Teach Touch Typing!

Your students type a lot, but I’ll lay odds that they type badly. Prompted by internet guru Seth Godin‘s blog, I’m going to reprise an argument I had with Mark Leighton a while ago, about why it’s vital to teach them to type properly.

Here, paraphrased, are Mark’s arguments as to why he didn’t need to teach typing separately, and my ripostes.

My students can type anyway

No, they can hunt and peck. To call that typing is like saying someone can drive if they can change gear, or steer, or watch the road, but not all three at once.

Touch typing is no faster

First, touch typing can be far faster. I know typists who cruise at 120 wpm. Cruise, note. Second, a touch typist can think and type at the same time because the typing itself requires no conscious thought. A hunt-and-pecker can’t do that.

But typing is going to get replaced by voice recognition anyway

Uh-huh? Voice recognition has been around for years now, and I don’t see it gaining ground. And there are lots of reasons why it will remain a niche application:

  • it doesn’t work in noisy environments
  • self-consciousness
  • loss of confidentiality
  • words the dictionary doesn’t know
  • much harder to think and dictate at the same time than it is to think and write or type

There’s no demand from employers

There is from this one. Office workers who can touch type are a good 25% more productive than those who can’t – even at higher levels in the organisation. Your students will earn a lot less through their careers, if they can’t type properly.

The school won’t support it

Talk to the head about RSI/Carpal Tunnel Sydrome. Explain that up to the invention of the personal computer, nobody used to get RSI, even when bashing all day on a manual typewriter. Why not? Because they were properly trained. RSI happened, not because of the growth in keyboard use, but because of the growth in keyboard use by untrained typists. At some point, one of your ex-pupils is going to conclude that it was the school’s responsibility to teach them how to use a keyboard without injuring themselves, and hire a solicitor. I think you’ll find the support is forthcoming.

It takes too long

Learning to touch-type does take time, but it needn’t take a lot of time, and the investment will be quickly repayed as your students discover they can submit better assignments, more quickly. Here’s how to organise it: put aside just 10 minutes at the beginning of each ICT lesson for students to practice on a typing tutor such as Mavis Beacon*. Get the students to make up cardboard ‘hutches’ to cover their keyboards. They’ll learn much faster if you first force them to unlearn the old bad habit of staring at the keyboard. For optimum learning, keep sessions very short, but frequent. They’ll be proficient within one term.

*As an aside, the typing tutor program was invented in the early 80’s by Robert Dilts. He brought a copy of the program to a seminar I was attending. I persuaded him to part with it, as I recall for £40, and installed it on our college network of 6 Apple ][s. Thus I became the first person in the UK to learn to touch-type using a computer program. I found it hugely more effective than the traditional typing class I’d been taking up to that point, even though I did get laughed at for my cornflake-packet keyboard hutch.

Originally published on 2/12/2004 and nothing, but nothing, has changed since then.


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2 responses to “Teach Touch Typing!”

  1. I’ve been saying we should be teaching touch-typing for years. I learnt at school, and it has been such a great skill to have. People who don’t know me well but come into my office to talk to me are often struck dumb by the fact that I can finish what I’m typing whilst looking at them (rather than staring at the keyboard). It also means you can spot typos as you go, looking at the screen rather than the keyboard (although an experienced touch typist also often knows when s/he has hit the wrong key). And I hadn’t even considered the RSI connection.

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