I participated in one of the ISTE “Learning & Leading Debates” where you don’t know your opponent or their argument, about “Bring Your Own Device.” I reiterated my opposition to BYOD as policy.

Here is the text:

Gary S. Stager: No

In 1990, I began helping schools across the globe realize the transformational learning
potential of a laptop for every child. From the start, there was a recognition of the inevitability that every student would own a personal mobile computer in the near future, whether school provided it or not.

However, BYOD is bad policy that constrains student creativity, limits learning opportunities, and
leads to less support for public education in the future. It’s a reckless idea for the following reasons:BYOD enshrines inequity. The only way to guarantee equitable educational experiences is for each student to have access to the same materials and learning opportunities. BYOD leaves this to chance, allowing more affluent students to continue having an unfair advantage over their classmates. This is particularly problematic in a society with growing economic disparity.

BYOD creates false equivalencies between any objects that happen to use electricity. Repeat after me! Cell phones are not computers! They may both contain microprocessors and batteries, but as of today, their functionality is quite different.

We should not make important educational decisions based on price. A mentor told me that basing important educational decisions on price is immoral, ineffective, and imprudent. Doing the right thing is a matter of priorities and leadership, not price point.

BYOD narrows the learning process to information access and chat. Information access, note taking, and communication represent the tiniest fraction of what it means to learn. Looking up the answers to someone else’s questions online to type an essay or make a PowerPoint reinforces the status quo while failing to unlock the opportunities that computational thinking provides.

BYOD increases teacher anxiety. Schools have largely failed to inspire teachers to use computers in even pedestrian ways after three decades of trying. A cornucopia of devices in the classroom will only amplify their anxiety and reduce use.

BYOD diminishes the otherwise enormous potential of educational computing to the weakest device in the room. The computer is an intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self-expression that makes it possible for children to learn and do things in ways unthinkable just a few years ago. We impair such empowerment when we limit educational practice to the functionality of the least powerful device.

BYOD contributes to the growing narrative that education is not worthy of investment. We reap what we sow. If we placate those who slash budgets by making unreasonable compromises at the expense of children, we will find ever fewer resources down the road. We must not view education as some “every man for himself” enterprise that relies on children to find loose change behind the sofa cushions. Democracy and a high-quality educational system require adequate funding.

Check out the new Macbook Pro, iPhone, iPad, and high-def video camera carried by the tech coordinator who decided that students should be happy with whatever hand-me-down devices he can scrounge up. The message here is: “Let them eat cell phones!”

It takes chutzpah to ask a school to buy something for every student. You better make sure you ask for the right device. Kids need a computer capable of doing anything you imagine they should be able to do, with plenty of room for growth and childlike ingenuity.

—Gary S. Stager, PhD, is the director of the Constructing Modern Knowledge Institute

If you wish to read the argument for BYOD, click here.

Please share widely.

I originally wrote a version of this article in 2007, but the topic is even more timely during today’s period of introspection regarding violence, civility, gun control, widening wealth disparities and education reform. Our daily discourse is filled with reckless nostalgia for the good ol’ days of the White Citizens Councils and the preposterous claims that Dr. King would love charter schools, the destruction of unions, the demonization of public school teachers and having poor children do the work of school janitors.

It is unconscionable to reduce Dr. King’s life, work and sacrifice to the few paltry sentences fed to us by the textbook industry or Republican politicians cherry-picking happy talk rather than confront the societal demons King identified and that are still with us.

This epidemic of ignorance can only be cured by educators! (also read: The Help: A Teacher’s Guide for more resources)

This Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday and February is African American History Month. Both occasions were created as a way of honoring the sacrifice of Dr. King and the contributions of millions of African Americans before him. It is a somber occasion in which to confront the hideous crimes of institutionalized racism and to celebrate the achievements of people who overcame insurmountable odds to enjoy the unfulfilled promises of the United States Constitution.Schools are the natural setting to inform students of our history, warts and all. Yet we tell so few historical stories and most of those narratives are watered down until they become fairy tales and meaningless happy talk. Face it, ______ (Black, Women’s, Latino…) History Months are necessary because the information presented to students is so biased, simplistic, incomplete and often times just plain wrong.

Please take a moment to answer the following questions. Think of it as a quiz if you wish.

  1. What do you know about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr?
  2. What do your school social studies texts say about his life and work?
  3. How much class time is dedicated to the life and times of Dr. King?
  4. Have you done any independent reading or research into the life of Dr. King?
  5. Why did Dr. King speak in Washington that day in August 1963?
  6. What was the event called?*
  7. Was Dr. King the only speaker?
  8. Why wasn’t’ President Kennedy at the speech? Wasn’t he Dr. King’s friend?
  9. Who was A. Phillip Randolph?
  10. Who is John Lewis?
  11. Who was Bayard Rustin?
  12. Where was Malcolm X that day in 1963?
  13. Why was Dr. King in Memphis before he was assassinated?
  14. Bonus question: Are there serving members of Congress who voted against the federal law establishing the King holiday?

Many teachers use the King holiday as an opportunity to tell students “all about” Dr. King. “He had a dream…” They use resources like these fabulous materials recommended for teachers on the web.

  1. http://abcteach.com/peace/martin__king1.htm
  2. http://www.windmillworks.com/games/dream.htm

Note: I highly recommend you click the links to see the garbage used to honor one of the greatest men who ever lived.You can’t teach about Dr. King without the “I Have a Dream Speech,” right? Textbooks and various multimedia products have sliced, diced and filleted a 30-second perky excerpt from Dr. King’s speech.

Since students will be unlikely to be introduced to any of Dr. King’s other rhetorical output, might I suggest that you play the entire speech for your students. Of course you should listen to it yourself beforehand. The entire speech runs approximately 17 minutes. If the Internet has educational value, it begins with the access to primary sources.

You may find a COMPLETE video clip of the ENTIRE “Dream” speech, alongside the unabridged transcription of the speech at the following sites:

So, what do you think? Do the content, intent and emotion of the whole speech paint a different picture than the one portrayed by the one-paragraph textbook version recited by politicians?In an age when educators profess profound concern about information literacy why not discuss why the entire message of the speech has been hidden by curricular omission. That and the substance of Dr. King’s actual speech should generate a few year’s worth of curriculum alone.

Schools are the natural setting to inform students of our history, warts and all. Yet we tell so few historical stories and most of those narratives are watered down until they become fairy tales and meaningless happy talk.

Even Google got in the business of infantilizing the life of Dr. King with today’s logo.

On this Martin Luther King Birthday National Holiday, I give thanks to the World Wide Web and YouTube for ensuring that future generations of children will be free to learn history aside from the standardized content being currently delivered to them.

Supplemental Resources:Educators serious about sharing the heroic ongoing American struggle for civil rights should read Herbert Kohl’s brilliant book, “She Would Not Be Moved: How We Tell the Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.” The first half of the book demonstrates how the Rosa Parks story has been turned into a fantasy taught to children and offers the facts children are denied. The second half of the book discusses how teachers can fairly teach complex or controversial issues to children of all ages. I also recommend, Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History by James Loewen.

*The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963.

Why do you suppose “jobs” gets left out of the classroom discussion?

Watch the following clip and see how Dr. King might have responded to the magical thinking on race being advanced by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan or Governor Walker or Governor Kasich or Governor Daniels or Governor Christie.

Follow Gary Stager on Twitter: www.twitter.com/garystager

Many of my readers and colleagues know that I have a knack for questioning deeply held assumptions and myths involving education. I also hold positions that others might find extreme. For example, I think curriculum, in all of its forms – especially heavy-handed nonsense like “Common Core – is a terrible idea. I don’t mean bad curriculum is a bad idea; I mean that curriculum itself is a bad idea. (click here for an explanation)

That said,I do not promote anarchy or even believe that “curriculum-free” pedagogy, such as unschooling, result in irresponsible chaos.

For the past several months, I have been working a few days a week as a S.T.E.M. consultant at a school in Los Angeles. The goal is to improve the quality of teaching in the school and I am doing a lot of modeling in classrooms. A couple of weeks ago, I began using robotics in the 5th grade class. I have lots of objectives for using my favorite robotics materials, Pico Crickets, but here are three big ones. I could list a bazillion sub-skills and affective objectives, but I will spare those details.

  1. Specific science, engineering, mathematics and programming concepts come to life in a tactile fashion.
  2. Students develop important habits of mind and inquiry skills by tinkering, invention and complex open-ended project work.
  3. You can learn an awful lot about individual student learning styles, talents and prior knowledge by working alongside them during problem-solving activities. You also learn a lot about their prior educational experiences.

I first introduced the Pico Cricket materials to the kids by quickly showing the special parts in each building kit, asking them to “bunch up” in groups and recreate one of the projects suggested in the pictorial Pico Cricket placemats that come with each building set. After no more than two or three minutes of instruction, I circulate around the room, make suggestions, ask questions, troubleshoot hardware and remind kids to “ask three before me.” I seize the teachable moment and introduce a nugget of information when and where it is needed. Occasionally, I’ll ask one student to pass that along to others or just announce that “Samantha knows how to do X.”

After a session or two of recreating, personalizing and embellishing the project starters, I asked the class to invent new toys. One group built a bowling machine that sent a ball down an alley to knock down pins. Another built a barking walking machine inspired by a book I made available. Two teams approached gumball machine design in different ways, with one even making the machine coin-operated.

Walking machine (click to enlarge)

Another student was teeming with ideas and enthusiasm, but less accomplished at consensus building with peers. So, I gave him his  own building set to work with in an effort to amplify his his strengths while suggesting that he will need to develop greater ability to collaborate. He was the first to program his Pico Crickets and became an asset to other kids who needed to learn to use the Scratch-like programming software.

Noise-sensitive car program

A motorized car was quickly enhanced by the ability to make it GO and STOP by making a loud noise. One or two sessions of adjusting the sensor tolerance to account for ambient noise and the toy car would stop and start on command! Friction, gearing and stable construction techniques were encountered along the way. Some of the programming needed my help because the software runs much quicker than a loud sound.

After joyfully sharing his invention with anyone he could find, the student had an original new idea!

He changed his computer program so that when a loud noise, such as a clap, was detected, the car would travel forward for exactly one second.

Hear a sound and go forward for 1 second

I was busy working with other groups of students and was unaware of the new direction for his project until I saw him lay a meter stick on the ground and grab a clipboard, pen and paper. He decided to measure how far the vehicle traveled (on that surface) in one second.

Testing the speed of the noise-controlled car (click to expand)

The kid knew that an average of multiple trials were necessary to ensure accuracy, so he got his TI-15 calculator. I suggested a strip of tape as a starting line and the experiment was underway. After multiple trials, the kid went to average the data and realized that he made a calculation error – without any intervention from a teacher or peer. He tried again and declared, “On average, the car travels 31 inches per second.”

Obviously, the next thing a kid wants to know is how fast the car travels in miles per hour (or kilometers per hour in nations using that silly metric system). Traditionally, this is the point at which all of the fun descends into math class hell.

How many seconds in a minute? How many inches in a foot? Yard? Mile? Seconds in a mile…” Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

That’s when I made my greatest contribution to the learning adventure. I whipped out my laptop, pointed my browser at www.wolframalpha.com and typed 31 inches per second into the calculation field.

A fraction of a second later, the handy web site told us that the car travels an average of 1.76 miles per hour. Not only that, but it provided context by telling us that the average human walks 2.5 miles per hour. Imagine that? Mathematical context!

This is a game changer! (click to expand)

When simple things, even repetitive calculations, are easy to do, complex things become possible. The student might decide to build a faster or slower car. He might challenge classmates to a robot race or see who can build a vehicle that will climb the steepest incline. These are all invitations to learn about force, speed, mechanical advantage, gear ratios and more. Or the kid may be content with what he has accomplished and embark upon a new learning adventure.


  1. The project idea belonged to the learner. Occasionally I would ask a question or make a suggestion that would lead to greater experimentation.
  2. There was no scripted plan or backward design intended to get a kid from point-A to point-B. He achieved his objectives and learned more deeply along the way.
  3. That new knowledge and expertise is an asset to peers who want to try similar experiments or just integrate this kid’s ideas into their future projects.
  4. There was no formal show and tell. Kids collaborate and learn from each other naturally when the conditions value freedom, sharing, giddiness, whimsy and movement.
  5. There is no need to require every student or team of students to reproduce this project now or next year.
  6. There is almost never a time when more than 2-3 minutes of instruction is necessary before the students do something. If you are engaged in too much full-frontal teaching or whole-class instruction, try lecturing for half as long and shave a bit of time off each day until you get to less us and more them!
  7. Learning is natural.
  8. Learning is personal.
  9. Learning is a consequence of experience.
  10. Learning takes time, but not as long as it takes to “teach” the same lesson.
  11. Less is more.
  12. Kids should be allowed to be themselves and learn in a style that best suits them and a specific task. It is not up to the teacher to determine that comfortable style. Learning styles tend to be a lot more fluid and less confining than even well-meaning teachers believe.
  13. If you make simple things easy to do, you make complex things possible.
  14. Computers amplify human potential.
  15. Computing is the game-changer, not information access or ICT.
  16. A good prompt is worth 1,000 words!
  17. Curriculum was unnecessary.
  18. Teacher expertise and fluency with the materials, based on extensive personal use and experience are critical!

Want more information?

Note: I’m starting a new series of occasional blog posts in which I share my disbelief at what I see passed-off as “teaching” during my work in schools around the world.

My nephew, let’s call him Vernon Honours, is a 9th grader. His Geometry teacher assigns the kids to read Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott over the December holidays (so far, so good) and then complete some related “projects.” (that’s where the problems begin)

One of the “projects” the kids had to tackle was to “List the first five laws of Flatland and explain why they are needed.” This caused the nephew, his parents and Facebook friends to tear their hair out.

When I was asked to help, I did my best Googling, eBook reading and even tweeted the question to my legion of Twtiter followers. That outreach to my “personal learning network” resulted in  insults from people accusing me of an inability to, in the worlds of former President George W. Bush, “use the Google.”

The problem is that the teacher’s question was hopelessly vague or a trick question. Since the only THREE laws of Flatland anyone could ascertain had to do with the treatment of women, one could conclude that either:

a) the math teacher is merely testing comprehension and testing the kids on their reading

b) it’s a trick question because it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with geometry

Having endured ridicule for sharing this question on Twitter, I was curious as to whether my nephew answered the question correctly. I asked my nephew Tuesday afternoon after his first day back to school and was told, “I don’t know. I have to wait to get my paper back and see what grade he gave me.” On Friday afternoon, the students were still awaiting their fate.

So, there are a few problems here:

  1. What makes you think that telling the kids to read a book, answer questions and then never discuss the book or their answers is effective teaching?
  2. Where did you get the idea that a comprehension quiz is a project?
  3. Flatland features a lot of interesting connections to geometry, Victorian mores, philosophy and more. Why have you left this to students to figure out on their own?
  4. Is a teacher’s primary job to catch kids submitting the wrong answer?
  5. Is teaching a trick? Are you a magician?
  6. What makes you think that a bell curve is the desired learning result?
  7. Are you really asking geometry students to regurgitate the sexist views of the author?
  8. What should the students do with their grade a week or more after the assignment?
  9. Can’t you be replaced by a worksheet dispensing and grading machine?
  10. Do you get paid a bonus for every student you get to hate your subject?

Insomnia can ruin a perfectly good day. I have a sense that today will be such a day.

I awoke to a tweet from my friend Will Richardson announcing that he was asked to be in one of those New York Times online “debates” where a handful of people are asked to write short essays without knowing who the other combattants are or what they had to say. I participated in such a “debate” about online learning in 2011.

I then read an entry by popular edublogger and teacher Vicki Davis that was so problematic, I felt compelled to respond.

Ms. Davis’ essay begins as follows:

“My fourth grade child plays adaptive games on my iPad as part of his weekly routine. I am convinced that games like “Stack the States” and “Math Rocket” have helped him learn. These adaptive programs are great but fall short for one reason: there is no feedback loop. I need to know if my child consistently forgets the capital of Rhode Island or where Wyoming is on the map.”

and includes other whoppers like:

“Adaptive testing is really about personalizing the knowledge of the student. It is about understanding the individual student. If we can understand enough individual students and aggregate the data, then a school can create a plan to help those students progress and move ahead.”

Unfortunately, the NYTimes web site only allows for short comments. Therefore, I have included a few of my thoughts here.

With all due respect to Lori (commenter) and Vicki (the columnist), the scenario you describe has little to do with the potential of computers to amplify human potential.

Computer-assisted instruction or drill and practice software, apparently now dressed-up as the fancy-sounding “adaptive learning” has been the holy grail of those wishing to reduce education costs and shortcut education for the past half century.

Any teacher who thinks he can be replaced by a computer, probably should be. Yet, this handful of magic beans promising that computers can “teach” where humans have failed is folly folks have unwisely invested their faith in for decades.

First of all, at best such software merely TESTS PRIOR KNOWLEDGE. It does not teach. Just like flash cards don’t teach, electronic flash cards will result in similar short-term results – temporary memorization without understanding or long-term comprehension.

Such “memorize the capitals,” “multiply faster” or “memorize vocabulary words quicker” systems address the low-hanging fruit of education, recall of facts, and as you demonstrated in your article – fail at even that.

I truly do not understand how anyone, especially educators, can conflate and confuse testing, teaching and learning. They are neither synonymous, nor interchangeable.

You cannot personalize knowledge! Knowledge by its very nature IS personal. It is constructed by the learner and is the result of experience. It is not the result of test-taking.

It is one thing to let your kid play with such software on a long car trip via 99 cent iPad apps, but the same misguided nonsense is being packaged as adaptive learning systems, integrated learning systems, “School of One” or other similar junk that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per school.

These “systems” are likely to be implemented in schools with the greatest needs and most at stake. In such cases, only stockholders profit at the expense of children who need much richer learning opportunities; the kinds that computers could offer if used to give agency to the learner and amplify human potential. Instead of learning to program, build robots, compose music, make films, design simulations, educationally impoverished children are being fed a steady diet of expensive low-level test-prep dressed up as artificial intelligence and adaptive learning.

I won’t bore you with all of the ways such software gets motivation wrong or how the content “taught” lacks relevance and context. Feedback is a whole lot more complicated than “wrong, try again” or “wrong, here’s an easier problem.”

Pretending that artificial intelligence has advanced to the point where competent teachers may be replaced by apps is at best wishful thinking, regardless of what the vendors tell you.

I am saddened most by educational technology enthusiasts advocating uses of computers that reinforce the worst aspects of schooling.

I am horrified that you actually believe that “I need to know if my child consistently forgets the capital of Rhode Island or where Wyoming is on the map.” That is the example you choose to debate the future of education?

I strongly urge you to read the following books to gain a deeper perspective on these issues:

The Connected Family” by Seymour Papert

Computer Environments for Children: A Reflection on Theories of Learning and Education” by Cynthia Solomon

Note from Gary Stager…

In 1989, a great friend, colleague and pioneer in educational computing, Steve Shuller, authored the following literature review. Steve was Director of Outreach at Bank Street College during its microcomputer heyday, co-created New Jersey’s Network for Action in Microcomputer Education (N.A.M.E., now NJECC) and was a Director of the IBM Model Schools Project. Shortly before his untimely death Steve prepared this literature review for the Scarsdale, NY Public Schools, hoping that it would contribute to the end of tiresome discussions regarding keyboarding instruction.

Steve would be horrified that this trivial issue lives on in a field that has matured little in the past twenty-two years. I share his work with you as a public service and in loving memory of a great educator.

Keyboarding in Elementary Schools
Curricular Issues

Stephen M. Shuller
Computer Coordinator
Scarsdale, NY Public Schools

August 1989


We are currently in the midst of a world-wide revolution, moving from the Industrial Age to an era in which information is the primary product (Toffler 1984). As information processing tools, computers are central to this revolution. The ability to interact with computers is an essential skill for the Information Age, one which our schools will need to address to prepare our students to meet the challenges of this fundamentally changed world.

The educational reform movement of the 1980’s has recognized the importance of computers in education. For example, A Nation at Risk (1983) calls for the high school students to:

(a) understand the computer as an information, computation, and communication device;

(b) use the computer in the study of the other Basics and for personal and work-related purposes; and

(c) understand the world of computers, electronics, and related technologies. (A Nation at Risk 1983, 26)

Virtually every other reform proposal has included similar recommendations. The educational community has responded to the futurists’ visions of the Information Age and the reformers proposals by working to integrate computers into the curriculum at all levels.

At present, people interact with computers by typing words on typewriter-like keyboards. Even though computers may someday be able to understand handwriting and human speech, in the currently foreseeable future-which in the Information Age may be only a dozen years or so at best-keyboarding skills are necessary to make computers do our bidding. Thus, keyboarding is an essential enabling skill for using computers in schools and in society, and must be included in Information Age curricula (Gibbon 1987).

Even though there is virtual unanimity that students should learn to keyboard, there is considerably less agreement on how, how much, when, and by whom. This paper will consider the teaching of keyboarding in elementary schools, examining these questions as a guide for curriculum development.

Keyboarding and Typing: Historical Context

Computer keyboards are similar to typewriters, Industrial Age tools invented by Christopher Sholes in 1868 and first marketed by Remington in 1873 (Yamada 1983). By the end of the 19th Century, typewriters were considered reliable writing tools, and started becoming widely used in offices (Pea and Kurland 1987). The first typing instruction was provided by typewriter manufacturers in about 1880 (Yamada 1983). It took public schools until 1915 to begin teaching typing as a high school occupational skill (West 1983).

By the 1920’s, educators began to experiment with using the new technology-typewriters–to help children learn to write (Pea and Kurland 1987). These experiments were quite successful. In the largest-scale controlled study, Wood and Freeman (1932) followed 2383 students as they learned to write on portable typewriters over a two year period. They found that the students who used typewriters wrote with more expression, showed higher reading scores, became better spellers, and enjoyed writing more than students learning to write using conventional methods. Similarly, Merrick (1941) found that typewriters helped the English development of high school students. Even so, typewriters did not catch on in education.

In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, there was another smattering of interest in using computers in language arts (Balajthy 1988). Edward Fry, a noted reading specialist at Rutgers University, published a book on using typewriters in language arts which was not widely used. Perhaps seeing a new window of opportunity, Fry (1984) revised his text and reissued it as an approach to keyboarding in language arts.

Since we have known for more than half a century that keyboarding can help elementary school children learn language skills, why have typewriters only rarely found their way into elementary school classrooms, in sharp contrast to the current push to put computers into schools? One answer is that schools by and large reflect the perceived needs of society. Industrial Age schools resembled factories, and funds for typewriters were only available to prepare the relatively few students who would become clerks and typists. Information Age schools must prepare the vast majority of students to use computers because they are information management tools.

But why start elementary school students on computers? Here there is less direct pressure from society and more interest from educators who see the potential to enhance education. The two main factors spurring this interest are the transformation of professional writing through word processing (Zinsser 1983) and the transformation of writing instruction through the process approach (Graves 1983). Computers can greatly facilitate implementation of a process approach to teaching writing (Green 1984; Daiute 1985), so many educators are interested. In the current social milieu, the taxpayers are often willing to supply the necessary equipment.

Keyboarding in Elementary Schools: Curricular Issues

Given that we would like to use microcomputer based word processing as a tool to teach writing, what sort of keyboarding skills will elementary school students need? There seem to be three main alternatives. If they have no familiarization with the computer keyboard, they will have to “hunt and peck.” If they know where the keys are but not how to touch type, they can “peck” without much “hunting,” preferably using both hands. Finally, they can learn to touch type.

Everyone seems to agree that keyboard familiarization is in order, but whether to stop there or to teach touch typing to elementary school students is controversial. Advocates of the keyboard familiarization approach argue that students can type quickly enough to facilitate their writing without touch typing, that touch typing demands too much from limited time and computer resources, and that touch typing skills are quickly forgotten unless the students continue to practice regularly. Advocates of touch typing counter that students who develop the “bad habit” of keyboarding with two fingers find it very difficult to learn correct touch typing skills later and that such skills will ultimately be very important because of increased speed and efficiency.

There is widespread agreement that elementary students need to be able to type at least as fast as they can write by hand to avoid interfering with their writing process. A number of investigators have determined elementary school student handwriting rates. Graham and Miller (1980) found that students in grades 4 through 6 can copy text at a rate of 7 to 10 words per minute (wpm). Graves (1983) found a range of 8 to 19 wpm for 9 and 10 year olds when composing. Freyd and Kahn (1989) found an average rate of 11.44 wpm among 6th graders. With no keyboarding instruction (familiarization or touch typing), students of these ages can generally type 3 to 5 wpm (Wetzel 1985, 1987; Stoecker 1988). Different testing procedures probably accounts for most of the variation in these results. Wetzel (1987) reports that 10 wpm is generally accepted as a benchmark writing rate for students in grades 4 through 6.

Can students learn to type as fast as they can write with a keyboard familiarization program and word processing practice alone? The results are mixed. Freyd and Kahn (1989) report two studies in which students were able to type at writing speed with just keyboard familiarization and practice. one group of 6th graders started with an average rate of 6.62 wpm in October. With one hour of word processing per week, they had increased their average speed to 10.12 wpm in May. On the other hand, Daiute (1985) found that 11 and 12 year olds could write more words by hand in 15 minutes than they could type on the computer even after six months of word processing experience. Dalton, Morocco, and Neale (1988) found that 4th graders were initially comfortable word processing without touch typing instruction, but became frustrated later in the year as they needed to enter longer texts into the computer. In this study, however, students began using the word processor with no previous keyboard familiarization, so the results are not surprising.

Advocates of touch typing frequently claim that teaching touch typing to students who first learned to type without proper fingering techniques is very difficult or impossible (Kisner 1984; Stewart and Jones 1985; National Business Educators Association 1987; Abrams 1988; Balajthy 1988). No empirical evidence is presented to substantiate this claim, however. Wetzel (1987) interviewed several typing teachers, some of whomwere concerned about the “hunt and peck unlearning” problem, but others were not concerned, based on their own teaching experiences. West (1983) reports successfully teaching “hunt and peck” typists to use correct touch typing finger positions with about 10 hours of instruction.

By grade 3, children are developmentally able to touch type on electric keyboards. Advocates of touch typing generally agree that students should receive instruction just prior to the time they will need to use touch typing skills for word processing. If studen ts do not regularly practice typing, their skills can deteriorate in as little as six weeks (Warwood 1985). Wetzel (1987) found that students regress in their skills if they do not practice regularly after 20 hours of initial instruction. He cites business education research that students tend to retain their skills once they reach a plateau of 20 wpm. Gerlach (1987) ,found that with continued practice, students continue to improve their speed. In her study, 6th grade students who averaged 9.71 wpm after a 6 to 8 hour keyboarding course improved to 12.27 wpm four months later with continuing word processing practice.

Business educators have proposed a number of touch typing programs for elementary school students, some based on a recommended amount of instruction, others based on a performance criterion. Kisner (1984) recommended touch typing instruction in 20 to 30 minute periods, to a criterion of 20 wpm in Grade 3 or 25 wpm in grades 4 through 6. These recommendations seem to comefrom the experience of business education teachers with high school students rather than from keyboarding experience with elementary school children.

Jackson and Berg (1986) recommend 30 hours of instruction spread over two or three years, with weekly 30 minute review sessions. Instruction should take place in 20 to 30 minute periods, using a combination of software and a textbook. The recommended course sequence follows the traditional typing course, starting with the home row and introducing two new keys per session, with appropriate drills. Teachers should monitor the students continuously to make sure they are using proper form. Instruction should emphasize speed, not accuracy.

In 1987, the National Business Education Association (NBEA) proposed standards for keyboarding instruction in elementary schools. The NBEA recommended that elementary school students learn touch typing to a criterion of 15 wpm, and middle school students further develop their skill to a criterion of 25 wpm. Not surprisingly, the NBEA recommended that business education teachers, rather than elementary school classroom teachers, provide the instruction.

Wetzel (1985) surveyed the literature on touch typing programs for elementary school students, finding that fifth graders could be taught to touch type 22 wpm with a nine-weeks of daily instruction for 45 minutes, and fifth and sixth graders could achieve 40 wpm by spending one hour daily for a full year.

Alternatively, a more limited keyboarding instruction program consisting of instruction in correct fingering techniques and practice with a computer typing tutorial could lead to an average typing rate of 10 wpm in four weeks of 35 minute sessions or 15 wpm in nine weeks of such sessions. He also observed third, fourth, and fifth graders using word processors without touch typing instruction, finding that those who could type from 7 to 10 wpm were able to make adequate use of the computer for word processing. Given the heavy demands on teaching time in elementary schools, the relatively low level of typing skill needed to facilitate word processing and other computer activity, and the students’ ability to increase typing proficiency through continued computer use, Wetzel recommended a limited keyboarding program to accomplish a typing speed of 10 wpm in a relatively short period of time.

In a later paper, Wetzel (1987) modified these recommendations to take into account differing amounts of computer usage. If students regularly use computers at least two hours per week, Wetzel feels that they will get enough practice to sustain typing skills, justifying a 20 to 30 hour period of initial instruction in touch typing. If students characteristically use computers one hour per week or less, only a much more limited program of keyboard familiarization is recommended.

Stoecker (1988) developed a touch typing program ofinstruction designed for use by elementary school teachers. After a four week course, 20 sessions of 30 minutes each, fifth and sixth graders achieved typing rates of about 12 wpm. Stoecker’s program consists of student and teacher materials for use with any word processor. He has found that elementary school classroom teachers can learn to use this approach through a one day long training workshop.

Balajthy (1988) emphasizes the importance of integrating keyboarding instruction into the language arts curriculum. He cites recent studies showing that keyboarding can improve language arts skills, results which are consistent with the typewriter-based studies of the 1930’s and 19401s. Balajthy, like Wetzel, finds that students can achieve adequate typing skills with a limited period of keyboarding instruction-about 8 to 10 hours-followed by regular practice with computer activities. Like Stoecker, Balajthy recommends teacher- keyboarding instruction using a word processor rather than use of a software-based tutorial. Balajthy (1987) cautions that unless students have significant amounts of ongoing typing or word processing activity, touch typing instruction is a waste of time because skills will deteriorate rapidly.

One reason why Stoecker and Balajthy recommend keyboarding instruction on word processors with teacher supervision is because computer tutorials cannot monitor correct fingering and other aspects of proper touch typing. Stoecker (1988) reportsthat non-typists tend to use two fingers unless a teacherobserves. In contrast, Mikkelson and Gerlach (1988) performed acontrolled study in which third to sixth graders worked with a computer typing tutorial. Half of the students were supervised and encouraged to use proper touch typing form; the other half were observed but not supervised. The results were surprising–both groups made similar progress in typing skill, and there was no difference between groups in propensity to use correct touch typing techniques.

If Mikkelson and Gerlach’s results are generalizable, it would be possible for elementary school teachers to obtain satisfactory results by teaching touch typing through limited individual work with a computer typing tutorial. Such instruction could take place on classroom computers while other activities were taking place. If students need to be supervised to insure proper fingering techniques, then either elementary classroom teachers will need to be trained to teach touch typing or business education teachers will be needed.

Keyboarding and the Future

In their Database of Competencies for Business Curriculum Development, the NBEA defined keyboarding as follows:

Keyboarding is defined as the act of placing information into various types of equipment through the use of a typewriter-like keyboard. Typewriting and keyboarding are not synonymous. The focus of a keyboarding course is on input rather than output. (NBEA 1987, A-19)

Keyboarding is seen as a way to input information into a computer so that it can be manipulated. Thus, initial accuracy is less important than speed, ability to manipulate text is more important than formatting skills for specific types of documents, and composing is more important than transcribing (so it does not matter so much if the typist looks at the keys).

These distinctions recognize important changes in the purposes for which people type on Industrial Age typewriters and on Information Age computer keyboards. Yet, if we look closely at the keyboarding programs proposed by business educators, we find a methodology geared to the Industrial Age purpose of transcribing rather than the Information Age purpose of composing (Freyd and Kahn 1989).

This discrepancy is not surprising. As Naisbitt (1982) observed, people tend first to use a new technology in the same ways they have used older technologies which seem similar. only after a (sometimes lengthy) period of incubation do we see new directions or uses that grow out of the technology itself. So, at this point it is useful to take a step back and consider whether we might be looking at the keyboarding issue all wrong.

Graves (1983) has determined that five and six year old beginning writers compose at a painstakingly slow pace of 1.5 words per minute. At that rate, writing down a six word sentence can take up to nine minutes. Even five and six year olds who are unfamiliar with keyboards can compose more quickly and easily oncomputers than by hand (Wetzel, 1985). Graves has remarked that “one can imagine starting kids off writing on keyboards and save handwriting until motor skills are more highly refined.” (Green 1984).

Fry (1987) has proposed that schools eliminate the teaching of cursive writing and substitute keyboarding. He points out that cursive writing is not taught in European schools; students learn manuscript, and then develop their own handwriting style through shortcuts. By teaching cursive writing instead of keyboarding, Fry says, “we are training for the last century instead of for the next century.”

The issue of touch typing versus two-finger typing may be similar. Gertner and Norman (1984) have observed that the main advantage of touch typing is in copying. Copying is important for Industrial Age clerks and typists to transcribe business documents, but it is irrelevant to writers using word processing to compose and edit. By insisting on touch typing, are we training for the last century instead of for the next?

The New York State Keyboarding Curriculum

The New York State Board of Regents Action Plan to Improve Elementary and Secondary Education Results in New York calls for instruction in keyboarding to be “included in the State-developed English Language Arts Syllabus.” A state education department curriculum guide entitled Developing Keyboarding Skills to Support the Elementary Language Arts Program further stipulates that “approximately 18 to 20 hours of instruction should be devoted to keyboarding instruction within the framework of the Language Arts Program in the elementary grades.” (New York State Education Department 1986, 23).

The state keyboarding curriculum closely parallels material published by the National Business Education Association and by-state and local business education personnel. As described above, this means that the general thrust of the guide recognizes different needs and objectives between traditional typing instruction and keyboarding instruction, the recommended teaching strategies follow a more or less traditional touch typing approach. The influence of the business education community is apparent from the Suggested Readings offered in Appendix B. Of the 25 references listed on pages 29 and 30, 15 are to business education sources, and only 4 are to computer education and 3 more to general education sources.

The state curriculum clearly reflects the relative strength of business educators compared with computer coordinators in New York. For example, under “General Guidelines for Achieving Outcomes,” the guide suggests that:

business education teachers should be called upon to assist in the development of keyboarding curricula, in-service training, and selection of materials and methodology. (5)

Under “Planning for Teacher Awareness and Training:

… the business education teacher … can be very helpful in developing the plan and for training other teachers inappropriate keyboarding techniques. Business education teachers can also serve as a resource once a program is in place to conduct follow- activities as needed. (6)

Under delivery of instruction, the curriculum calls for students to learn touch typing, including correct fingering, posture, and eye contact (away from the keyboard, that is). The guide stops short of requiring business education teachers to teach the keyboarding courses, but states:

Teachers who have been trained in keyboarding methodology are of considerable importance in achieving these goals. (7)

In contrast, computer coordinators are mentioned only once in thecurriculum guide. The guide clearly views computer coordinators as technicians rather than instructional leaders, suggesting that they can be helpful in scheduling labs, repairing equipment, finding software and the like. The next sentence reminds the reader that knowledgeable high school students can also provide “considerable assistance.” (7)

To its credit, the state keyboarding guide does focus on integrating keyboarding into the language arts curriculum, as suggested by Balajthy (1988) and others. But it leans so heavily for its methodology on the perspective of the past that it is” suspect as a guide to the future.

Conclusions and Recommendations

There is widespread agreement that elementary school students need keyboarding skills. Whether keyboardfamiliarization is sufficient or whether students need touch typing skills depends on the nature of the school’s language arts and computer education curricula.

Touch typing courses are only effective if students receive a substantial period of initial instruction followed by regular practice throughout the school year. Touch typing courses can be recommended when computers are fully integrated into the language arts curriculum and when students regularly have at least two hours of individual computer time per week. In this type of environment, the initial touch typing instruction should occur at the time when students will first become involved with computers on a regular basis. The initial instruction should be provided either by specialists or by classroom teachers who have been given training in how to teach touch typing.

In situations where students make more limited use of computers, the evidence at hand suggests that a program of keyboard familiarization is sufficient to provide adequate keyboarding skills to support word processing and other uses of computers in elementary schools. Keyboard familiarization can be taught by classroom teachers assisted by appropriate computer software.

As we move further into the Information Age, fundamental changes in our school curricula will follow, paralleling the changing needs of society. Envisioning these changes, we can imagine a time when keyboarding will replace cursive writing asan essential skill for elementary school children, complementing a language arts curriculum using computers extensively for such activities as writing with word processors. Developing an Information Age language arts curriculum with keyboarding as a fundamental skill should be a central focus of our long-range curriculum planning.


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