colours. The keyboard has a clear, child-friendly layout and each key is larger than those on a conventional 101-style keyboard. Educators and parents can choose from a few models. A NSW handwriting font or lower case font, are also available.
One of the major benefits in some school settings is that the Clevy 2 keyboard is 100 times stronger than a regular keyboard. The keys are made of switches instead of membranes with all switches connected to a metal plate. Each model is fully compatible with both MS Windows and Mac OS using PS2 or USB connection. There are skins – the Clevy Keyboard Glove – a flexible and sturdy polyurethane technology to avoid dirt, dust, liquid and other spills and also to assist users without adequate salivation control. Perspex clear keyguards are also available for users with physical disabilities, motor dysfunction or short or long term injury.
c. Big Keys
BigKeys keyboards are standard-sized computer keyboards with extra large keys. The keys are 2.5cm square – 4 times larger than the keys on standard computer keyboards. There are four models and they cater to users who require a simplified, less confusing keyboard layout. They are fully functional though and provide full access to the keys needed for word processing, email correspondence and Internet browsing. The recently released High-Contrast LX Keyboard has black printing on bright yellow keys in QWERTY layout.
The yellow keys are preferred by some users with visual impairments. It is also useful for some students who require this black-on-yellow combination for specific access and learning disabilities.
Other keypads and keyboards have emerged with different layouts for portable devices. The use of thumbs for ‘texting’ is very popular but research is showing that over use can result in injury and other impediments.
d. Keyboard Stickers and Labels
Younger students and those with intellectual disabilities might need to have the keys labelled or coloured. The keyboards above (Clevy and BigKeys) offer this option. Another method is to buy stickers (the small round keyboard-key sized ones at the newsagencies) with a sheet of Letraset and fashion stickers. Then adhere to the keys with the vowels and ‘Y’ keys, a child’s name, key words or keys that are often confused or mistyped in their writing.
Professionally produced keyboard label sets are available from a number of suppliers, all at different costs and with different contrasts (yellow or white on black background etc). There a few options with Braille keyboard stickers, ZoomCaps and three different sets of keyboard stickers. Refer to http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/catalogue/keyboard-labels for prices and descriptions.
4. Writing vs Typing
Some students, in fact many people, find hand writing is arduous, frustrating slow and often disengaging.
They might suffer from poor handwriting for many different reasons, often as a result of an injury, trauma, a physical impediment, a snake or spider bite, arthritis, over use syndrome and/or other factors beyond their control. Students also find hand writing to be difficult or near impossible at school as they tend to fatigue, feel pain be physically disorientated or ill. Some educators feel that they must learn to print and to write with a pen, biro or pencil at certain stages of development in year levels at prescribed times. Enforced hand writing can sometimes lead to further problems; emotional, physical and mental.
Students who cannot form letters correctly on the page (dysgraphia) may have delays in hand-eye coordination and may also have difficulties concentrating. People who are unable to write words from memory or dictation may present with deficits in their visual memory. These students usually cannot remember what the words they wish to produce ‘look’.
Students who produce legible script but cannot organise their thoughts in hand written or typed form may be suffering from cognitive processing problems.
This can cause distress, embarrassment and disengagement with students. If a child is reluctant to hand write, then an assessment is required with a hand writing specialist or Occupational Therapist.
Keyboarding may be a better option, keeping in mind that being able to quickly write a note, fill out a form or sign and date a cheque are important life skills.
It is a question of negotiation and balance between persisting with hand writing to degrees, with keyboarding or typing as a better long term solution. Guidance and professional consultation may be necessary so that the child is properly supported and that the best possible outcomes are agreed to by parents with teaching and support staff.
Audio recording using cassette players, Dictaphones, digital tape recorder or Digital Voice Recorders may be another or complimentary option. Other digital devices such as MP3 players, mobile phones and iPhones and iPads with audio and note taking apps may prove to be helpful, especially digital pens such as the Livescribe Echo models.
Using voice and recording comments, thoughts, ideas, essay plans and organisation and planning is quick and easily performed by most people. The digital audio recording devices are now small, discrete and portable. Students can type their ideas after saving their voiced messages, comments or thoughts using these devices. Their ideas are stored and can be played back repeatedly. They can relax and then choose to hand write or type as quickly or as slowly as they wish.
Students may suffer from one or more of the following:
- Slow or poor handwriting
- Consistently misspelt words
- Misshapen or poorly constructed letters and numbers
- Reversed letters and numbers
- Poor formation of letters
- Illegible, messy, uneven hand writing
- Punctuation errors
- Sentences that are disjointed or lack logical cohesion
These students may also present as struggling students with dyslexia or learning disabilities. They can become even more disengaged and reluctant to participate if forced to hand write or practise letter formation or cursive script. There needs to be more expert advice in the early years to inform teachers and support staff, about the interventions, techniques and technologies that are available. Students should not feel inadequate or challenged by old conventions and misconceptions about the role and significance of hand writing skills, given their predicament or situation.
5. Dyspraxia and Fine Motor Coordination
Other factors may include Dyspraxia, fatigue, short or long term injury, damage to the thumb or one or more fingers, poor wrist movement or control, tremor, weakness in the student’s preferred arm, wrist or hand, students experiencing issues such as hemiplegia, cerebral palsy, spasticity, repetitive strain injury and other motor difficulties.
Some students with poor fine motor control, learning disabilities or vision impairments can also experience difficulties. Children with intellectual disabilities can struggle grasping, holding and control a stylus, crayon, pen or pencil, let alone learning the discipline, dexterity and mechanics of forming letters and numbers.
Children, who experience dyspraxia, with males being predominantly represented, have difficulties with fine motor co-ordination. This can lead to problems with handwriting, which may be due to either ideational or ideomotor difficulties (i.e. the ideomotor effect is a psychological phenomenon wherein a person makes motions unconsciously). Problems associated with fine motor coordination may include:
- Developing a desired writing speed and proficiency
- Learning basic movement patterns
- The acquisition of graphemes – e.g. the letters of the Latin alphabet as well as numbers.
- Establishing the correct pencil grip
- Experiencing hand aching whilst writing
6. Other Technologies and Options
Other options and technologies that can assist students with poor handwriting include the popular WACOM tablets and other graphics tablets that incorporate handwriting recognition (e.g. using built in options in the MS Windows operating system). Some digital pens (e.g. IntelliPen models) employ hand writing recognition for students who do like to write, rather than type. OCR devices such as hand held scanners and reading pens (http://www.incrediblehorizons.com/readingpens.htm ) can assist people who wish to have text ‘typed’ from hard copy or printed media using this technology rather than having to re-write or type it.
Encouraging reluctant and disengaged students, who can write, is also critically important. Using a fun tool such as a digital pen might be the catalyst for increased effort and persistence as they deem the technology to be empowering as they see their efforts rewarded with hand writing recognition software transforming their work instantly into electronic text.
7. Typing Tutors
These software programs allow students to learn to type more accurately, efficiently and quickly, with practise, over time. Practise does make perfect! Short frequent exposure and sessions that involve challenges, games, competition between the computer or another typist/player with music, animation and fun activities are more likely to be used by children than dry, boring drills. Finding the most suitable program might take time and some exploration. Trial and error might be required.
Some schools buy one typing tutor program and then expect all of their students to learn and master touch typing. This is often unrealistic and inappropriate. All students are different and the need for large print, colour, sound, reinforcement and even games might be required. Factors that may preclude use have to be considered:
- The complexity of the software (terminology, conventions and instructions)
- Voiced instructions, directions, typed letters and rewards
- Navigation about the software
- Size of the onscreen keyboard – ability to relocate, resize or recolour keys
- Size of the text being tested – ability to adjust the font style, colour and size
- The colours used in the text display and on the keyboard as well as background colour
- The colour of incorrect keystrokes
- Facility to turn on or off the sound, beep or warning that an error has been made
- Whether the program can be run in full screen or in a resizable window
- Whether the program has music or sound effects
- Animated characters, narrator, instructor or reward options
- Diagnostic feedback (e.g. accuracy, WPM, incorrect keystrokes etc)
- Time elapsed/time to finish a task or drill/lesson
- Number of lessons included in the program
- The ability to practise with one hand – left or right handed typing (e.g. Five Finger Typist)
Learning to master a keyboard and to touch type is a significant advantage for most students, even in the age of advancement and proliferation of hand writing technologies, digital pens, OCR (Optical Character Recognition) tools and speech and/or voice recognition systems.
The advantages in learning to type efficiently and with speed and accuracy include:
- Speed – more text is created over longer sustained periods of typing
- Accuracy – less frustration, decreased editing time, greater productivity, increased levels of satisfaction
- Life skill – once acquired, rarely forgotten
- Employment options – candidate is more attractive in all areas of workplace and industry
- Portability – the skills are transferable from keyboard to keyboard, computer to portable devices
- Reading and copying text is faster and ergonomics aligned to decrease back and shoulder pain
- Automatic typing skills increase overall proficiency and tasks are accomplished more quickly
- More efficient way of using a keyboard
- Less fatiguing
The increased prevalence of thumb typing (i.e. using thumbs to enter text and data onto smaller or portable digital keyboards, mobile phones and PDAs) and use of touch sensitive onscreen displays with one or more fingers has changed keyboarding methodology and practices over the last few decades. Younger people become adept at accessing portable technologies as speed and quick texting conventions and language is changing in how they communicate. This can have advantages as well as distinct problems and disadvantages.
Educators must also consider and be aware of the choice and options for multiple language support using different keyboard options, overlays and set ups. In the operating systems of MS Windows, Mac OS and Linux/Ubuntu are different keyboard layouts, languages and configurations. This needs to be explored for students who have different first languages and those with physical disabilities (e.g. DVORAK layout as opposed to ABC or QWERTY).
8. Onscreen Keyboards
Virtual, sticky, floating or onscreen keyboards are available. A virtual keyboard is a software and/or hardware component that allows a user to enter characters. A virtual keyboard can usually be operated with multiple input devices, which may include an actual keyboard, a computer mouse, a head mouse, and an eye-mouse. On a desktop PC, one purpose of a virtual keyboard is to provide an alternative mechanism for disabled users that cannot use a physical keyboard. Another major use for an on-screen keyboard is for bi- or multi-lingual users, who continually need to switch between different character sets and/or alphabets. [Refer to http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/article/universal-access-using-onscreen-keyboards for additional reading]
9. Alternate Software to Enhance Keyboarding
Other software technologies can assist typists who wish to be more productive. There are some genres that assist students who struggle with text entry. These technologies may include one or more of the following:
- Word Prediction – [ http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/article/universal-access-using-word-prediction]
- Onscreen keyboards – e.g. Click ‘N Type software (see link to article mentioned above)
Abbreviation expansion programs and utilities – e.g. as in MS word. If used correctly, can help increase students’ typing speed and improve their spelling
- Macros – predefine keystrokes that cause one or more steps or tasks to be automated and completed
- Auto Completion – software completes partly typed common or frequent used words or phrases
- Auto Correction – software automatically corrects misspelt text
- Keyboard Shortcuts – An excellent online resource is available at http://www.keyxl.com/
Free and commercial software exist that can be used in a number of different combinations and contexts to help improve typing and text creation.
Literacy support tools that can also assist students in increasing productivity include Medialexie Toolbar and TextHelp Read & Write or ClaroRead (both for PC or Mac). Other specific online programs that can correct spelling and grammar are Ghotit and Ginger.
10. Typing Tutor Software
a. Commercial Software
|E2L Typing and Mavis Beacon||http://www.edsoft.com.au/catalogsearch/result/?q=typing+tutors|
|Phonics Alive 6! – Typing||http://www.dataworks.com.au/software/search.php|
|TTAPS Touch Typing||http://www.east-west.com.au/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=296%s|
b. Freeware and online Typing Tutors:
|Tipp10 (Win/Mac/Linux)||http://www.tipp10.com/ – TIPP10 is a free touch typing tutor for Windows, Mac OS and Linux. It has an ‘intelligence’ feature. Characters that are mistyped are repeated more frequently. Beginners will find their way around right away so they can start practicing quickly. Useful support functions and an extensive progress tracker, topical lessons and the ability to create a user’s own practice lessons make learning to type more enjoyable and less of a chore. Coloured keys are also helpful.|
|Stamina Typing Tutor 2.5||http://typingsoft.com/stamina.htm – Users can work with lessons and text (5 modes), a lesson editor, statistics, progress graphs, virtual keyboard (that can be hidden), high quality MP3 sounds and music, a playlist, support for several users, a user-friendly interface, detailed help with a logic game. The program is perfect for novice as well as for advanced users.|
c. Online Typing Lessons and Tutors
|Learn to Type||http://www.learn2type.com/|
|TypeRacer||http://play.typeracer.com/ – an online game where users compete|
|Type Online UK||http://www.typeonline.co.uk/ – a structured touch typing course|
|Free online typing course||http://www.sense-lang.org/typing/ – tutorials and games|
|Typing Web||http://www.typingweb.com/ – practise at all levels of skill|
|Good Typing||http://www.goodtyping.com/ – practise typing in other languages as well|
Also note that a few typing tutors are included in the EduApps suits including the free AccessApps and MyStudyBar. www.eduapps.org. These are portable apps that can be run from USB pen or thumb drives.
11. In Conclusion
This article is a brief discussion into some of the issues of alternatives to writing including typing, typing tutors, keyboard access and alternative keyboard options. There are many issues to be investigated and resolved. Every student and person is different and the potential combinations and variations of no tech, low tech and up to high tech solutions need to be carefully researched.
A good idea is to follow the SETT Framework – Joy Zabala defined the SETT Process as a guide for collaborative assistive technology decision making. It is always wise to accurately assess a person’s needs in context. Refer to Greg O’Connor’s excellent resource at http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/blog/permanent-resources/2010/02/sett/ . It will provide more detail about the SETT Framework along with many useful links on Inclusive Technology considerations.
- A very comprehensive list of all typing tutor programs that can be downloaded and installed as well as online programs is available at http://typingsoft.com/all_typing_tutors.htm
- A very article on writing with an excellent diagrammatic representation of the stages of writing can be located at http://www.learningtools.us/lt/learning/writing/writing.htm.
- A web site devoted to access devices of all descriptions is http://www.fentek-ind.com/. It lists many popular and less well known devices with pictures and photos and clear descriptions and explanations.
- A useful site for further reading about keyboards and text creation access, from Accessibility NSW CLIC, is located at http://accessiblecli.wordpress.com/physical-disabilities/alternative-keyboards/
- An interesting article and list of considerations for keyboarding for deaf blind people can be located at http://www.deafandblind.com/.
- For links to research on touch typing, link to http://www.microtype.com/resources/articles/jig-Research.html .
Note: To read and explore previous articles in this series, link to http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/library/universal-access-fact-sheets-by-gerry-kennedy or http://ndco.cds.org.au/index.php/at/60-gerry-kennedy-at-articles or http://www.adcet.edu.au/Search.aspx?f=Universal+access. The latter site includes articles on Speech Recognition, OCR and Onscreen Keyboards as well as other papers dealing with Universal Access in general.
These articles discuss the pros and cons of Universal Access and associated issues using a selection of prevailing computer related technologies. They can be used to initiate and conduct research and start a discussion. They have been written as an introduction to some computer related technologies available to educators who wish to explore options for students with individual access, communication and learning needs. They do not imply that these technologies all conform to Universal Access and principles of Universal Design but attempt to articulate the advantages and disadvantages of these options and methodologies. Please refer to http://www.independentliving.org/links/links-accessibility-and-universal-design.html for more information about Universal Design.