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A MultiMedia Approach to Keyboard Training

Larry Skutchan
American Printing House for the Blind
Louisville, KY
Email: lskutchan@aph.org

Any significant work on a PC requires a good grasp of the keyboard layout. To date, training programs for keyboards, especially the special computer specific keys, have been inaccessible to blind students.

Talking Typer for Windows is a typing and computer keyboard training program. It is a self-voicing application that uses the PCs sound card to instruct, drill, practice, and play games with typing lessons, and it is designed for use by blind students.

Talking Typer comes with several lessons, and the teacher may want to edit these or create new lessons of his own. The program is designed for use either by an individual or by multiple students in a training environment.

Starting Talking Typer

Talking Typer is a self-voicing application, so if you are a blind or visually impaired person using access equipment like a screen reader or magnifier with speech, you will want to turn that software off before running Talking Typer. You may also be able to configure your access software to go dormant while Talking Typer is running.

When Talking Typer starts, it shows you an introduction screen of a lesson. If this is the first time you started the program, you'll see instructions for the first lesson. If you have completed one or more lessons, you'll see instructions for the lesson you're currently working on. This introduction screen has three parts: instructions, results, and a continue button.

You can use the Tab key to move from section to section on the intro screen. As you use Tab, Talking Typer responds by announcing the text for that part of the screen. You may use the arrow keys to move through the text a letter or a word at a time. This is helpful if you don't understand part of what Talking Typer says.

If the first lesson or two is too simple for you, open the lessons list by pressing Ctrl+O or clicking on Open in the File Menu. Select the lesson you want from the list that appears. You may also select the Next Lesson item in the Go menu.

Each lesson contains several sections--drill and practice, dictations, the Hurry Scurry game, open typing, and keyboard exploration and keyboard announcement.

Drill and Practice

Once you've read the instructions in the introduction to the lesson, press Enter to start the drill.

When the drill starts, Talking Typer shows and speaks a letter or a group of letters and waits for you to type those letters. The sequence of letters gets spoken either as a series of letters, a word, or a phrase, depending on how the teacher creates the lesson.

If you want to repeat the letter or letters, press the Tab key. Don't worry about wasting time trying to listen to the letters, Talking Typer doesn't start timing you until you press the first key of the new sequence of characters to type. Each time you complete the sequence, Talking Typer rings the bell, pauses the clock, and gives you another sequence of letters.

If while participating in a drill, you miss a letter, Talking Typer spells out the rest of the letters in the current word, then it repeats the rest of the phrase. You can also force Talking Typer to repeat the sequence by pressing Tab, and you can make it spell the word by pressing the Tab key twice.

You can pause the drill at any time by pressing the Escape key. When you do, Talking Typer announces your typing statistics. You might hear, for example, "12 words at 28 words per minute, 98% accuracy." Talking Typer stops the clock while you pause the drill, so there is no penalty for checking your progress.

While paused at the progress screen, you may, in addition to checking your statistics, review the instructions for the lesson. Press Tab to move to the instruction window. Keep pressing Tab to move between the progress windows, the instructions window, and the continue button. Whenever you move to the progress window or the instructions window, Talking Typer lets you use the Arrow keys to move through the text a line, word, or a letter at a time. In this manner, you can examine the material at your leisure.

After pausing to check your statistics, press Enter to resume the drill and continue where you left off.

Once you complete a drill, Typer displays your typing speed and accuracy. You can try the drill again to further improve your speed and accuracy, or you can move on to another activity.

Other Activities: the Go Menu

Once you're ready to move on to other activities, press Alt+G to open Typer's Go Menu. The Go Menu lets you start drills, dictations, Hurry Scurry, practice open typing, and explore the keyboard. You can also move to the next or previous lesson from the Go Menu, or you can restart the current lesson at its beginning.

Dictations

Typer's Dictation option lets you pick from a list of dictations prepared for this lesson. Use your arrow keys to select the dictation you want and press Enter to start.

While the dictation text plays, use the right Control key to pause and restart the recording. Use the left Control key to rewind.

Type the text you hear.

Press Escape when you finish typing the recorded dictation.

Hurry Scurry

Picture of Hurry Scurry. Hurry Scurry is a fun game that pits you against Merlin the Magician in a race to type the characters before they fall off the edge of the screen. Merlin tells you which letters or phrases to type, and it is your job to type them before they fall off the screen. The letters move from left to right and down the screen, but if you have trouble tracking the movement, Talking Typer also displays the phrase at a stationary point at the bottom of the screen.Hurry Scurry is a fun game that pits you against Merlin the Magician in a race to type the characters before they fall off the edge of the screen. Merlin tells you which letters or phrases to type, and it is your job to type them before they fall off the screen.

The letters move from left to right and down the screen, but if you have trouble tracking the movement, Talking Typer also displays the phrase at a stationary point at the bottom of the screen.

If you have trouble understanding Merlin, press the Tab key to make him repeat the keys to type. Press Tab twice to make Merlin spell the word to type.

You can play Hurry Scurry for as long as you like. If the list of letters and phrases comes to an end, Merlin reuses the last few lines of the lesson again.

The longer you play, the faster the pace and the more points you make!

Press the Escape key to go to the Hall of Fame and see how your score stacks up against your classmates or other family members.

Open Typing

Talking Typer's Open Typing screen lets you practice typing whatever you want whenever you want. This is useful, for instance, if your teacher dictates a passage to you, or if you just want to practice on your own material.

There are no records kept for Open Typing.

Learn the Keyboard

Talking Typer's Learn the Keyboard screen lets you press whatever key you want to get a verbal confirmation of that key's name.

This is the perfect place to learn about obscure keys or to begin learning about the keyboard.

Press the Escape key twice to exit Learn the Keyboard.

Changing Users

Talking Typer keeps records to help track your typing progress and statistics. For this reason, you'll want to let Talking Typer know who you are.

Normally, when you start the program, it assumes you are who the computer thinks you are. For most people, this identity was set when you registered your Windows software and is set to your name. If you want to use another name, or if you want to let another person use the program, go to the File Menu and select Logon as Another User. When you do, Typer asks for your name and, if you like, a password.

If you use the program on a network, Talking Typer assumes you are who is logged onto this account on the network. If you are in a classroom situation where multiple students use the same network account, the student should log on to Talking Typer in the File Menu's Log on as Another User option.

Configuring the Program: the Tools Menu

Talking Typer offers a wide range of configurability. Whether you're an individual learning to type, a parent with one or more children using the program, or a teacher in a training facility, you'll find Typer's speech adjustment, lesson management, and student recording and management activities flexible enough to meet your needs.

Adjusting the Voice

When you first start using Talking Typer, you'll probably want to keep the speech at a slower rate, but once you get used to the synthesized speech, you'll undoubtedly want to adjust some of its characteristics. The Speech Settings dialog lets you adjust the voice's rate, pitch, volume, or lets you select another voice. If more than one person uses Talking Typer, each of you gets to set and preserve the settings you prefer.

Talking Typer comes with the Microsoft text-to-speech synthesis engine, and it offers several voices from which to choose. The change voice dialog also shows you a list of any other MSAPI compliant text-to-speech engines you have installed and allows you to select one of them to use with the program.

You may purchase additional software text-to-speech engines to provide a wider variety of choices for the voice to use within Talking Typer. It is also possible that you have additional text-to-speech engines installed if you have purchased other self-voicing applications. Arkenstone's OpenBook Ruby and Kurzweil's K-1000 both come supplied with their own text-to-speech engines, and you may also use these voices from within Talking Typer.

Change Font

Talking Typer is optimized for use by people with varying degrees of visual acuity. By default, Talking Typer uses a large verdana font for display purposes, but you can easily change the font to whatever works best for you.

You can change Typer's font style and size in one of two ways. To make the change permanent, go to the Preferences option in the Tools Menu. Or, if you want to make the change for just this session, go to the Font option in the Edit Menu.

Either action brings up Typer's Font Selection Dialog where you can change styles and sizes of fonts for use within the program.

Typer uses the system's default color scheme, so if you have set up the Accessibility options in the Control Panel to provide a contrast that is comfortable to you, those settings apply during your use of the Typer as well.

Typer's Teacher Features

If you use Talking Typer in a training environment, you'll want to perform tasks relating to student records and lesson management and at the same time, you won't want your students to have access to this information. Fortunately, Talking Typer lets you protect access to configurations and statistics through the use of the teacher master account.

To set the master account, pick Preferences from the Tools Menu and assign a name and password to the teacher account.

Once a password is entered, all access to functions involving changing lesson content and student information will be protected by the password you set. If you are logged in as the teacher, access is unrestricted, but if a student is using the program, or if you are testing lessons with a student account, each attempt to access a protected area will require that you enter the teacher's master account password.

A Note to Blind Teachers

Talking Typer is designed with both the blind teacher and student in mind. If you are editing a lesson and want to make Talking Typer repeat the material it just said, press the keypad Enter key. If you want to repeat the contents of the active window, press the keypad Plus.

Lesson Management

Talking Typer comes with a number of lessons, and you may modify them or add new lessons to the list. In addition to the lesson content, you can set options like advancement criteria, lesson complexity, assign lessons to students, and change the location of the lessons for use in a networked environment.

Editing or Creating Lesson Content

One of Talking Typer's most exciting features, especially from a teacher or parent's point of view, is the ability to create and edit lesson content.

If you want to make a new lesson, select New from the File Menu. If you want to edit an existing lesson, select Open from the File Menu and select the lesson you want to edit. You may also edit the current lesson by selecting Lesson from the Tools menu.

There are several parts to a lesson, but if you don't fill in the dictations and Hurry Scurry content, Talking Typer uses the content you provided in the drills section. It is recommended, however, that you use variations on the keys you present in a lesson to provide added interest to the student.

Creating Drills

Typer lets you decide how the material in a drill is presented--a letter at a time, a word at a time, a phrase at a time, or special computer keys. You can mix and match this style of presentation in the same lesson.

You'll want to use the Letter style for short phrases that don't necessarily make up a word. such phrases are especially important in the earliest lessons, because there are few letters from which to make real words. Take, for example, a sample from the first lesson: Home Row for the Left Hand.

The drill starts with the letter style with a line like the following:

asdf asdf asdf asdf fdsa fdsa fdsa

Since letter Style is applied, Talking Typer spells out the groups of letters between the spaces like this:

a s d f

If you use the Word Style, Typer tries to pronounce the groups of letters between the spaces as words, and as you can see, these are not words. Applying the word style to this line of the lesson would result in the student hearing something like, "asdef" instead of the individual letters as you expect.

The Phrase Style presents the entire line of the drill as one unit to the student. This style is appropriate for sentences or phrases that should stay together or be presented as a whole.

The Computer Key style is especially designed for use with special computer keys (like F1 or Down Arrow). When you use this style, Talking Typer adds the word "key" to the name of the key to type to help distinguish the key from a word. If, for example, you had a lesson with the F1 key, Talking Typer announces the key as "F1 Key". You can use any key on the keyboard as part of a drill when you use the Computer Keys style as part of a drill.

Creating Dictations

There are two ways to create dictations. You can either type them in and let the synthesizer read the dictation text to the student, or you can record the dictation and let Talking Typer play your recorded message to the student while he types.

Creating Hurry Scurry Content

The Hurry Scurry editing screen looks and works much like the Drills screen. You can choose how each group of letters gets presented to the user.

Student Management

An important part of Talking Typer's capabilities involves managing and tracking student activity. The Students option in the Tools Menu lets you examine and edit student records.

Adding New Students

There are two ways to add new students to Talking Typer's database of student records. By default, Talking Typer allows automatic addition of new students as they log on with the Log on as a New User option in the File Menu or if a student starts the program once logged into the system's network.

Edit/Examine Student Data

An important part of Talking Typer's capabilities includes record keeping for student activities. Talking Typer keeps track of the speed and accuracy statistics for each lesson the student completes, the date and time each lesson is used, and a record of the text the student types for each dictation.

The student records also contain a list of lessons that are assigned to that student.

Groups of Lessons

Talking Typer recognizes that the program needs to be used by more than one class of students. The Groups option lets the teacher set up class rooms of students, so the records can be grouped by class or teacher.


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