Keyboard tuition done to the letter

9th June 2000 at 01:00
It's won plaudits from teachers and a university trial said there was "a pressing need for it". Now Chris Davis gets keyed up about RLS' Scrabble-style keyboard recognition game.

Ever wondered how to introduce young children to a computer keyboard? Recognition Learning Services has and believes its board game, Keyboard Crazy, will teach children the positions of the letters on an alphanumeric keyboard.

However, Keyboard Crazy is no typing tutor. No keyboard comes with the game, which is based around a large, plastic mock-up keyboard, with holes cut out where the keys should be, and no computer is required.

Two reversible cardboard sheets slot into the main board. On one side is printed upper-case letters, one has lower case and one has infant-style pictures, with the word beneath to illustrate each letter (apple, bee, cat, dog, elephant etc). The other side is blank so teachers can customise it.

The letters come as 38 Scrabble-like tablets in three coloured sets. One set has lower case letters while the other two are matched, for team game purposes, and have upper case letters. It seems odd RLS has chosen to include only letter and number keys and none of the symbol or function keys except the . LESS THAN LESS THAN , and

. keys. Had it excluded these two, it would have had a much neater set of 36 tablets, allowing two teams with 18 letters, three with 12, four with eight etc as opposed to 38 tablets of two teams of 19.

Since the tablets will fit into the holes in any orientation, it also seems a shame that RLS has underlined all that display rotational symmetry. This could easily confuse the youngest children into thinking the underscore was part of the letter. Although getting the orienttion right is a suggested part of some of the games, it may have been more sensible to design the tablets so that they only fitted the holes the correct way round.

RLS suggests six games, single and in teams, and the most basic involves simply placing the keys, in random order, into the right holes against the clock. Almost as simple is doing the same after pre-sorting the tablets into alphabetical and numerical order. The team games are little more than variations on these basic ideas. However, most classes who trialled the materials found it was more beneficial to encourage the children to invent games of their own.

The Liverpool University Monitoring and Evaluation Network, commissioned to evaluate Keyboard Crazy, believes there is a "pressing need for the game" and lists as its benefits: "symbol identification; eyehand co-ordination in manipulating the keys; symbolsound association; symbol positioning; conformity to a rule-bound game; turn taking; self-monitoring of performance and that of others; and co-operation and negotiating skills". Of course, many of these are catered for through other games and activities.

However, their results also confirm trial teachers' impressions that children using Keyboard Crazy gained a "higher speed of information processing of keyboard symbols" and had "greater accuracy in the identification of the positions of the symbols on the keyboard". They were also "enabled to become more efficient and more confident in their management of the keyboard".

Keyboard Crazy RLS Price: pound;48; lower-case keys and board: pound;9.99


Suitability for purpose ****

Ease of use *****

Value for money ***

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