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Re: The Missing Computer Skills of High School Students (https://nullprogram.com/blog/2018/10/31/)

Florian v. Savigny
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Dear Chris,

I'm not exactly sure why I feel tempted to comment on this, but I've worked as a translator, teacher, and (ashamed to admit) been a hobby programmer for about twenty years, so probably some of this resonates with me.

I think I learnt to touch-type with a 1950s-style booklet about 20 years ago, as I started translating professionally, and I concur with the estimate that it takes a couple of weeks of dumb repetition of sequences like "asdf" and so on. (I did sometimes find even that quite amusing, though.)

Although it is true that some people do type astonishingly fast in their idiosyncratic 2-or-4-finger systems, I definitely disagree with the view expressed by some commenters that how you do it doesn't matter as long as it's fast. I personally was faster than before quite quickly, though with a relatively high typo rate in the beginning. (It crucially pays off to do sessions exclusively aimed at correctness rather than speed! Especially when done with eyes closed.) But my typing has kept evolving and evolving, and for the last couple of years, it has sometimes been as if my fingers are kind of floating above, and flying over the keyboard. (interestingly, in the beginning it didn't occur to me to type program code that way -- it was only my fingers that started to use it there, too.) I can type almost as fast as I speak, and it's often as if my thoughts simply appear on the screen as soon as I've, well, thought them. But even more important than speed seems to me the effortlessness: I am often not even aware that I am typing. Although it sounds ridiculous, I have sometimes spontaneously compared this to the movements of an accomplished piano player.

This has some not-so-obvious side-effects: When I program, I am very quick to delete whole blocks of code and type them afresh, when the whole thing doesn't appeal to me. The same with comments, which usually get edited about three times before the file gets saved. I am all but certain that my typing speed benefits my coding (amateurish as it surely still is, but that's not my point). Same with writing prose: most of what I write gets edited about two to three times, and I feel very free to concentrate on what really matters in doing so.

Although I am not aware of any research on that, not even of anecdotes, I would bet on touch-typing being better for the hand and finger joints, at least when you develop the "flying" style I mentioned (as opposed to pounding every single letter into the keyboard). 

So, yes, I think schools should teach touch-typing, although it is true that they can only do the introduction, and then it needs practice, practice, practice. But in my experience, it's also much like riding a bicycle, which you never unlearn.

And as to your musings whether the students watching you typing away at your keyboard might motivate some: I think so, yes, preferrably if they directly experience the contrast between their efforts and yours. But that should happen only casually, because any *explicit* demonstration of typing speed might have a frustrating rather than motivating effect. (Strictly casually, as it were.)

As one might guess, touch-typing was one great discovery for me.

Best regards,

Florian
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