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But her school doesn't teach typing. The question is: why not?

How old is your niece? I took a typing course in Grade 9 under the old Ontario Curriculum (with OAC), one of the most valuable courses I took in high school. It's still there in the new curriculum.

Typing hides out under "Business Skills", I think the course is "Information & Communication Technology in Business" BTT1O1

I don't remember which grade it was; but I was taught typing in my Kentucky school in the 90s. The computers we used for that time were already quite old.

Warren, it's entirely possible that there are Canada-US differences in this.

Determinant - here's a sample course outline for BTT101 http://goldbergcafe.wikispaces.com/BTT1O1+-+Course+Outline. It looks like there would be little or no room for basic keyboarding training in there.

I had a grade 9 course that taught touch-typing in addition to other computer skills (productivity software, basic programming).

Honestly, though, I can type quite quickly without touch typing. Touch typing causes wrist strain for me. I can type about 70 wpm without touch typing, and I don't often have to write long passages, so I usually don't touch type. Partly because I self taught myself to type when growing up talking to friends on the internet.

Andrew F - sounds like you weren't taught the correct posture - the whole point is to avoid wrist strain. I guess this is part of what makes it challenging to teach typing - the need for one-on-one instruction on technique. (It helps a lot to have studied piano, too.)

I went through the Nova Scotian education system. We had mandatory typing in Grade 10.

We need more data to test between those theories.

One data point: In the UK, in the 1960's, if my memory is correct, schools never taught typing. Boys never learned typing. But some girls went to privately run secretarial colleges after school and learned to type there. I think that's right.

I think that all of us wrote our essays longhand at university. My undergrad thesis was handwritten. Maybe some of the girls typed theirs? I was surprised to discover that so many essays were typed in Canadian and US universities.

I didn't type at all before computers.

BTW, does anyone still use shorthand? My guess is that computers killed shorthand, because a good typist can type as fast as anyone can speak, and the computer allows her to make changes and corrections afterwards?

Technology might be evolving toward humans, rather than human practice toward keyboards. Chiclet keys and autocorrect, for instance.

The biggest savers of typing in practice are, I think, going to learning how to use appropriate keyboard shortcuts and navigational aids, so that you don't have to lift your hand to grab the mouse. Dedicated time translating a handwritten document into text occupies less typing time than it used to.

I feel a little guilty that I never learned touch typing - although I can type reasonably quickly without it...as long as it's a normal keyboard and not one of those weird Microsoft "natural" keyboards. Put me in front of one of those and I'm totally lost.

Yes, learning typing is something that should be forced on everyone - like learning the multiplication tables.

Frances: My kids both got typing classes on keyboards in Grade 4/5 as part of computer literacy.

In the U.S., my first typing class (early 70s) was probably the last one with manual typewriters...the electrics were in another classroom! Although to this day I still like the feel of a manual typewriter.

So as not to make so many mistakes, I took another typing class in a community college some years later, that time with electric typewriters. Few classes pay off quite so well. My typing speed helps to make up for some residual tech phobia, a result of waiting so long to finally get a computer and go online.

I agree that typing is no longer a defining skill for a job. I am a terrible typist but I still write OK on a computer. I have had occasion to teach myself but have never done it. I will say when I write code I am pretty fast. Less so when writing documents. But since I am /awful/ typing on my phone the computer seems fast.

I trust you are also sending your niece here: http://docs.python.org/2/tutorial/

Max - for a while I had one of those natural keyboards in my office. It was so well used that a lot of the letters had worn off, leaving blank keys. It was wonderful - made my computer absolutely impossible for anyone else to ever use!

Livio - do they touch type properly as a result? A few classes may make a marginal improvement to a person's keyboarding skills, but it really takes quite a few hours of intensive daily practice to become a solid touch typist.

david - 100% agree on keyboard shortcuts. I had an ibook for a while with a broken delete (backspace) key. That forced me to work out every possible way of avoiding using the delete key - Ctrl-x for cutting, or just highlighting a section of text and typing right over it. Those little tricks have saved me many microseconds, and microseconds add up. It drives me crazy when I see people not using control-c, control-v, or my personal favorite, ctrl-alt-v (paste as unformatted text, saves huge amounts of grief).

But keyboard shortcuts aren't always that easy to find and remember. E.g. there's one that automatically minimizes every window on a PC - incredibly helpful - but I keep on forgetting it and not being able to find it again. Also the lack of mac-pc compatibility is a problem. Like every mac user, I spend a lot of time futilely hitting F3 whenever I'm on a PC, hoping that perhaps this time it'll make every open window appear on my desktop.

Becky - interesting.

Sam - how did that mandatory class work out? Did every school teach typing, or did some take a more business tech/computer literacy approach? Can you touch type quickly as a result?

Chris J - thanks for that link, someone else I know could use it.

Nick - yup, and I think my mother's enthusiasm for us taking typing might have been in part a response to the traditional English education she had endured (she also encouraged us to take shop, and, I think, if she could have persuaded us, auto mechanics - she didn't have to tell us to take home ec, as it was required for girls).

The whole British educational system is so different from the Canadian one - I think because here the public system has always been really important, and has been tied into the needs of employers/government/church (to some extent). Whereas in the UK there has been this long standing tradition of training-the-scions-of-the-elite-for-Oxbridge public (meaning private) schooling. If Eton and Winchester are teaching Latin and the classics, surely that's what Milton Keynes Comprehensive should strive for as well.

I reject the premise of the question. I had typing classes intermittently from third grade through eighth.

Alex - can you touch type accurately without looking at the keyboard?

In that case, I stand corrected.

Otherwise, I will accept your statement that your school offered typing classes, will reject the conclusion that your school actually taught typing.

Frances, yes, of course I can. As far as I know all of my friends my age can too. It would be weird to watch someone use a computer and look at his/her keyboard.

I am writing up a paper for a conference proceedings now. What affects my productivity?

1: Attention (I am commenting on a blog, not doing my work) is an issue, but not the only one.

2: I am spending a lot of time looking things up: In my talk I could say "Contamination from source X is small"; now I need to go back to my old notes and write down the "small" number I calculated a year ago.

3: I am spending some time formatting. (The conference insists on a slightly different LaTeX format than I am used to).

Speeding up my typing would have a minimal improvement on my work. And in my spare time I would much rather watch baseball than learn to type properly.

Actually, I've NEVER understood that! And I went to school BPC (Before PCs).

You suggest that the problem is that it is a manual skill - but what to they do in sport classes then?

But maybe you have a point. It is a general problem with the mode of learning in schools. I know that Ivan Illich somehow lost, and is now out of print, but I think he had an important point. Schools aren't really about teaching - they are about ranking pupils. Othewise they could be competence based. Everybody could accumulate competence certificates. The brighter ones would get more of them, but everybody would acchieve, rather than marking some as failures.

Frances: They touch type and make fun of me because I do not.

I was probably the last generation to take keyboarding (on typewriters, no less) in Ontario.

That said, I tend to agree with Chris that speed in typing (beyond a certain point, of course - the two-finger typists are severely disadvantaged) probably has diminishing returns for many (if not most) people. Sure, if you have to transcribe someone's dictation or handwritten notes (a mandatory skill set for legal assistants for those old school partners who never learned to type), than speed is crucial, but that's increasingly uncommon. I think the practical point is that if you're composing what you're writing at the same time you're typing it (which, I think is the reality for anyone raised on computers), typing speed isn't usually the time constraint (as opposed to thinking about what you want to say, checking references, quotes, etc.)

A related point is that one of the benefits of proper touch typing was that it cut down on typos (which drove me nuts in grade 10). But while typos are a real concern on a typewriter, they're mostly harmless on a computer as they can be readily corrected (and while one should never rely on the spellcheck it is good at picking up errors cause by sloppy typing - as opposed to the its and it's type typos). So the payoff from being a proper typist, relative to some who can make do, probably isn't what it used to be.

(Now, if only we could teach grammar and the importance of spelling).

"the whole point is to avoid wrist strain"

Frances, I think that you are overlooking an important aspect of physical reality here, unusually for you, given that it is one that is strongly gendered. As you yourself observed, in the days when typing was an occupation, it was women who were "typecast" (ha ha) in the role. It was appropriate, then, that the standard method should be tailored to the requirements of those who used it.

As it happens, once upon a time I was also formally instructed in typing. I have never been able to comfortably strike C with my middle finger and always reverted to my index finger when not observed by someone with coercive power over me. The reason is not too complicated. I am not a particularly large man but even if you are a half-foot taller then me I would lay 3:1 that your shoulders are narrower than mine. Even with my elbows jammed tightly against my ribs, my middle finger must bend to a 45 degree angle in order to strike C with my hands in the home position.

With a modern split keyboard that can angle to accommodate my arms with wrists in a neutral position, I could comfortably use my middle finger but I don't bother. I would have to relearn how to type.

I think my comment was eaten.

Phil, that is a really interesting point. Actually, I have fairly short hands, even for a woman. I can see that the usual method of touch typing might be more difficult with larger hands.

reason - swimming is some ways a similar skill, and I don't think that's really taught either. There's some attempt made to introduce kids to skating in Canadian schools - but I suspect it's a bit like the typing teaching, not really enough to produce a high level of competence without motivated kids.

reason - OT: I heard a high flying tech exec (I want to say Google VP, but my memory is not that reliable) on the radio the other day talking about education. He had been a CS prof, and describe himself as a real 'hard ass' (late? zero. partial answers? zero). He now thought this was stupid, and that the school system in general was stupid. The analogy he used was learning to ride a bike. When you learn to ride a bike, you don't get X number of weeks to do it (with the first 2 weeks devoted to the history of the historical significance of bike riding, followed by an overview of your bike riding profs contributions to the field of bike riding). If you don't learn in X weeks, your are given an C, written off as a failure, and never touch a bike again. Of course, what really happens is that you keep at it until you master the skill. He proposed that schooling should be the same. So I guess he's agrees with you.

Patrick, reason - if school was about human capital, not signalling, this would be what would happen.

I don't think educators have really come to grips with this full implications of really thinking seriously about education as human capital.

In my school (in Scotland) we all did some typing in Administration class in 1rst and 2nd year. As it happens, most of the best typists were not the people who perservered with that class, but people who just used computers a lot.

It would have been more practically useful for me to be able to type faster than to know the difference between a Bann-Saw and a Belt-Sander or how to make Waldorf Salad.

In most subjects at school, basically the same group of students would do well in each subject.

I wonder if the same would happen in a typing subject. And if the typing subject wasn't compulsory, and you generally did well in other sorts of subjects, would you enrol in a typing subject?

Since we read stories every day about how computing is moving to tablet and phone, qwerty won't be used as much.
You are a dino. :))

fhl - the only thing that seriously threatens to make qwerty obsolete is voice recognition software. T9 is great, especially the little connections it makes like "good" and "home" or "cool" and "book", but hasn't really caught on. Tablets mostly use qwerty. I can't stand touch screen keyboards because they're far too slow.

I will confess to being a total and utter dino - a seriously bad tempered T Rex on a rampage, to be precise - when it comes to voice recognition software, because it never ever recognizes my voice. Words cannot convey how much I loathe it. But once the technology improves, and people get used to using it, I can see it taking off in a big way.

The best take on the in 'in the future everything will be different" that I've seen is the Onion's "Apple Wheel" video http://www.theonion.com/video/apple-introduces-revolutionary-new-laptop-with-no,14299/

Michael - interesting question. I don't know the answer.

FHI raises a point that is related to economics, methinks. Touch-typing is not just being neglected, but killed off by software developers. After taking the obligatory typing class in high school, I touch-typed through many iterations of Word, hard-wiring shortcuts into my automatic manual memory. Then Microsoft starting changing shortcuts: a new computer meant spending a few hours re-establishing the old ones. But then, since Office2007, microsoft so changed Word that it is almost impossible to do without the blasted mouse (solution: reinstalled old Word!). The point being: software developers are not reacting to market demands(accomodating touch-typists as well as teens) but imposing their conceptions of what is 'user-friendly'. I know I am not alone in my frustrations, as any visit to forums will show.
So maybe your niece will actually be better off without the typing class?
Which leaves the issue of drivers' ed ... that was the second class required of everyone in my high-school (mid-1970s). None of the automatic reflexes I learned there have been designed out of usefulness.

I use the middle finger of my left hand to type 'C'. I think I once tested out at about 120 words/minute. I am a coder - backspace is my favorite key.

I recall watching my mom type letters on her manual typewriter. Manual typewriters were great mechanical devices. It seems like the steampunk world ought to go gaga over them. But I learned (in 9th grade in late 70's) on an IBM Selectric. My teacher understood the fun of typing. She taught us to type to "All You Need Is Love". Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm.

Manual typewriters imposed speed limits. Type too fast and the keys got stuck. Also, you had to push the keys further. That's where rhythm became all-important. Speed was a difficult skill to learn. Electrics alleviated this a bit, and so did word-processing software. But I recall selling a '386 computer to a Hollywood typist because her older computer was too slow to keep up with her typing speed.

Now I fear the day when I will no longer be able to find a keyboard with tactile and/or audio feedback. The feedback is part of the automaticity, at least for me.

I have long thought that the technological changes going on in keyboards coincided with a wave of people taught to type properly. It became clear first that everyone would need to know how to type, then that nobody would find it interesting. So typing classes grew like a grass fire, then died like a grass fire.

I am typing now on a laptop with my elbows on my knees and back bowed. Terrible posture, but my speed is still OK. I've suffered years of self-inflicted wrist strain and shoulder strain and back strain, but having once learned to type fast, it has served me well throughout. You can change your posture, but you can only learn to type fast with practice. And a better keyboard.

I took two years of typing in HS in the early 1980s- 1st year was non-electric typewriters, and the 2nd year was electric typewriters. In my opinion, of all the classes I took in HS, the typing classes were probably the ones that added the most to my overall skill set as an adult, and is one I appreciate greatly even today as I watch "Hunt and Peck" youngsters.

I think the reason typing classes have declined over time is that the students coming into high school believe they are already proficient in it having grown up with keyboards in the home as part of a computer system. My mother had a typewriter while I was a child, but I never used it, and so I took typing to learn how to use a typewriter, not learn how to type better.

When I took typing back in 1960, I was the only boy in the class. Typing, like home economics, was for girls. The course was probably the most useful single class I ever took in my life; but I got plenty of grief for taking it. This association of typing with girls lasted a long time. Twenty years later, when I taught poor kids how to type at a housing project, all my students were girls. Presumably we don't think of typing as woman's work any more, but isn't the low status of typing classes a fossilized remnant of an old gender attitude?

fchaume: " but imposing their conceptions of what is 'user-friendly'"

So true!

Interestingly, when I was taught typing at school (late 90s) it was done as part of an IT class, and was mostly populated with males.

I took a typing course one summer during high school - at my mother's insistence. It paid off for years, but I have now lost much of my skill. Fast and accurate typing on a typewriter didn't carry over well to composing equations on the screen. On a tangent, Frances, you said your mother insisted you take typing....where was your father in this decision making process?

Linda - see Lundberg and Pollak (1993).

A few observations:
developpers develop for themselves. I saw a few days ago ( in NYT I think,not sure) about a couple of guys who spent a year devising an app that found about 30 takers in San Francisco. That solved a problem that about 30 techies in SF had and nobody else on the planet gave a !"/).
30 years ago, there small add-ons (TSR for DOS and DeskAccessories for Mac that did things.) There was Remington that gave you a sound when you typed and even the sound of a carriage return at the end of a line.
Today the role of boss who dictate and secretaries who take dictations and type has been reversed. Boss write the first draft of his thoughts and let the secretary make the necessary typographic work. And secretary do more agenda planning and advance work. I teach a management course in the Technique de bureautique program, as we expect them to be present at meetingd and understand what's going on so they can make accurate documents out of it.

People who train as court reporters still learn shorthand.

As someone who works with engineers, typing speed is irrelevant. There is nearly never a context where the mind exceeds a modest typing speed.

Being a typist used to mean transcribing hand notes or audio. That is quite rarely done in business today. On a manual typewriter you'd constantly retype during initial drafting. This also doesn't happen now.

Btw, since high school my typing speed has gotten much faster--not from deliberate practice but merely from practice.

fchaume, Frances: as someone who spent more than 10 years actually developing software for large firms, I can guarantee you that the guys actually writing the software do not, ever, make any decisions about usability or user interface. Ever. That is done by committees in endless meetings where little sandwiches are served and words like "paradigm" waft through the air.

But if the engineers did make the usability decisions, typing would be a very useful skill because you'd be using TeX for layout and typing into vi in a terminal. On Linux. And you'd bloody well like it.

Frances - if voice recognition software will take over from typing - what will happen to open plan offices? (And do you have students taking notes direct on a laptop in classes)?

I took a typing class in middle school 20 years ago now. We actually used half type writers and half computers. I think the type writers were gone within a couple years. But I didn't really learn to touch type then. I did learn how to touch type, but couldn't really do it.

I finally learned to do it five years later when I spent some time internet chatting with people. After a couple weeks of that I could touch type 60-70wpm, which is fast enough that it doesn't really slow down writing.

Thus my two step plan for learning to touch type well:

1) Learn the theory & technique from a book, short class, website, computer program, etc.
2) Practice by real time chatting with people for a couple weeks 2 hours a day maybe.

You probably won't hit professional-secretary-transcribing-a-letter-speeds, but you'll be typing fast enough that it isn't a limiting factor for other tasks.

It seems to me it is a horrible waste of time to spend weeks and weeks in a classroom learning standard typing. Its the kind of thing that immersion can get you to learn very quickly.

There used to be "Information Technology" classes in highschool where keyboarding was an applied skills credit. This was true as of 2001 when I graduated from highschool. That said, I'm not sure how effective it was, as I'm pretty sure people's speed did not significantly increase due to the class.

I personally type somewhere in the range of 70-110 WPM, probably comfortably in the mid-to-high 80's range. That said, this is from crunching through essays in class at the last minute, a passing acquaintance with ICQ in its early years and admittedly a somewhat embarrassing familiarity for a period of time with MUDs and other text-based online roleplaying games where typing speed was a matter of ASCI-life-or-death

I my school we stopped offering a specific keyboarding class due to the simple economics of supply and demand. I would only get 10 students signing up for a course and the minimum for us to run a course is 30 hence no class. Of course keyboarding was more than just touch typing it included letter styles, formatting, memos, mail merge etc.

I agree that students with some knowledge of a keyboard can produce a speed of 20-30 words which for most of their needs is sufficient.

We still offer a course that includes typing - Business Computer Applications - but it covers more than just touch typing.

Keith - the point about supply and demand is a good one.

But the idea that 20-30 words per minute is a sufficient typing speed is really sad. In an ideal world, one can type as quickly as one can think, so the fingers don't hold up the flow of ideas. Do people really think at 20-30 wpm?

Jeff - this raises an interesting issue. Students could probably learn a lot of what I teach in my undergraduate classes just as well by learning a textbook. But they don't - the students who skip class don't spend 3 hours doing readings, end-of-chapter questions, on-line quizzes or review problems.

A lot of what a teacher does is motivate people to put in the hours needed to master a subject - sometimes people need someone to stand over their shoulder and say "don't look at the keyboard". (Or, in hockey, don't look at the puck, feel it on your stick).

I don't have any profound insight here; it's just interesting what this says about the nature of education.

That last comment was typed at 86 wpm ;-)

"In an ideal world, one can type as quickly as one can think, so the fingers don't hold up the flow of ideas."

Well, let me ask you, if you put together a 1500 word (5 page) memo/email/letter outlining a hiring recommendation, commenting on a paper, planning a conference, whatever, does it only take you 17 minutes (at ~90wpm)? If not, is typing speed really a meaningful contraint? I was looking at a recent 1500 word submission that I prepared for a client, and I probably spent 5 or 6 hours on it (not, obviously, just in typing it). At the end of the day, whether I type at 45 wpm or 90 wpm, it's a rounding error relative to the total time it takes to produce the finished product.

Obviously, if your entire day is spent typing (as in Mad Men-era secretaries) that difference is massive, but I don't think that's a common reality for most people.

I was taught to touch type by an old school teacher (tough) in grade 10 high school on an old underwood (with no keyboard letters) (in the 1960s). It was not my best mark by any stretch, in fact, one of my worst other than phys-ed. However, I used that skill more than I have used my latin professionally. I note that most of my younger colleagues can neither touch type nor read documentation which makes their speed in producing reports or other products somewhat distressful to me. I would doubt if most students today can to 30 CORRECT words per minute. I know that most of them cannot formulate a proper business letter. I would strongly support a requirement for proper business skills in school.

Note the typos above (my eyes are 50 years older).

I took typing in the 80's. Typing was big with the "academically minded set" at that time. We were all going to become programmers and programmers had to type.

I have typed all of my school assignments since the 8th grade, and I never became "proficient" at typing until I started working for a living. So, now I have been sitting behind a keyboard for 20 years, and I would guess that most of the time, I type at about 10 words a minute. That is about as fast as I can think and type and spell and correct and edit at the same time.

More thoughts on typing....

I am about the fastest person you will see with Microsoft Excel. That is because I know my keyboard shortcuts. Nothing slows down typing speed more than having to take ones fingers off the keys to grab the mouse. However, with each upgrade of the software, more features are added that cannot be operated via keystrokes. And a few keyboard driven commands are taken away. All of software is increasingly visual and hence slower for the expert to use.

I think people are missing the point with "typing as fast as you think". Looking at the net output of all the tasks involved in composing some piece of writing is besides the point. If the time (and effort!) involved in typing holds you up at some stage, it holds you up.


>Sam - how did that mandatory class work out? Did every school teach typing, or did some take a more business tech/computer literacy approach? Can you touch type quickly as a result?

Frances, the teacher who taught it was a veritable nazi. Very old school, back straight, fingers in position, no looking away from your copy. The course year long. Half was general computer literacy, including some graphic design. The second half was the aforementioned nazi. I can safely say we nearly all learned to type faster. It would be strange if we didn't. The class was 100% practice: type three letters 1000 times using the proper fingering, etc.

One of the point that is missing in the discussion is the unfortunate fate of bilingual typist. I used to learn to type (though not touch typing) on French keyboards, which have a different layout (AZERTY instead of QWERTY), then moved to Canada, where I am constantly switching between the US keyboard (standard that windows, and my wife enforce) and the canadian multilingual standard that I require when I need to type in French, with slightly different layout for some minor keys. It is not easy to touch type in that kind of conditions... Nevertheless I wish sometimes I could type properly and faster without having to look at my keyboard. But I can't.

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