Fleet of finger
Member Name: SueMagee
Advantages: You can learn to touch type for free.
Disadvantages: It only covers letters and some punctuation - not numbers.
Registering was easy – just a few basic details to enable the site to keep track of my progress. If you’d like to have a preview without registering then that’s possible too. Next I confirmed that I was using a keyboard with a UK layout and within five minutes of having made the decision I’d started the course. Login is by means of email address and your chosen password.
My course was in English, but I could have opted for it to be in Spanish, French, Italian or Portuguese. There’s a choice too of eighteen different keyboard layouts, but there were no problems with making the choice. It’s all web-based, so there’s nothing to download. I’m paranoid about such things – I need the Pope’s signature on a download before it gets onto my computer, so a web-based course was ideal.
There’s no charge for the course but there is a PayPal link if you wish to make a donation. Advertising is limited to a couple of minimal adverts supplied by Google – but nothing intrusive. These appear only on the home page: once you start on the first of your 27 lessons you’re in an advert-free zone.
If the word “lesson” conjures up visions of school, forget it. The average lesson lasts for about five minutes. On the screen you have a graphic of your keyboard with the letters you’re going to use highlighted in different colours. These correspond to your fingers – the ring fingers are a rather fetching emerald green, for example – and you practice using the selected keys.
You’re presented with a block of text to copy type. To begin with it’s groups of four letters. You can adjust the size of the text so that it’s comfortable to copy and away you go. The letter to type is underlined and once you do this correctly the cursor moves on. It doesn’t move until you get it right. Once you get through to the end you get the result, in terms of the percentage of errors, the number of seconds it took you to complete the lesson and the rate of keystrokes per minute which you achieved. To begin with the only one that’s of any importance is the error rate. If it’s more than 3% you’re encouraged to repeat the lesson until you get the error rate down below that figure.
Even when my error rate was lower than 3% I repeated the lesson until I was completely confident about the placing of the keys. In truth it was no hardship. If I had a couple of minutes to spare I repeated the current lesson, aiming to increase my accuracy and improve my speed. It didn’t require any great span of concentration. I’d whip through the lesson whilst my coffee was filtering, or I was waiting for the lock on the washing machine to release. Minutes that were normally wasted were put to good use. The site keeps track of your progress and each time you log on you’re taken to your most recent lesson.
The build up over the lessons is slow but steady. The first used eight letters and this had only increased to eighteen (all with the caps lock on) by the tenth lesson. By the twentieth lesson we’d covered them all plus some punctuation. At no point did I feel under pressure by having too many new keys to cope with. Once or twice I felt I could have coped with more, but when the lessons are so short that’s not a problem.
There are some useful hints too: “Typing fast and accurately is important, but having a good posture is vital. Keep your back straight.” There’s nothing heavy or patronising – just useful points to remember.
Are there any downsides? Well, yes, the first really is something that applies to any attempt to convert from two-finger-jabbing-at-the-keys to touch typing and that’s that there’s a period when you can do neither one nor the other effectively. Starting this – or any similar – course just before you’re going to have to use a keyboard as effectively as possible is not a good idea.
I’ve some minor gripes about the report that you get when you’ve completed a lesson. I type fairly quickly, so by the time a mistake has registered I’m probably a couple of letters further into the text. If for example I had to type KNIT and made a mistake on the first letter but it didn’t register with me until I hit the last key then that would be four mistakes. It’s no big thing, but I did feel that the feedback was inaccurate on this point. I think the feedback could do with being a little more varied too. If my error rate was under 3% I got a “well done” message, but if it was over I got the same “repeat this lesson until the error rate is under 3%” regardless of whether the rate was 3.08% or I’d made a complete pig’s ear of the whole thing. That’s me being picky though.
Some more specific feedback would be useful. I’d find it useful to know that I missed the “K” four times rather than just to be told that I had eight errors. I’d have liked a pause option too, particularly on those texts where I was trying to build up speed. The telephone always rings when you’re doing well. They’re not major points though and I won’t be asking for the return of the money I haven’t paid.
The course covers letters, most punctuation and some controls such as the space bar and shift keys. Essentially it uses the three central rows of keys on a standard keyboard plus the space bar. It doesn’t cover numbers and on that basis you might want to think of it as an introduction to keyboard skills rather than a definitive course.
A week after starting the course I’d completed all twenty seven lessons. I was able to type out passages of text without looking at the keyboard once. I typed part of this review with my eyes closed and had no problems. No, please, don’t say anything! My speed is much reduced to what it was a week ago, but practice will put that right.
I’d recommend this course to anyone. I’d happily use it to introduce a child to keyboard skills – using a computer is a lot more fun when you don’t have to spend half the time looking at the keyboard. I had forty years of bad habits to eliminate, but it wasn’t really that difficult.
Summary: A free site where you can learn the basics of touch typing.