Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Review of Bytes of Learning

As I'm sure I've mentioned before when talking about typing programs, my dad insisted that my sister and I learn to touch type one summer (I was about 10). It was one of the wonderful "after schooling" things he did for us. I have been determined that my kids would receive the same gift from me. Bytes of Learning is helping me get that done with its UltraKey Online Family Subscription! Now, I'm sure there are people that don't feel the need to use an actual typing program to learn to type. I have seen people type pretty quickly with just their two index fingers. The problem with this is twofold, however: first, it just looks unprofessional and, well, silly. Second, you will *never* be able to type as fast with two fingers as you will with ten (yes, 10: your thumbs operate the space bar, which you well know if you were properly taught to touch type!). I realize that I'm biased, but I prefer typing programs that teach typing the way that I was taught. Happily, UltraKey Online takes a similar approach (bearing in mind, of course, that I learned on a typewriter, so no fancy stuff!), focusing on posture and fundamentals.

UltraKey Online is a typing program that has a bit of everything: voice support, animation, and videos. Because of the customization available, though, you don't have to partake of everything if you don't want to (for example, I imagine that the voice support would be incredibly helpful to some people, while to others it might prove to be a bit of an irritant). For example, if you have a child who is not yet a proficient reader, the voice over training is hugely helpful, because it allows this largely independent study-type program to still be independent! For older learners, like my teenagers, it is a simple matter to turn off the voice aspect of the program! 

The first thing you'll notice when you log on to the program is the vast array of customization you can employ. You can change the settings for each child in the subscription individually, or you can allow them to customize their own settings.

For my 13 year-old twins using the program, I initially had the program set to its default settings, but Mary-Catherine quickly found that she was spinning her wheels. She is actually a fairly decent touch typist (I mean, she's not going to be getting any 1950s-style secretarial jobs any time soon, but she's fine for her age), but she was having a lot of trouble with the way the program comes preset. Once I took the reigns with the settings and released them to her control, though, it was much easier. Note to self and to all of you: always spend time getting to know new curriculum even when you have self-starting kids who want to dive right in! This program is pretty intuitive and the customer service is great, but you'll save yourself and your kids some initial frustration if you take some time at the beginning to make sure that things are the way you want them.

The lessons progress at the pace of three letters per, which I think is a great pace. It is suggested that you spend about 20 minutes a day with the program which, again, I think is just right. At that pace, it would have been possible for my kids to have finished the program during this review period, but for one thing: Texas flu. This illness is no joke. It hit my house hard this season and my kids did no school for weeks. They are still not 100%. Having said that, they have been back at typing and they really like this program! We have used other typing programs, but this is their favorite for the following reasons:
  • The exercises use real words. Some programs use gibberish, I guess with the idea that your fingers should find the keys regardless. I happen to think that it is far more natural, not to mention more effective, to type actual words.
  • They can set their own goals. That allows for a feeling of achievement without having to type either super quickly or super accurately.
  • The program is fairly no-frills. My kids are not at the youngest end of the spectrum recommended for this program (8), so they felt a little trepidation about a program that would be attractive to "little kids." They needn't have worried. This one is just perfect for all ages.
Things I really loved about UltraKey Online (I tried it myself so that I could really compare it to what we've used before and to how I learned to type):
  • It really emphasizes posture, which is not all that unusual, but it reminds you to drop your shoulders! I have a huge problems "hunching." It's what I do when I'm stressed, and the reminder not to do it was so helpful to me! It also reminds you to take stretch breaks (which I'm afraid I ignored, but which is a great idea!).
  • The lessons are of the "get in, get it done, get out" variety - my favorite kind!
  • I initially wanted to jump on just to see what the program felt like to do for myself, because it's hard to get a real sense of it by leaning over my kids' shoulders, but having done Lesson 1 for myself, I'm going to finish it! I work from home, and although I type okay (you can see my screenshots below!), I would love to type faster. Who wouldn't? That is the best review/endorsement I can give this program.
  • My only point of confusion is that you have to use the shift key before capital letters are introduced, which was not an issue for any of my tribe, but could be for a neophyte typist.

UltraKey Online does ask you to do a little background work before you actually begin typing.

There is a video on posture and one on fingers, along with a couple of exercises. Only then do you begin your lessons. After each lesson there is a skill check that lets you know how you are doing vis-a-vis your goal. You can practice your skills in the Game Zone. Speaking of your goal, you can either set one yourself or have the program set one for you, based on a typing test, which is what I did.

Having been given my goal, I began the lessons. Sadly, I didn't make my goal after the first skills check. Looks like I have my work cut out for me!

Darned if I didn't get slower. Ironically, that's the same thing that has happened to Mary-Catherine over the course of the first few lessons (although, she is typing at around 27 wpm!). I think we are not used to typing "salad" and "alfalfa." That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it!

There is so much to love about this program. The report you see above can actually be saved and/or printed in pdf (and while that's not all that impressive, wait until you have several of those over the course of several children, especially if you live somewhere that requires records, which the great free state of Texas does not). 

UltraKey Online has packages for families of 3, 5, and 8 users, so there is sure to be one to fit your family! And because families of all sizes have been using this product for the last month, be sure to read the Crew Blog for all the reviews!

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