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Keyboarding, touch typing and computers: What students think

David H McKinnon
Charles Sturt University - Mitchell
Patrick C J Nolan
Massey University, New Zealand

This paper presents the findings of a survey questionnaire conducted in September 1989, regarding the role and value of computer keyboarding and touch typing skills for New Zealand secondary school students. Data were collected covering the following area: socio-economic status of parents; gender; time spent using the typing tutor; educational and vocational goals; perceived keyboard competence; preferred keyboard teaching methods; and, the value of typing courses. Results indicate that significant numbers of students want to learn keyboarding and touch typing (p < 0.01). Specifically, they want structure, guidance and instruction provided by specialist typing teachers working in conjunction with their normal classroom teachers and would be prepared to undertake these lessons in their own time. Discussion covers implications for administrators and teachers responsible for the design of education with computers in schools.

Many researchers have commented upon the increasing use of computers across the curriculum and the consequent demands being placed on students to use the keyboard effectively (see for example, Jackson and Berg, 1986; Hoot, 1986; Wharton S, 1988). There appear to be, however, two opposing views as to how children should learn to use the keyboard. The constructivist view emphasises the need for free exploration and discovery, favours allowing children to use the keyboard as they see fit, and seeks to focus children's attention on the cognitive processes. The opposing instructionalist view, normally espoused by typing teachers, regards this process as wasteful and likely to induce frustration in the pupils as they "hunt and peck". Moreover, they fear that children will learn bad habits which will be difficult to extinguish when they come to learn touch typing (Hunter et al, 1988). Throughout this debate very little empirical data has been collected concerning students' attitudes towards keyboarding skills (Gerlach, 1987, cited in Hunter, 1988).

Effective use of the keyboard involves two factors both of which might be included in a definition of computer literacy. These two factors have been identified as touch typing and keyboarding (Henderson-Lancett, 1985; Wharton, 1988). Keyboarding refers to the correct manipulation of the keys on the keyboard (Jackson & Berg, 1986) and includes the use of specialist keys such as function keys, "Control", "Alt", and combinations of these. This definition may be extended to include the use of peripheral input devices, for example the mouse. The acquisition of keyboarding skills is primarily linked to the use of particular software packages and may be taught in the context of their use. Touch typing is a subset of keyboarding and is defined in the same sense that is understood in the use of typewriters, that is typing accurately while not looking at the keyboard. Touch typing is usually established through routine practice.

While teachers and research staff involved in the Freyberg Integrated Studies Project realise that both factors are important, such considerations as time constraints and lack of personal expertise have meant that very little attention has been given to the development of touch typing skills. The need to encourage the development of these skills has been acknowledged and an interactive typing tutor installed on both an IBM JX network with 32 computers and 15 stand alone PS/2s. The formal teaching of typing skills has, however, progressed in an ad hoc manner. Some teachers have scheduled class times for the development of touch typing skills while others have conducted an initial session and subsequently left pupils to develop their own skills. The researchers have observed a wide variation of typing speeds and keyboarding skills amongst pupils. It was decided, therefore, to assess the pupils' attitudes towards: keyboarding and in particular typing skills; preferred teaching methods; the use of a typing tutor; and, the relevance of keyboarding skills to their educational and job aspirations.

This paper presents the findings of a survey conducted in September 1989 by the Freyberg Integrated Studies Project research staff regarding the role and value of computer keyboarding skills for secondary school students.


Subjects and setting

The school in which this study was conducted is a typical New Zealand co-educational secondary school drawing pupils from both country and urban areas. Students elect to participate in the Integrated Studies Programme on entry to Form 3 (year 8), the first year of high school. Integrated Studies involves the students using the computer for a minimum of three hours per week. Word processing is the most commonly used software package and is used by all classes for approximately 75% of the time they are using computers. A questionnaire was administered to 240 students in nine classes in forms three and four. All students involved in the Project who regularly use the computers were surveyed. Additional classes in both forms not involved with the Project acted as comparison groups. Top classes in both the Normal and Integrated Studies programs are streamed on ability in Mathematics and English. The remainder of the classes are parallel. The Integrated Studies classes surveyed included the top third and fourth form classes, two parallel classes in each of the third and fourth form. The 'normal' classes surveyed included the top third and fourth form classes, and a parallel fourth form class.

The questionnaire comprised 49 questions seeking information on eleven pertinent factors: socioeconomic background of parents; gender; time using computers; applications used; subject preferences; application preferences; educational and vocational goals; perceived keyboard competency; preferred teaching methods; and, the value of typing courses. The questionnaire was administered by a Project researcher during normal class time.


In the sample there were 112 females and 127 males, and one individual who did not report his or her gender. Table 1 below shows the there was no significant difference in the gender composition of the classes surveyed.

Class1234 5678*9*Total %

female16812 1317971614 11246.9
male142017 13141714612 12753.1

Total302829 263126212226 239
%12.611.712.1 10.913. 100.0100.0

(Chi-Square = 15.04, D.F. = 8, p = 0.0584, 1 missing observation)

Table 1: Gender composition of the classes - (*) normal program

The Wily-Irving Socioeconomic Status Scale was used to determine the SES of both parents. A cross tabulation of both parents' SES against the presence of a computer at home revealed no significant differences across groups, that is SES of mother or father makes no difference as to whether students have a computer at home. Table 2 shows the results for father's SES against the presence of a computer at home. It may be noted however, that significantly more boys than girls have a computer at home (Chi-square = 5.26, D.F. = 1, p = 0.022).

A clear majority of students (79%) thought that the minimum level of touch typing skill they should master was "working from the home keys, but looking at the keyboard". One-way ANOVAs of class by skill level and form level by Integrated Studies group membership by skill level revealed no significant differences across groups. That is, students had similar expectations with respect to the minimum level of skill they should have when using computers.

SES->123 456Row Total

yes13152132 9696

Total232338 77309200

(Chi-Square = 10.634, D.F.= 5, p = 0.059)

Table 2: Fathers' socioeconomic status against presence of a computer at home

While, as indicated above, 78% of students thought that "working from the home keys, but looking at the keyboard" was the minimum skill level they should master, 65% indicated that they actually operated at this level or better. Further analyses of these data indicated that the level of keyboard mastery reported by the students was not dependent on either form level or group membership.

In response to the question "has your class had any formal lessons on how to type using the computer keyboard?", 42% of students indicated that they had received at least 1-3 lessons. A one-way ANOVA with multiple comparisons (Student-Newman-Keuls at 0.05 level) revealed that the Integrated Studies classes and the third form 'normal class' had received a significantly greater number of lessons than the fourth form comparison classes (F=3.79, p=0.015).

When asked about the desirability of having "computer keyboard skills instruction for students who use computers at school", only 4.6% of students disagreed with the statement. When asked whether regular computer users should be 'required' to have a touch typing speed of 20-30 wpm, 40.2% of students disagreed while only 18% agreed. If the school was to provide instruction over a six to ten week period, however, objections dropped to 11.3% with 80.4% of the students indicating that they would be motivated to master this level of skill. One-way ANOVAs revealed no significant differences for the first two questions. Differences were revealed, however, for the third question with both the third and fourth form Integrated Studies classes being significantly more motivated to master a touch typing speed of 20-30 words per minute than either the third or fourth from comparison groups (F=6.97, p=0.0002).

Students were asked three questions relating to their preferred method of typing skills instruction during normal school time. These were: using a computer and a typing tutor program; conventional typing exercises on a computer, and; conventional typing classes using a typewriter. Figure 1 below shows that students have a preference for the method of instruction: 55% opted for the first mode, 38% opted for the second and 29% opted for the third. Students appear to prefer instructional methods which employ a computer. There is less preference for methods which have elements of conventional typing instruction. This was emphasised by the fact that 78% of the students responded negatively to a later item which stated that students who use computers for regular class work should be required to take typing lessons as a subject option.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Graph of frequency against preferred formal method of keyboard instruction

A series of one-way ANOVAs was carried out on each of the questions related to preferred instructional mode using class groupings as the independent variable. The Student-Newman-Keuls multiple comparisons test was used to look for significant differences between the classes. These showed that the third form Integrated Studies classes had a significantly greater preference for using a computer and typing tutor than did the fourth form 'normal' classes (F=2.74, p < 0.05), while the third and fourth form 'normal' classes had a significantly greater preference for conventional typing classes (F=2.92, p < 0.05).

When asked who should provide the instruction on typing skills, 31% of the students thought that it should be a specialist typing teacher, with only 8% stating that it should be a normal subject teacher. The remaining 61% wanted both types of teachers to be involved. A one-way ANOVA, with multiple comparisons, of class by provider of instruction, showed that there was no difference in the preferences of the classes for the provider of keyboard instruction.

The typing tutor program used in the school is an IBM version of a commonly used commercially available program. The tutor uses a standard approach to teach touch typing. Finger location sessions are rapidly followed by skill building sessions using real words. Rapid feedback is given in the form of graphs and other data showing student learning trends. Touch typing tests, as far as possible, use words and sentences which make sense. A typing game is also provided using words at an appropriate level of difficulty.

A further four questions sought information on: participation in traditional typing classes; typing speed using the typing tutor; frequency of typing tutor use, and; length of typing tutor sessions. A series of cross tabulations and one way ANOVAs was carried out using gender and participation in traditional typing classes as factors. The results of these analyses demonstrate that females in all classes have significantly higher keyboarding skills than males and practice these skills more frequently and for longer periods using the typing tutor.

Participation in a typing class was highly correlated with gender (Chi-square = 75.00, D.F.= 1, p = 0) with four times as many girls than boys reported as having taken typing classes. Females did not use the typing tutor significantly more frequently than males, but they spent significantly more time on each typing tutor session (F =10.81, p=0.0012). On average, females spent 15-20 minutes per session, while males only spent 510 minutes. In addition, students who had participated in a traditional typing class spent significantly more time using the typing tutor (F= 12.72, p = 0.0005); 15-20 minutes as against 5-10 minutes. As would be expected from these data, females have significantly higher typing speeds as measured by both the typing tutor (F=12.09, p=0.0006) and traditional methods (F= 16.56, p=0.0001).

mean words per minute

typing tutortraditional method


Table 3: Student typing speed by gender

Students were then asked about when the instruction should occur. The following alternatives were given: using a typing tutor in their own time (lunch, before and after school); being permitted access for supervised practice in their own time, or; practising during class when other work was finished. Figure 2 shows that 45% of students disagree with having to use a typing tutor in their own time. This figure drops to only 10% if the school was to offer supervised keyboard skills practice during lunchtimes, before or after school. Moreover, 75% of the students are in favour of practising typing skills during class time if all of their other work is finished.

Figure 2
Figure 2: When instruction should occur

While there is an apparent significant difference between classes where using a typing tutor in their own time is concerned (F=2.774, p < 0.01), there is no significant difference when compared pair-wise using the Student-Newman-Keuls test. Of the third form comparison group, however, 70% disagree with having to use the typing tutor in their own time compared with 45% of the third form Integrated Studies students.

Table 4 shows that once the basic skills have been mastered, 49% of students agree that there is need for ongoing computer keyboard skills instruction, and that 57.1 % of the students agree that they would assume responsibility for maintaining and improving those skills. A oneway ANOVA of group by need for ongoing keyboard skills instruction, with multiple comparisons, showed that the third form Integrated Studies classes agreed with the statement significantly more frequently than did the fourth form Integrated Studies classes. There were no significant differences between classes where personal responsibility for maintaining and improving skills is involved.

AgreeNot SureDisagree

Need for ongoing keyboard skills instruction49.0%40.3%10.7%
Personal responsibility for maintaining and improving skills57.1%33.5%9.4%

Table 4: Ongoing keyboard skills instruction/responsibility

Students were asked three questions on their educational and occupational aspirations. These data are not presented here. They are the subject of another paper. It may be noted however that female students had significantly higher educational and job aspirations than did the males. A further two questions were asked that related to whether or not knowledge of computer applications and mastery of computer keyboard skills would help them in achieving their educational and vocational goals. There was no significant gender difference with regard to a knowledge of computer applications helping students achieve their educational goals or in helping them get a suitable job. In both cases 80% and 84%, respectively, of students believed that computers would help.

While 80% of students agree or strongly agree that a competent mastery of keyboard skills would be useful to them when using the computer to do school work, a one-way ANOVA with multiple comparisons, revealed that both the third and fourth form Integrated Studies classes placed a significantly higher value on these skills than did the comparison groups (F=13.93, p=0). A similar result was obtained when the students were asked if keyboard skills would be helpful in getting them a job. A one-way ANOVA with multiple comparisons revealed that the Integrated Studies classes placed a significantly higher value on keyboard skills (F=5.77, p=0.0008) than did the comparison groups.

There was a high correlation (0.69) between students' belief that a knowledge of computer applications would help them educationally and their belief that a competent mastery of keyboard skills would help them gain a job.

Conclusion and implications

The survey results reported in this paper convey an important message from computer using secondary school students to the teachers and school administrators who design their educational programs. Students who regularly use the computer for their education at school want and need to learn keyboarding and touch typing skills. As other secondary students gain access to computers it can be expected that they too will want to learn keyboarding skills.

The survey revealed that pupils were predominantly using the "hunt and peck" method. They were dissatisfied with this and wished to operate at a higher level. Students saw the teaching of keyboarding skills as a task the school should address. When basic skills are in place, then students acknowledged they should be personally responsible for the maintenance and improvement of skills. Students prefer to have keyboarding instruction in class time but they are willing to undertake supervised instruction during lunch time and before and after school.

There are clear differences between male and female students. At the time of the survey, there was a four to one ratio of females to males enrolled in typing classes at school. Females were using the typing tutor more frequently and for longer periods than males, and they had acquired significantly higher typing speeds as measured both conventionally and by the Typing Tutor program.

Since conducting the survey, typing teachers have informed the researchers that more males have opted to attend the traditional typing classes than in previous years. The apparent increased male interest in acquiring typing skills may be linked to their changing perceptions of the usefulness and applicability of these skills in helping them achieve educational and career success especially where they can observe females touch typing at a significantly faster rate.

Both male and female students believe that keyboard competency and knowledge of computer applications will help in furthering their education and in obtaining a job of their choice. While in the past typing has been perceived as a predominantly female domain, the advent of computers is impressing upon males the necessity for competent typing skills.

Generally speaking, the students preferred instructional methods which involved using the computer. They do not want or need to learn typing in the conventional sense. These findings are consistent with earlier studies (Warwood et al., 1985) which indicated that students preferred to learn touch typing skills on computers rather than use typewriters. The contention (Warwood, op.cit.) that this preference results from the environment created by the computer (immediate feedback, the ability to make mistakes without teacher criticism, and student control over the pace of learning) appears to be supported by the survey findings.

A majority of students expressed a preference for class lessons where touch typing skills are taught using the typing tutor program in conjunction with sequenced instruction provided by a typing teacher. This student preference stands in contrast with the constructivist view, which emphasises the need for free exploration and discovery of the keyboard during the writing process. The majority want structure, guidance and instruction in school time provided by teachers professionally trained in this area.

These students perceive that keyboard instruction provided at school serves both educational and vocational ends. In the work place, although computers are commonly used, it is problematic whether computer knowledge and keyboarding skills will enhance students' prospects of gaining a job. The majority of students seem to be convinced, however, that this is the case. It is also problematic whether such knowledge and skills, on their own, will improve the likelihood of educational success. It is our claim however, that when properly used in an effective educational context, they will.

The primary aim of Integrated Studies is to demonstrate ways of enhancing the educational effectiveness of schools. The project is showing that value lies in the application of computers to the educational process. Early mastery of the keyboard will help make the computer as transparent as pencil and paper in achieving educational goals, thus helping students and teachers realise the real power of the computer as an educational tool.


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Please cite as: McKinnon, D. H. and Nolan, C. J. P. (1990). Keyboarding, touch typing and computers: What students think. In J. G. Hedberg, J. Steele and M. Mooney (Eds), Converging Technologies: Selected papers from EdTech'90, 59-68. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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