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Keys to the (Online) Kingdom: The Importance of Basic Computer Skills

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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.

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Des Howell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would like to comment on Kathryn Peyton's (September 15, 2006) proposition that " the whole spreadsheet concept is a little too abstract for the middle school brain."

Yes, the WHOLE concept is a bit "abstract", if you mean the typical sets of personal constructs that adults have about spreadsheets. I suggest that we take a Piagetian approach and first observe the "mistakes" (as adults see them) that young people make when they begin to use spreadsheets. These may help you see spreadsheets from a child's point of view.

For example, I recently introduced spreadsheets to a Year Four class by suggesting these would be a good way to explore pentimos. As usual, I did not talk much about spreadsheets per se , I simply showed the students how to make the worksheet cells roughly square shaped and fill them with colours. The kids quickly got the hang of this. I overheard one of them saying very happily, "I haven't played this [computer?] game before!"

To the adult mind, spreadsheets are not games, but what are they to children before we impose the definitions that we have learnt as adults mainly in courses for adults or by reading spreadsheet manuals and listening to other adult opinions? (Consider this: Spreadsheets existed as a way of problem-solving long before business people invented the name. Even VisiCalc was not officially "a spreadsheet program" until its Tandy version came out.)

My theory (based on my reading about the origins of VisiCalc and my observations of students) is that spreadsheets are best defined (if you must define them) as multi-purpose software that can be used in basically three ways:
(a) Like a piece of paper
(b) Like a handheld calculator and
(c) Like a programming language.

Nowadays, we "program" computers in lots of different ways, not just the traditional method of making a list of instructions for computers to follow.
Personally, I think of using spreadsheet functions as a way of programming by describing mathematical and logical relations in a problem situation.

Concepts like these can be readily learnt gradually by young students. Think in terms of practical exercises rather than explanations. Build on what they already know (e.g. problem solving using pencil and paper) . Take a long-term approach over the length of the Middle phase of their schooling. Do it as part of "ordinary" lessons, right across the curriculum, rather than in special ICT lessons based on Adult short courses in spreadsheeting.

I look forward to the day when more teachers consider spreadsheets as yet another tool for "scaffolding" alongside other options such pencils and paper and calculators. This is using spreadsheets constructively as "Mindtools" to teach problem-solving, creative thinking, etc , if you want a label for it.

It works for me and my students are having a lot of fun.

jane's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Most of my students can enter in a "text" message faster than most adults can type.

They didn't need a software program to teach them.

dallas, texas

Julie Arbuckle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would love to take advantage of your offer to access of Lessons 3 and 4 of Typing Tutor to teachers that you posted on the web page. I realize that you offered this in 2006 but I did not begin teaching in the elementary level until 2006. My school is slowly moving in the direction of providing technology education in the lower grades; however, we are a small rural school (a graduating class size between 50 and 75) with very limited funds. Our school did update the computer lab at the elementary school providing 30 new computers. But personnel and software programs are difficult to procure. I myself am employed on a part-time basis. I was moved from the high school to the elementary school and am struggling to provide lessons to such young children. I can see the enormous benefits of using your enjoyable and pertinent lessons to my Kindergarten students and am requesting lessons 3 and 4 to help teach these younger students the keyboard. If I am successful, the Board would possibly be more willing to release additional funds that I can use to perhaps purchase additional programs you author.

Computer Repair's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

An interesting and informative post. Thanks for sharing this info blog.

cheap computers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It makes easier and important the basic worship of key-boarding technology training. It has many enjoyable benefits for students who have problems in keyboarding.

cheap computers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It a basic technology training workshop of keyboarding. It helps the students in many ways who have problems in these basic skills. It is really useful.

cheap computers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think they are giving best technology training for keyboarding because 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.

cheap computers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think 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

Ann's picture

touch typing or keyboarding as you call it should be a mandatory subject for all kids in school!

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