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Starting Think-Keying

Uni Carnegie
South Australian College of Advanced Education

Can you write as fast as you think?

Many people are not as productive as they could be because they are using old technology such as pencil and paper, or they are using new technology inefficiently by 'hunting and pecking'.

This paper describes the evolution of a program to enable people to become proficient in basic typing as quickly as possible and with the minimum of pain.

Communicating words via an electronic keyboard is an everyday fact of life. For convenience people often refer to what they are doing as 'typing', even though they are not using a typewriter. The basic keyboarding skills are the same whether one is using a manual typewriter or a computer.

Because the skill of typing has traditionally been denigrated, the majority of people learning to use computers in Australia have resisted learning touch typing. One can make the analogy that car drivers do not look to see where the brake pedal or gears are - if they did, the results could be quite spectacular.

We teach people of all ages to acquire skills and encourage them to practise in order to hone those skills, be they playing a musical instrument or playing a sport - and yet many teachers think there is no need to teach their students to touch type and think-key.

We all know that habits are easier to learn than alter, so why do we allow our young people to become functional cripples, disabled by virtue of an inability to key in fluently?

The answer is not a simple one. In part it is due to the lack of understanding of the complex psychomotor skill of typing. It must also be said that the teaching strategies have left students bored and frustrated.

In the past, typing has been seen as a means of copying text - from typewritten, handwritten or dictated originals, or from shorthand. Increasingly, typing is being done by people who are creating original text: they are think-keying. Fluent typing becomes immeasurably more important in this context, because thoughts, especially pearls of wisdom, have a tendency to disappear if they are impeded in their expression. We must key them in as quickly as possible, or they will be lost, perhaps for ever. We haven't got time to hunt and peck. Our fingers must react to our thoughts and spell them out in the same way as the words dribble off the end of our pen: fluently.

THINK-------------------------------------------------- > KEY

THINK --------------- > HUNT
--------------- > KEY

It has been asserted (Austin & Pargman, 1981) that the most fluent performance is achieved by the person who is able to leave the execution of the skill to the unconscious self. The conscious self attends solely to the higher order activities associated with the skill being performed.

Following study leave in the United States some years ago, the author devised a keyboard teaching method using a roller chalkboard to encourage touch typing from the beginning. Students worked with sentences on the board instead of from a textbook at keyboard level. They were paced, because it is important they learn the elements of a skill at production speed and gain the kinaesthetic feedback which enables them to perform fluently. Students were reminded of the time when they learnt to ride a bicycle: if they went slowly they wobbled and fell off. A series of sentences were written on the board and the teacher turned them over the top after students had had time to key in each one. Students responded positively to this system which enabled the faster ones to more ahead while nudging along the slower ones.

As educational technology developed, so did the program.

For several years, slides on the overhead projector replaced the roller board and conference members can see a video of a group of young children learning to type on electric typewriters during their school holidays. They gained a knowledge of the whole keyboard during five one hour sessions. It was a real thrill to see these youngsters literally running into the classroom to practise their new skill. Now at university, they report the benefits of being able to key in fluently. Think-keying was part of their introduction to the keyboard and they enjoyed swapping jokes they had written using only the letters they had learnt.

The introduction of electronic keyboards meant that the need for physical hand strength was removed and so word processing became a tool in the formation of language skills in primary schools.

The next stage of the program's development resulted from a perceived need for business people to be able to acquire a keyboarding skill quickly and perhaps even secretly (because of its un-macho image). Computers were becoming something of a management toy, but they were also being used seriously in firms with dispersed offices, such as Elders Pastoral. The production of Key in for Information, a pack of cards in a plastic wallet, coincided with more than 400 Elders Pastoral branches throughout Australia and New Zealand being linked by electronic mail. Allan Baird, their manager of office systems, was insistent that their staff should acquire efficient keyboarding skills so that they could use the electronic mail for all their interoffice communications and other work, such as preparation of wills for clients. Elders Pastoral prepared a house style training manual which accompanied Key in for Information into all their offices.

One reason for the choice of name for the keyboarding package was the excitement generated by online databases. So much information available at the end of a computer linkup! High online and connect time costs mean there are considerable financial advantages to be gained from quick and accurate keyboarding.

The success of Key in for Information resulted in Pitman, one of the leading publishers in commercial education, suggesting some modifications which would result in an introductory keyboarding textbook. They did not have the means to market a pack of cards. Because of the changed concept, it was with some reluctance that The Pitman 10 hour Typing Program was written.

At about the same time, my colleague, Dr Michael Gerrard, was wanting his students in Introduction to Computing to become competent in word processing.

The stimulus for the students learning to type now became characters on the computer screen. In 1987 it was the first software encountered by 270 business students. During their first 75 minute workshop they covered, on average, six or seven units of the program. The first unit introduces the guide keys and subsequent units introduce one or two characters at a time. In their first workshop students are shown by the tutor how to start the program, select lessons, and quit from the program. They are also given guidance regarding the height adjustment of their chairs, their posture, and the arrangement of their work materials. As reported by David McKinnon, who will present his findings at the conference, we found students wanted to be set on the right track by a friendly human being and not just a user friendly computer.

The KEY program is now used throughout the South Australian College of Advanced Education and in a number of other educational institutions throughout Australia.


Austin, J. S. and Pargman, D. (1981). The Inner Game approach to performance and skill acquisition. Motor Skills: Theory into Practice, 5(1), 3-12.

Carnegie, U. (1985). Key in for Information. Adelaide: Unisco.

Carnegie, U. (1987). The Pitman 10-hour Typing Program. Melbourne: Longman.

Carnegie, U. and Gerrard, M. (1987). KEY. (Available from the authors: 16 Dulwich Avenue, Dulwich SA 5065).

Please cite as: Carnegie, U. (1990). Starting Think-Keying. In J. G. Hedberg, J. Steele and M. Mooney (Eds), Converging Technologies: Selected papers from EdTech'90, 69-71. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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