Peripheral Word Processing Keyboards-An Alternative - Tech Learning

Peripheral Word Processing Keyboards-An Alternative

Schools, libraries, and businesses are turning to peripheral word processing keyboards, the best known of which is the AlphaSmart, to do word processing tasks. The peripheral word processing keyboard is a simple yet effective product that supports student writing. We'll look at the many reasons that schools are
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Schools, libraries, and businesses are turning to peripheral word processing keyboards, the best known of which is the AlphaSmart, to do word processing tasks. The peripheral word processing keyboard is a simple yet effective product that supports student writing. We'll look at the many reasons that schools are turning to peripheral word processing keyboards instead of purchasing a computer for the classroom. Also, we'll examine the countless ways of using these keyboards. Finally, we'll examine some studies that are beginning to emerge that show the use of peripheral word processing keyboard increases student achievement in language arts.

Reasons for Investing in a Peripheral Word Processing Keyboard

There are many reasons that schools are increasingly investing in peripheral word processing keyboards. The first and obvious reason is that for the price of one computer, you can buy several keyboards to do the most common jobs that are often done on the computer, such as word processing or typing-related tasks. The batteries last for approximately 300 hours. These wireless keyboards are independent of the computers while students are typing the text in, freeing up the computer for more advanced work. An additional feature is that the keyboard is virtually unbreakable. It is made from durable bicycle helmet material. The device's smaller keyboard is a good size for the student's hand, and the small, integrated screen makes it very portable for young kids. The Denver Public Schools are using these intelligent keyboards because they: a) increase keyboarding proficiency without having to use a high-end computer, b) support the writing process, c) utilize students as teachers through increased collaboration, d) enable the formation of workgroups, and e) allow technology integration to take place in the classroom without the constraint of scheduling lab time to meet the needs of a large group.

Ways of Using Peripheral Word Processing Keyboard

The peripheral word processing keyboard is being used very creatively. Here are some examples:

  • The North Bend Library in Oregon uses it to solve the problem of long waiting time for computers. If a person needs to do research they use the peripheral word processing keyboard anyplace in the library and this frees up a computer.
  • Anaheim Public Library in California put peripheral word processing keyboard in three branches of their libraries and discovered that they were a hit for word processing, typing practice, and research.
  • At Wyoming Elementary School in Millburn, New Jersey, students take their peripheral word processing keyboard to field trips with them to type in what they observe.
  • Connecticut State University and several schools in the state took part in using the peripheral word processing keyboard under the company's loaner program. A researcher found that students are using it for enrichment activities, note taking and various other activities that require writing.
  • In addition, peripheral word processing keyboards are being used in schools to complete reports, facilitate journal writing, allow for typing practice, and can even replace some paper and pencil functions.

Peripheral Word Processing Keyboards and Student Achievements

Peripheral word processing keyboard are being used to increase student achievement in an adult school and in an elementary school. An AlphaSmart company press release (2003) claims that Vista Adult School's ESL students using the peripheral word processing keyboard as writing tools showed an average gain in reading and listening of 7.12 while the other students showed an average gain of 4.43. Additionally, in Haverhill Street School in Lawrence, Massachusetts only 32% of the students were reading orally at grade level. By June, 91% read orally at or above grade level. Researchers Beaulieu and McGhee claim that peripheral word processing keyboard users also scored in the 53rd percentile in MAT 7, 20 percentile higher than the previous class. The third grade team, the school, and the district administration felt that the improvement could be traced to the successful use of the peripheral word processing keyboard with process writing. The peripheral word processing keyboard is also being used for students with disabilities. The teachers feel that students will attempt to write more with peripheral word processing keyboard, and it helps students spell and write better than in longhand, and it improves students' confidence.

Other Effects

The peripheral word processing keyboard also produces numerous positive perceptions. Again, the AlphaSmart press release (2003) claims that 84 % of adult ESL students in the Vista School District using peripheral word processing keyboard felt that the keyboard helped facilitate their learning, and a full 92% of the students said the peripheral word processing keyboard made it more fun and interesting to write. The same press release stated that teachers notice that students were more willing to share their work in the classroom than they had been when using paper and pencil to write. The staff also felt that the device was "a great help in the writing process for students." The peripheral word processing keyboard motivate students to take pride in their work, edit easier, facilitate easier peer to peer interaction and cross correcting, and teach the students a valuable technology skill that might be used in other aspects of their schooling and work lives. Perkins (1999) noted that the third and fourth grade students who use the peripheral word processing keyboard feel like writers and have a sense of ownership both to their writing as well as to the machine.


The peripheral word processing keyboard is a device that is being increasingly used to support instructional activities, particularly in the areas of reading and writing. With its many benefits and with documented studies showing that it improves language arts achievement, it may be the affordable alternative to the much more costly classroom computer.

Email: Tianna Tang-Lau


Perkins, C. (1999, April). Portable writing tool. NEA Today, 17, p. 27-28.

Beaulieu, K., Clark, T., & McGhee, C. (2001). Technology inspires writers. Retrieved on April 18, 2003.

AlphaSmart, Inc. (2002). Alphasmart Computer Companions Used to Boost Literacy in California Adult Education Technology Project. Retrieved on April 18, 2003



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