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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Keys to the (Online) Kingdom: The Importance of Basic Computer Skills

It may seem obvious, but one of the things I need to cover at my technology-training workshops is the basic what, why, and how of keyboarding. Without the basic ability to type quickly and accurately, getting your ideas and data into a computer can take a lot of time and can be frustrating. Who really wants to use the hunt-and-peck method of inputting data for the rest of their lives?

Sure, someday we may have foolproof voice-recognition software, which will eliminate the need for typing, but it's not readily available today. So, to use a computer with ease, being able to type is still an important skill. Once students learn to keyboard and learn basic word processing skills, the integration of the computer into all disciplines is much easier.

Technology skills outlined in the No Teacher Left Behind Act require that students be technology literate by the end of the eighth grade. Expectations are that students create reports on a word processor, use a spreadsheet for calculations, and use a presentation tool for demonstrating new knowledge. However, many students have never been taught the basics and continue to use the computer as if it were a typewriter.

Keyboarding should be taught in the early grades -- before students acquire bad habits. Free typing programs can be found on the Internet, and software packages can be purchased. The tried-and-true teacher-taught method -- the method by which most of us learned to keyboard -- is one way to ensure students learn to correctly input data.

While students are learning to keyboard, other basic skills can be taught, such as

  • use of a mouse (click, double-click, left click, right/control click, click and drag)
  • opening a new document.
  • saving a document (proper naming and location for saving).
  • standard fonts, such as Times New Roman, Arial, Georgia, Comic Sans.
  • appropriate size of font for print and presentations.
  • one space after all punctuation, including periods.
  • alignment (left, center, right).
  • printing.
  • closing a document and an application.

As students become comfortable with these basics, other skills can be taught. Many skills can be incrementally learned in the third and fourth grades. The left and right margins in Microsoft Word by default are unusually wide; therefore, students should be taught to change the margins (and even reset the default, if desired).

Another underused function of the computer is the setting of tabs. To get from one place to another place on a page, many times students will consecutively press the space bar or the preset tab. Because the typewriter had only one kind of tab, the different kinds of tabs on a computer (left, right, center, decimal) are little known. Students must be given examples of when each of these tabs are used, such as

  • left tab: indentation of a paragraph.
  • Center tab: in headers/footers and certain kinds of poetry.
  • right tab: in headers/footers and to place the name, date at top of paper.

The proper use of font styles are also important. For example, underlining on a computer is discouraged because the underline token breaks a font descender (for example, the word young). The bold style is more commonly used for headings. The italics style, not the underline, is used to denote book titles and the like.

Once a student has learned to click and drag the mouse, the commands to copy, cut, and paste, as well as the use of the delete (and backspace) keys, can be taught. Other useful skills include, but are not limited to,

  • undo and redo typing.
  • bullets and numbering.
  • headers and footers, including page numbering.
  • tables.

Other word processing skills, such as columns, breaks, sections, borders, and word count, can be taught in middle school.

Read another post of mine, which answers many of your questions and gives links to free resources on keyboarding and word processing skills.

Comments (35)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

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Debbie Peairs's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I couldn't agree with you more, Patsy! I teach basic keyboarding skills at the community college level and encounter frustrated students on a daily basis who are pecking away at the keyboard with two fingers and have little or no mouse skills. The hardest habit to break for someone who has been using a computer for any length of time is to not look at the keyboard. It's very difficult to build speed when you're constantly looking back and forth between the keyboard and the copy. Two days ago I had a "student" who is a medical doctor (from India), mid-fiftites who is taking our keyboarding/word processing course because he knows nothing about computers and has never used one. I find it difficult to understand how he has made it this far! I suppose he has had a staff to do all the paper work up to this point. I'm assuming he now wants to begin using a tablet to record his patient's history while he is examining them. He is experiencing a great deal of frustration at just mastering the basics of using a mouse and understanding how a computer works. I will suggest voice recognition software to him as an alternative because he doesn't have much time to devote to practicing keyboarding and learning basic application software.
Bonnie Bracey Sutton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I am one of those people who fussed about teaching kids keyboarding. But I have changed my mind. I had a userfriendly program which allowed for various levels of difficulty, and proficiency and the children loved being able to get their scores. Mind you I only had 14 computers for the groups of thirty, but we made it. We passed the tests, and all but one child had a huge 80percent or more skill in this keyboarding. The student who did not pass the test at 80 percent only had one arm. I did not know that there were keyboarding programs for those children, or where to find them, but Andy Carvin, came to my rescue. What was amazing is this. Some of the children could type faster than I could. One thirdgrader was so proficient, she made money, typing on the weekends for clients. That was not one of my aims, but, she was so self confident with this skill immediately it translated to her doing better in all subjects. The program I used was not easy. It made students go back and redo the areas they did not know. I only had one failure, that was a child who wasn't having any of this typing nonsence. He was not a total failure, I took him after school to let him be ONE child on a computer. As I said , we were sharing computers and he needed the total time for himself. The only failure in that lab case was the teacher who did not want the children to have their test scores, and who came to the lab and closed down the selftesting portion of the software without my permission. I have never known what it was that promoted her to do this, but I was able to restore the setting so that they could get their daily scores. Teaching keyboarding works for me. Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Deborah Frederick's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
As an workplace skills instructor for 18-21 year olds, I find keyboarding to be an indispensable tool for employment. Many of our clients want "office jobs", but they do not know the basics of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and E-mail, which are required skills for most positions, even warehouse and mailroom jobs. I am encouraged to hear that keyboarding is being taught in Middle School, but I would suggest that the basic eye/hand coordination of learning the keyboard can be taught as early as third or fourth grade. Teaching keyboarding works for me too, Bonnie. Deborah Frederick
Carolyn Stanley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I am the computer integration teacher at a middle school in Connecticut. Some of our students come to us with the ability to type data into their documents with ease. Those students who "hunt and peck" are at a great disadvantage. If students could enter school with the ability to enter data on the keyboard quickly and accurately, it would make using technology to create documents even more advantageous. I was very pleased with how the author listed the basic word-processing knowledge skills a student should have before he/she leaves eight grade. I work with my teachers to design projects that seamlessly integrate these basic skills into a project. For example, a seventh grade teacher might assign a newsletter in which the students can show off what they know about their topic in Greek mythology. As they create this newsletter in a word-processing document they either learn or reinforce basics such as changing the margin on a page, using different alignments and effects for fonts, going from one column to multiple columns in the same document, inserting and manipulating a chart, manipulating a bulleted list, and inserting an auto page number. They also learn how to use text boxes, wrap text around graphics, and use the right tab to have information on both the left and the right side of the same line. We have similar lessons designed that help students learn and/or reinforce skills in using spreadsheet and presentation software. So, I agree. Keyboarding should be emphasized in elementary schools so that students will have good skills when they enter middle school.
Glen L. Bledsoe's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
The important thing about keyboarding is not the conventions of tabs or how to use a mouse. I mean really, how long does it take students to learn to open a new document? The far more important issue is one of keyboarding _safety_. Students need to learn to type so as to avoid wrist injury as much as they can. Posture and hand positioning are far more important than speed or accuracy which are only important on a typewriter. I would really hate, however, to see educational technology reduced to teaching students a series of office worker competencies. Technology can be far, far richer and more beneficial than that.

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