Typing is often a strange sort of battleground when discussing the rollout of mobile devices that aren’t laptops. There seems to be an underlying belief that typing can only be done efficiently and at speed if it is done on a laptop or PC. There’s definitely a sense with these sorts of arguments that it’s a case of ‘well I certainly couldn’t/wouldn’t do it like that, so obviously out students feel the same. However, our students are growing up with technology that didn’t exist when we were growing up; indeed, it didn’t exist more than a few years ago. Nonetheless, it is important when going down the 1-to-1 path that you do your due diligence in all aspects of your research. So I decided to set an excellent example, and put to the test what I thought I already knew: students will type just as quickly on a tablet as they do on a PC.
In March 2013, Brady Cline released a blog post with the results of a small scale test amongst elementary/primary school students which analysed their typing speeds on traditional keyboards, the iPad and an iPad with a keyboard attached to it.
This study is important and useful and inspired me to do my own version of the test amongst secondary school students across a range of year groups.
The original study found that students were on average 2-3 words a minute quicker on an iPad than a traditional keyboard; my results show a more significant difference.
I followed a very similar methodology, using the same test (http://typing-speed-test.aoeu.eu/) and if you want to check out his setup have a look here: http://www.bradycline.com/2013/in/ipad-typing/
My students only compared traditional computer keyboards and iPad, as I felt that the add-on keyboard was an unnecessary complication. They each took the test 4 times – twice on computer and twice on iPad and the order students did the test was randomised. I did not take the higher of the scores, but took an average so that one got a fully honest and representative set of results, including a few anomalies!
The students tested were aged between 11-16 years old. In total there were 82 students taking the tests. This means that the typing test was taken a total of 328 times. I have analysed the data produced by age and gender, as well as reaching an overall conclusion about the performances in these tests.
In my particular setting, with these students, I feel able to suggest that young people type faster on a virtual keyboard than a traditional one. The results show that when taking into account all 82 participants, the average WPM (words per minute) on a PC keyboard was 32.8, and on an iPad, was 38. This is a significant difference.
It is worth noting however, that the highest WPM score recorded on a PC keyboard was 81 and on iPad were 65. There were several touch-typists who took the test and they significantly skew the results in one year group in particular. However, it is important to see this data and realise that touch typing is a valuable and powerful skill and that we are not offering to teach this skill on a virtual keyboard. (Does this mean that if students could touch type on a virtual keyboard they would be even faster, or does a virtual keyboard not lend itself to this skill?) Nonetheless, the average student is not a touch-typist (in the traditional sense) and so what we see is that typing speed is better on a platform that they are more accustomed to.
(scores shown are an average of WPM scores followed by the
difference between PC and iPad scores)
Year 7 – computer 24.4, iPad 30.8, diff +6.4
Year 8 – computer 32.7,iPad 38.2, diff +5.5
Year 9 – computer 30.5, iPad 38.4, diff +7.9
Year 10 – computer 42.2, iPad 43.5, diff +1.3 (minus touch-typists 35.4, 42, +6.6)
Gender – female +7, male +3.8
76% of participants were 3 WPM quicker on iPad
57% of participants were 5 WPM quicker on iPad
<10% of participants were quicker on a computer
Comp 32.8, iPad 38, diff +5.2
I have found that students are very competent on a virtual keyboard; that these skills are more developed, or certainly more natural to them than the use of a traditional keyboard. I have also been able to note that performance in this test generally improved with age and that as yet I have not found the age at which the data begins to plateau or indeed fall. I think that this data helps to dispel the argument that students cannot type on iPad accurately and effectively. Personally this only adds to the experiences I have witnessed firsthand in the classroom where students have actively asked to work on iPad rather than PC or Laptop. I believe that this will become more and more obvious with students entering secondary education over the next few years, many of whom will experience touchscreen computing through parents’ devices, long before they sit in front of a traditional, static machine.
It’s certainly very easy to put up barriers, such as typing, such as familiarity with one type of word processing program or to put forward a scenario where students are going to be selling or stealing each other’s devices, when one is against a project. However, when you look at what evidence that is available, the picture that we see is that 1to1 is not really that scary. Students are adaptable and they are growing up with technology in a way that has never happened before. They don’t want to sell it, they don’t need to take it away from others and they don’t feel the same allegences to one particular program over another in the same way adults often do. And, they don’t worry about things like keyboards; they are adapting all the time to what is available to them. No doubt in the not too distant future, any sort of keyboard, virtual or otherwise, will seem ridiculous, and it will be our students, and not us, who lead the way in such a change. Which is exactly as it should be.