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Remedial Keyboard Instruction

Author: George Rhodes, Founder of The Keyboard Teacher.George Rhodes

Now to offer a prediction of future keyboarding instruction programs. In its next stage, operating at the prehigh school level, keyboarding instruction will become merged, or “associated,” with the computer literacy program, thus becoming one of several elements of computer literacy. The computer literacy instructor may, or may not, possess a personal touch keyboarding skill and an instructional insight into its efficient acquisition.

While the keyboarding instruction capabilities of future computer literacy teachers will vary widely, a certainty exists that 95% of future student enrollees in computer literarcy will exhibit a “hunt & peck” skill. This likelihood will change only if the voice recognition programs, long promoted by the software industry, finally come to fruition and thereby permit the computer keyboard to be bypassed. The author’s skepticism toward voice recognition capabilities will be markedly reduced once personal computers are marketed with an attached voice microphone for computer data entry.

The ultimate instruction problem is clearly established: First, a class of self-taught “hunt & peck” elementary students who are void of the self-discipline needed to convert to a disciplined touch-keying skill. Second, in charge of this class is an instructor who possesses minimal interest in keyboarding instruction, and is aware that remedial keyboarding is only one of numerous skills and knowledges that compose the computer literacy course.

Touch keyboarding must be taught as the initial element of computer literacy, eliminating the inefficient “hunt & peck” habits and replacing them with the touch fingering system. However, remedial keyboarding instruction demands far more time and effort than does instruction involving a true beginning keyboarder. Yet, the computer literacy course with its multiple course elements is severely limited in the time that can be allocated to keyboarding. Therefore, at some future time, reality will remove keyboarding instruction from computer literacy and once again establish it as a separate course.

An important question: what instruction process most efficiently results in the student switching from “wrong fingers” to finger-key relationships that support touch keyboarding? Three possibilities exist. First, the instructor can verbally describe the correct application of the fingers. Second, the instructor can employ a keyboard vision shield that prevents the student from practicing his “hunt & peck” habits. Third, the instructor can employ keyboarding instruction software that places sequenced characters on the computer screen at a rate that prevents the student from searching the keyboard for their location.

Teacher verbalization is the simpliest and most direct instruction process. However, ingrained “hunt & peck” habits are highly resistant to change and without the necessary degree of student discipline easily deflect verbalized instruction.

The current use of opaque key covers, or “skins,” on the computer keyboard is basically the same as teacher verbalization–both can be rejected. As the “skins” student is able to view the keys without their lettering, a true “hunt & peck” performer can continue to “hunt & peck.” Every “hunt & peck” activist has engaged in numerous strikes at each key–an ample number to memorize each key’s location. Little understanding exists that the “hunt & peck” keyboarder does not visually search the keyboard to LOCATE a key, but rather to GUIDE an activating finger to a key. Indeed, a “hunt & peck” performer who must visually search out every key cannot keyboard above a one to two WPM rate. Therefore, the overriding requirement for altering “hunt & peck” keying is to prevent the student from visually guiding his fingers to the keys; a student unable to see his fingers is equally unable to “hunt & peck.” Note that no mention is made of preventing the student from viewing the keys. As is obvious to all, the process of covering the fingers also prevents the student from viewing the keyboard. However, if possible, the writer would allow the student to view the keyboard while he is prevented from seeing his fingers; a student who employs fingering patterns that promote touch keying will in due time discontinue keyboard “watching.” Indeed, ample keyboard charts should be available on the classroom walls as well as in the student’s textbook and software.

Robbing the student of his potential keying skill is not the only consequence of “hunt & peck” habits. Indeed, many “hunt & peck” performers reach a 30 WPM keying rate (foregoing a 60+ WPM potential). However, mind-absorbing concentration is demanded by the “hunt and peck” process–the head in constant motion as the eyes jump from one key to the next preparing for the followup finger strike.

A computer keyboard vision shield is today’s most practical and productive means for eliminating “hunt & peck” keying. Once unable to visually observe and guide his fingers, the student has two choices. One is to enter no data. The other is to employ short, tactile finger reaches, movements that can be supported by kinesthetic or muscular sensations. This simple process forces the “hunt & peck” student to become a touch keyboarder.

The writer produces and markets a computer keyboard vision shield titled THE TOUCH-KEY GUIDE. Constucted of polypropolene plastic the shield weighs 3 ozs. and can be readily folded into an 18 in. by 5 in. by .25 in. form which is easily stored underneath the keyboard. In a practical sense the shield is indestructable; while easily bent, the plastic immediately “pops back” into its original form. This shield fits any keyboard whose horizontal length is between 15 and 20 inches, the horizontal range of all standard desktop keyboards. For additional information go here.

A keyboarding instruction software program exists that forces the student to abandon “hunt & peck” keying and become a touch keyboarding performer. Based on the principles of a simple game, the software sequentially introduces the student to each key that is to be touch operated and requires a valid demonstration of its touch operation before the student is introduced to the next sequenced key. After each key is newly introduced, that key and all previously learned keys are randomly and serially presented on a displayed computer keyboard; the student must strike each displayed key within one second to earn points, and if more than one second is required to strike the key points are lost.

At the conclusion of a 1-minute interval, a scoreboard automatically flows to the screen and displays the points earned. The author has determined that the visual guidance of a finger to a key cannot be accomplished in less than 1 second and any key requiring more than 1 second to strike is assumed to be a “hunt & peck” operation. The score is based on the number of correct keys struck within 1 second, minus the number of keys that required more than 1 second to strike. Assume that 58 keys were struck within 1 second, but 3 key strikes required more than 1 second, Thus, 58-3 = 55 net keystrokes which are divided by 5, the characters in a standard keyboarding word, which gives 11 words. As the required striking interval is 1 second, the pacing rate is 12 words a minute (WAM). Finally, the net 11 words keyed are multiplied by the 12 WAM pacing rate to provide a “game score” of 132. As 140 has been established as the minimum score needed to reflect a touch entry performance, the student will be required to repeat the timings until the 140 score is attained.

The beauty of applying software to instruct touch keyboarding is that the instructor can avoid participation in the mundane and difficult task of disciplining the student to switch from incorrect to correct finger-key associations. On initial class enrollment, the student is provided a game based software program that guides him from the status of a “hunt & peck” operator to that of a productive touch keyboarder. The activity is strictly between the student and his software instructor–not his overburdened classroom instructor. Only after the keys presented in a specific lesson are demonstrated to be touch operated, is the student allowed to progress to the next lesson.

Implementing the described software will require a major departure from traditional typewriting and keyboarding instruction. Of necessity, “gamemanship,” widely avoided by traditional teachers, forms a major element of the instruction procedure.

And at what specific grade level should keyboarding instruction eventually be established? Experienced teachers have widely varying views on this subject. The last teacher interviewed on this topic taught keyboarding to both eighth and ninth graders. She adamantly stated that keyboarding instruction should not be initiated prior to the ninth grade, as in her view, eighth graders achieved quite poorly relative to ninth grade students. A general concern exists regarding the lack of maturation and small physical stature of early elementary students. With smaller musical instruments manufactured for elementary school students, some discussion is given to the development and use of smaller computer keyboards at these grade levels. For certain, change brings many surprises to what can and cannot be accomplished. Admittedly, I was a 1960’s typewriting teacher–employing manual typewriters–who doubted that beginning students could adapt to the soft, quick touch of the electric typewriter!