Thursday, June 30, 2011

Keyboarding is Key

"But why should I learn to type, anyway, Mr G? They've got voice-recognition now, and in a few years no one will be typing anymore anyway."
I remember very clearly when Shane said that to me. It was about 10 years ago, and ironically, I had just come back from Walt Disney World, where I had seen a demonstration of what was then cutting-edge computer dictation technology at the Innoventions exhibit.

I wasn't impressed.

Not only did you have to speak very precisely and clearly in order for the software to transcribe what you said halfway decently, but I always worried about someone walking into the room while you were dictating and shouting "Computer, delete all!"

Besides, even if computer dictation technology were up to where I'd like it to be, I just couldn't imagine a study hall or a library full of students all "writing their papers" at the same time out loud. The Tower of Babel immediately comes to mind, with pieces of Ethan's paper on the Treaty of Versailles becoming interwoven with Emily's paper on the Underground Railroad, and Bryce's on Frederick Banting.

No, even if the technology did mature in five years and become something that was reasonable to use, Shane still had to learn how to type because that's how people were entering data then, and would be for the foreseeable future.

And, as it turns out, it's still how the vast majority of us are doing it.

Amazingly, I keep hearing Shane's cry of "But in a few years no one will be typing anymore anyway," and I hear it from educators. Not the people in the trenches, teaching English, History, and Science; but the "Technology Gurus," who have a vision of what the 21st century should be like, and it doesn't include spending 28 days practicing "aaa asa aaa ada aaa afa." I also hear it from those who see kids on their cellphones and iPod Touches, and surmise that 10-finger typing is dying, soon to be replaced by thumb typing. But I seriously don't see the day coming at anytime in the next 10 years when Ethan and Emily's daughter Margot will be writing her paper about the Gettysburg Address on an iPhone any more than I see her being able to dictate it clearly, in one shot, without collisions from the conversations or dictations of nearby classmates.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us not worrying about what our students may or may not be using five years hence, but on what they need now. They're flexible. They're quick studies. They'll adapt to whatever new thing comes down the pike a whole lot faster than we will, and that new thing that we are so sure is going to overtake our current methods way well turn out to be another in the long line of "promising technologies" that turned out to be duds for one reason or another, while the "old ways" kept on being used because it was still the best way to get the job done.

So then, what of typing? What of teaching keyboarding? I say let's do it. I say let's make a point of familiarizing our kids with proper keyboard method, and all the tricks of word processing early on. I know, I didn't learn how to type until I was in 10th grade, and now I type 75wpm. But back then who would've imagined that everyone would be typing? Who would've imagined that 5th graders would be at keyboards on a regular basis?

But enough for now. More on technique and method in the next post. I'll even give you links to materials I've created for teaching keyboarding. But for now, you've read enough.

As for Shane, I just checked with him on Facebook, and he's glad I made him learn how to type.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Return and Some Clarification

After an absence of a few days while I dealt with the last faculty meetings of the year, spending some well-deserved time with my family, and tinkering with the design of this page, I'm back to deal with what I promised you this blog would be about: my vision of computer literacy in the 21st century.

Now, in case I wasn't clear the first time, let me state again that I have nothing against courses in robotics and iPhone app programming. They're great courses for the kids who are interested in them - just as music theory and composition are great courses for the kids who are interested in them. But you don't drop chorus from the course listings just because "everyone already knows how to sing."

We have a generation of students coming up who don't know how to use the computer well for those everyday tasks that we've learned to take for granted, and we assume that we don't need to teach them those skills because we've seen what they can do in GarageBand.

I can't begin to tell you how many students have come back to thank me for teaching them the "mundane" computer skills that have made a huge difference in their academic and work lives.

Oh yeah...and my programming students thank me too.

Next time I'll talk about the most mundane skill of all: typing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


To all of you who were part of the discussion on the ISED Listserv, welcome. To all of you who just happened to stumble upon this site, welcome also. This is where I'll try to keep you up to date on the latest stages of my project involving the Driver's Ed model of computer literacy, as opposed to the Auto Shop model.

That having been said, I suppose I should start with the post to ISED-L that started this all.
Technology Education: "Driver's Ed" vs "Auto Shop" 

In its infinite wisdom, the school board of my hometown decided that one of the graduation requirements was a semester of Driver’s Ed. For everyone. Regardless of whether or not your family owned a car. Regardless of whether or not you even wanted to learn how to drive. Driver’s Ed was part of the junior year Phys Ed/Health requirement, and the only way you could get out of taking the class was if you were blind.
They felt that at some point in their lives most of the students would find themselves behind the wheel of a very dangerous piece of equipment, and that they should spend 42 minutes a day, five days a week, for 18 weeks, learning the rules of the road, how to read highway signs, and how to properly operate that piece of equipment. They didn’t think it was enough to have Mr Miller drop into our History class when we were talking about the Battle of Trenton, and quickly show us how to drive there.
In contrast, our schools also offered Auto Shop, which would now probably have the much cooler name of Automotive Technology. This was an elective course in which you learned how to take apart and put back together various parts of the car, with the goal that eventually you’d be able to do most of your own repairs…get a job in a garage…or maybe even open up your own shop someday.
The powers that were didn’t see it as a choice between Driver’s Ed and Auto Shop, but as a case of needing both. Everyone needed to learn the basics of how to drive a car, but Auto Shop (or Automotive Technology) was there for those who wanted to go on further.
Today there’s a big push toward teaching fewer classes in basic computer literacy and teaching more courses in things like robotics and programming. Many educators say that students already know how to do the basics, so we have to remain relevant and competitive by pushing them into the “more advanced” (and better marketable) classes.
I’m sorry, but this is dumping Driver’s Ed in favor of Auto Shop. Not only that, but if we stay with the Driver’s Ed/Auto Shop metaphor, saying that students already know the basics because we’ve seen what they can do with iMovie and how much time they spend on Facebook is like saying that they don’t need Driver’s Ed because they know how to operate the sound system and the power windows.
I have nothing against Auto Shop, or Automotive Technology, but it’s an additional course. Learning how to build a car doesn’t teach you the rules of the road or how to safely handle that two-ton piece of equipment. Similarly, I have nothing against courses like Programming or Robotics – heck, I teach Programming – but students still need to learn the basics of computer literacy, and they need to learn them on a daily basis.
Over the next few months I’ll be spending some time developing a book of lessons about what I think practical computer literacy in the 21st century looks like. If you’re interested in seeing what this looks like, please feel free to drop me a line.
And if you agree with me, but are afraid to speak up in front of all of the Automotive Technology teachers who seem to monopolize the conversation here, then feel free to drop me a line privately.
So that's where we're starting. Over the next few days or weeks the look of this blogsite will evolve as I'm able to put more time into it now that school is out for the summer. One of the first things I intend to post and talk about is a copy of my new typing book.

Stay tuned!