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A researcher has begun looking at ways to adapt an unusual computer keyboard he designed to help children with disabilities develop that vital skill of the Information Age: the ability to type.

Arjan Khalsa developed his "Intellikeys'' keyboard with private funds last year.

The system uses seven interchangeable overlays that fit over large, easy-to-read keys. The setup allows students to use a variety of methods to communicate with the computer.

Now, with support from the National Science Foundation's Small Business Innovation Research program, Mr. Khalsa hopes to reconfigure the system to help young children find their way around the standard keyboard.

His goal is to devise a keyboard that does not require extensive training to use, that eases access to the computer, and improves student performance.

For example, Mr. Khalsa has developed a software program that allows teachers to design different overlays for the keyboard to emphasize the size or location of certain keys over others as well as the color and appearance of important keys. One use, he says, would be to design an icon-driven overlay for the keyboard so that children who have not yet learned the mechanics of typing could use the computer.

He also has developed a talking word processor called "Intellitalk'' that simultaneously pronounces a typed sentence, allowing nonverbal students to participate.

A prominent developer of educational software, meanwhile, has released a new program that uses animation and music to teach young children how to use a computer keyboard.

"Kid Keys,'' an MS-DOS product from Davidson & Associates, uses high-resolution graphics, digitized speech, and sound effects that capitalize on research showing that children are most successful at using the keyboard when sound is associated with key position and letter name.

The program features an animated character called Keystone, a friendly dragon who guides children through three separate learning activities.

The tutorials all are self-paced, said Mary Cron, the product's co-developer, because "research has shown that for children to reach a target typing rate of 10 words per minute, keyboarding exercises should stress accuracy over speed.''

The program requires a 12 Mhz, 286 or higher, I.B.M. PC or compatible machine with 640k of RAM, MS-DOS 3.3 or higher, and 6 MB of hard-disk space.

Teachers' editions of the program are available at $69.95 each, lab packs for $169.95, and site licenses for $699.95.

They may be ordered from Davidson & Associates, 19840 Pioneer Ave., Torrance, Calif. 90503; (310) 793-0600.--P.W.

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