Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Custom Typing

Last year I realized that our keyboarding program was not meeting our needs. The problem wasn't the software or instruction, it was the lack of access to the computers. Typing is better learned in shorter sessions many times per week than one long session of equivalent length. (There is research to support that statement, but it is back in Minnesota in my Hamline materials, instead of here where I need it. Just call it packing mistake #236.) Unfortunately, our lab spaces are maxed out as it is, no chance to get the classes in more often. And since we are stuck in the tech integration-as-prep-time mode, I can't front end load extra typing sessions early in the year. Therefore, a home option seems best.

This week, I'm introducing my fourth and fifth grade classes to Custom Typing. It is an online subscription typing program. We piloted it last year and were pleased with the students' progress. I was also pleased by the great customer service we received. We usually received a useful response within 24 hours. This fall, I was able to upload the accounts via a database file. It was a life saver as I created more than 700 accounts.

This year I made it available to any fourth or fifth grade class as long as the teacher agreed to...
  • assign it as homework for at least 3 nights per week
  • monitor student progress on a regular basis
  • become familiar enough with the program that they can provide student support for basic problems.
This introductory lesson that I taught this week has the kids logging in, choosing an animated coach, choosing a background, and going through the introduction. They loved choosing the coach and the backgrounds. They found the intro deadly dull. They found the initial exercises long, but most were able to complete their first quiz. They needed a score of 61, but most has a score over 100. That was just the hook they needed.

Of course, it is not free of problems. One problem is that the workstations at their homes were probably set up for adults, not children. Fortunately, the site has a good ergonomics section built in. It has helpful photos to supplement the kid-friendly text. Some teachers are making it an assignment to view that section and report back on how their home workstation measures up.

Another problem is that children are unlikely to voluntarily cover the keyboard to prevent peeking. However, this program works well enough that the students in the pilot last year did get past the peeking stage. Each exercise is long enough that they stop looking since they "know" the keys.

I asked the teacher to attend this first session so I could get them up to speed with the program. Initially I had not set up student accounts for the teachers themselves, but a number of them asked for them, so I made them for everyone. Teachers us a different login to get to the student accounts and records. I didn't get much feedback from them. I'm sure they wished they could be having their prep time instead, but they are great sports and attended anyhow.

Next I need to create the support materials for teachers to send home, and to help teachers generate student reports. At least the children have all been able to log in and seem to be enjoying it.