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.

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