There are many criticisms and barriers put up when one discusses the implementation of mobile devices in schools. These range from the philosophical to the practical and one that comes up often is the ‘fact’ that students can’t type productively on an iPad, especially when compared with a traditional keyboard on a PC or laptop.
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.
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 evaluated the data produced by age and gender, as welling 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.
click on image for larger view (graphic courtesy of Andrea Buldorini)
(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.
I would be keen to collect data from people in different schools, teaching different year groups, to grow this study and explore the findings on a larger scale. If you are interested, do let me know. I also wish to test older students to see if there is a point when the numbers either align or swing in favour of the PC. It would also be interesting to do this study with adults, especially teachers, to see what the lie of the land is in that arena.