The most common keyboard type was designed for slow typing. That may seem odd, but there was a good reason. The keyboard, called QWERTY after the word the top row spells, was not intended for speed, but to ensure the mechanical keys didn’t jam.
To guarantee that keys didn’t jam, the most commonly typed keys were spread out. This is why A, S, and E are surrounded by letters far less commonly used. It is also why J and K are under the pointer and index finger of the dominant hand though that placement is far from ideal.
On a modern computer, the keys can be set to any layout, and a far superior keyboard design already exists. Called Dvorak, it was designed to increase typing speed, make learning easier, and limit typing pain.
With a better choice available, it is time to stop inflicting an antiquated keyboard on students who have not yet become accustomed to the QWERTY layout. Like changing to new math, or putting computers in a curriculum, this is an important improvement, and a small amount of discomfort for typing teachers is irrelevant. Not only students can benefit from Dvorak, anyone who types more than a few words a day can profit from the change.
The most easily measured advantage of Dvorak is typing speed. Dvorak users hold most typing records, including the world typing speed record, held by Barbara Blackburn. She has been recorded typing 212 words in one minute, and sustained 150 words a minute for a solid 50 minutes, yet she admits that before she switched to Dvorak she found typing difficult.
Dvorak is not only for record setters. In speed tests, the average Dvorak user, after a short training period, is 74% faster than on a QWERTY keyboard. As computers become a bigger part everyday life, nearly everyone is at least an amateur typist, and most jobs involve typing, so increasing typing speed could save considerable time.
As well as increasing speed, typists on the Dvorak keyboard make 68% less errors than typists on the QWERTY keyboard.
The reason most often cited for the change to Dvorak is that it often reduces, or even eliminates, typing pain. This is, at least in part, because an average typist on a QWERTY Keyboard moves his fingers between 12 and 20 miles in a single day. The same typist on a Dvorak keyboard would move them only a mile. This is because on a Dvorak keyboard, eighty percent of words, in the English language, are typed without your fingers leaving the home row.
Changing to Dvorak is far easier than it might seem. The experience of learning to type on the QWERTY layout has tainted the traditional view of typing. It can take hundreds of hours to learn to type effectively on the QWERTY layout, due mostly to the peculiar finger movements required. In comparison, it takes the average person only 52 hours to become proficient with Dvorak.
If typing speed can increase, accuracy improved, and typing pain reduced, all with only 52 hours of training why not change? The only answer is that people already know QWERTY, but after thirty years of computers and so many advances in their technology, isn’t it time to consider improving the most common way to interact with them.