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Assistant Superintendent

Keyboarding and Tablets

The issue of keyboarding on an iPad or other tablet with a virtual keypad seems to be one of the more controversial as we consider our next deployment for MLTI.  I think it is worth thinking about why we keyboard in the first place.  If we are moving towards different input methods, evaluating them should be done against our goals for keyboarding.   Below are some of the more common ones.

  • We keyboard to be efficient in getting our thoughts down.
  • We keyboard to communicate with a digital device.
  • We keyboard to control a device.
  • We keyboard to be prepared for the workplace.
  • Students keyboard to be ready for State and National accountability tests.

Lets consider each of these.

Keyboarding to be efficient

Attached below are some studies of relative speed with a keyboard.  The evidence is scant, but I have shared what I have found to date.  We also have our own experience at the high school. There, preference seems to be driven by the expectations of the teacher.  If asked to create on their iPad, then students readily do it, if taken to the computer lab then students use a physical keyboard.  Rarely do students sign out one of our blue tooth keypads.

A different perspective on the importance of keyboarding on one device or another is given by Beth Holland in this post.  There is an argument to be made that a certain fluency is required to support the writing process, but as Beth argues, writing has become much more than just putting words to paper in many aspects of the world of work and education.  This post is an example of the much more rich and complicated process required in many aspects of our jobs and learning.

As an aside, I wonder why we don’t measure handwriting words per minute?

Keyboarding for communication

I am referring here to the act of communicating with others using digital devices.  Although, many adults still consider communication on their computers to be email, even most adults have found that text messaging has become an important tool.  Keyboarding skills support email but they don’t support texting.  More importantly, communication on digital devices is moving very quickly to video and audio conferencing.  More and more workplaces exchange fewer emails and memos and instead collaborate on common screens, video conference, or both in getting work done.  Other methods of inputting are also becoming much more common such as voice to text and voice commands.

A powerful argument is made in this article in the Wall Street Journal for taking advantage of the many other methods these devices provide for both reading and writing.

Keyboarding to control a device

It was once standard operating procedure to control a computer with a keyboard and commands.  That requirement has slowly eroded.  We use mice, voice, touch, and remotes as often to control our digital devices as we use the keyboard to manipulate the device.  The iPad is the most recent evolution away from the keyboard and it is unlikely to be the last.

Keyboarding to be prepared for the workplace

We can’t know the future and it is unlikely to be devoid of keyboards, but I think it is as likely to be a virtual keyboard as a physical keyboard.

Keyboarding to be prepared for testing

This may be the strongest argument in my mind for being sure students are familiar with physical keyboards.  The requirements currently for Smarter Balance, the test preparation company preparing the assessments to be used on the CCSS, are for physical keyboards.  We wouldn’t want our kids to fill out their first bubble sheet on the SAT and we don’t want our students to see their first physical keyboard on the Smarter Balance assessments.  However, familiarity doesn’t mean that we must use physical keyboards all the time.  Could some practice at key points in their school year suffice, if they were gaining fluency and familiarity with the virtual keyboard?

Final thoughts.  The current QWERTY keyboard was actually developed to slow typists when typewriters used physical keys and levers.  Certain combinations of keys are so often used that on these physical typewriters, they needed to be separated to keep them from binding.  The effect was to slow the typist down by moving certain keys apart.  The DVORAK keyboard is a more efficient keyboard placing commonly used keys under the home row and under the strongest fingers of each hand.  Although this arrangement would allow for increased speed and reduced repetitive hand injuries, it languishes much like the metric system here in the US! If speed was truly the most important component of keyboarding, we would be using the DVORAK keyboard virtually!!

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