Over the last several hundred years, technology has had a profound impact on education. At one point in human history, formal education was only accessible to an elite few, since books were rare and individuals had to travel to educational centers to receive any kind of formal instruction .
Technology has significantly expanded access to education. In today’s world, the internet has made seemingly unending amounts of information, in the form of websites, online books, audio, video, webinars, and images.
Almost every educational institution now offers online distance learning, making formal educational training accessible to individuals all over the world .
Access to information has shifted educational models from a traditional “sage on the stage” approach, wherein the teacher is the primary source of information and the students passively receive it, to a “guide on the side” approach, wherein students take a more active role in their learning and use technology to gather information .
One technological advancement that often gets forgotten about amongst the dizzying amount of technology today is the invention of the typewriter. The art of typing has almost become second-nature for most people, and it seems today’s children are born with an iPad in their hands.
At one point in history, however, typing was a brand-new skill that needed to be learned by the public, and while it seems minor, the introduction of the typewriter, and subsequently typing class, had a significant impact on our educational system.
The Introduction of the Typewriter
The introduction of the typewriter in the late twentieth century transformed the way we communicate, both in the workplace and in everyday life. The typewriter allowed people to communicate more efficiently and effectively and eliminated some of the stigma and discrimination that existed with pen and paper .
The typewriter’s consistent font and simple design gave every writer the same professional tone and eliminated the ability to identify one’s gender through their writing, or other stigmatized identities such as people with blindness or other physical or mental disabilities.
The typewriter’s universal “look” opened up opportunities for these people to get jobs that they previously could not have, and allowed for educational opportunities that were not formerly available to them.
This was particularly true for women, many of whom took up jobs as typists, allowing them to become more present in the office. Typing gave women who were previously unemployed or who were working in factory jobs a chance to work in a cleaner, more well-paying role .
Typing in the Classroom
By the end of the nineteenth century, typewriters had gained a reputation as reliable tools for communication and writing. In the later part of the century, roughly around 1880, typewriting manufacturers began offering typewriting courses in an effort to establish the typewriter’s status as an essential piece of technology .
The twentieth century saw typing courses being taught in American high schools. Gradually, experts began realizing that students experienced a range of benefits from learning to type and teaching the earlier they learned, the better.
A study in 1934 found that students as young as first and second grade were capable of learning the proper way to type, and teaching them this necessary skill at such a young age was important in ensuring they didn’t develop any bad habits. Conversely, students who learned later had a much more difficult time, because they had to overcome the improper typing techniques they had adopted .
Proper typing technique was not the only skill these children learned, however. Studies showed that in the process of learning to type, children improved their reading capacity and spelling skills and that students enjoyed writing more when they were doing so on a typewriter .
Typewriting was taught in elementary schools in the fifties and sixties, and most educators believed that this skill might accelerate students’ mastery of the English language.
In his research, “Keyboarding/Typewriting in Elementary School,” Bartholome W. Lloyd reported that students were better able to learn the forms that letter patterns take, particularly at the beginning and end of words, through typing .
A Gender Gap
When you look back at images and photographs of typing classes throughout the decades, you might notice an interesting shift in the demographics of the classroom. Many classes were predominantly female since typing was considered to be the work of a secretary, a female-dominated profession.
As typing class was switched from being an elective course to being mandatory, you can see the ratio of boys to girls even out.
Typing teachers sometimes appeared to have fairly unconventional methods for teaching their students. Perform a quick internet search and you can find images of classrooms of students with blindfolds on, each of them typing furiously.
Other teachers preferred to place a towel or cloth over the top of students’ hands so that they couldn’t see the keys while they were typing, and others opted to use a pseudo latex overlay to ensure students couldn’t look at the keys .
It is clear that typing teachers took their jobs very seriously, and wanted to ensure that their students were capable of typing efficiently and effectively. Even as early as the turn of the twentieth century, educators realized that typing technology was going to impact not only education but the workforce as well, in a meaningful way.
As the typewriter became a prominent part of office culture in the United States, teachers understood that typing was going to be a necessary skill as their students entered the working world, and wanted to prepare them for it.
Although typing class has become less important over the years, online communication and typing have only become increasingly crucial, and the introduction of typing class is an example of how important it is for our education system to adapt to changing technology, for the benefit of our children.
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