Technology behind Keyboarding Online

03 Jan 2020

Here at Keyboarding Online, our goal is to always stay one step ahead of any competition. We were the first online typing program for schools, and we still provide the latest in technology for education.

Humble Beginnings

When Barbara Ellsworth taught at Mesa Community College, she researched and started developing her own course curriculum for teaching students how to type. She saw success in her curriculum and wanted to share it with other instructors, so a text book was created.

After several years, the first programs were developed for keyboarding. It was all DOS based and did the job. As technology progressed, so did we. We eventually released a Windows 3.x program, followed soon after by a Java program that could be run on Windows and Mac computers.

Eventually the program had progressed enough and was then being installed on school network servers, and teachers were able to access a management system to control the program. We were one step away from going 100% online.

Making the leap to the World Wide Web

Back in 2004, the market for online education was small. It mostly consisted of resources and files that could be downloaded and printed by instructors. Very few programs were “online” because the technology just wasn’t available. Sure, programs could be saved and ran, but they were typically local to the computer, and not accessible to anyone else.

Since we had written the program in Java, an interesting possibility was opened to us. We could create a Java Applet, which is a downloadable container for our application that communicates over the network back to our servers. This allowed us to serve the program to students with all the bells and whistles, and have their scores recorded in our database for teachers and administrators to view whenever they would like.

We only had to worry about file sizes, as the internet was still very slow. A 1 Mb file might take 2-3 minutes to download, and that was precious time for a class period of 40 minutes. We heavily leveraged browser caching features, which helped keep the load speed quick.

As time passed, new features were added and schools never had to do anything special to get the latest content, only refresh the browser. We could add features, fix bugs, and improve the program daily without causing any downtime or making people reinstall software or updates. Teachers loved the program and we thought it was smooth sailing.

Downfall of Java and the rise of Javascript

Around 2010, Java Applets had grown in popularity. Many companies and governments would use Applets to serve applications to users. Hackers saw the growing trend and set out trying to exploit Java and Java Applets any way they could. Java came under scrutiny when many of the exploits were revealed, and all browsers started blocking Java Applets from running without permission. This hurt everyone, including Keyboarding Online. We went from a few support calls a day to several dozen, all about getting the program to work.

To remedy the situation, we wrote tutorials, we created videos, and we employed new customer service representatives to field calls. This worked to help alleviate some of the calls, but we weren’t happy with the situation we were in. Our software no longer just “worked”, it required permissions and work arounds (sometimes disabling the computer’s antivirus programs). It wasn’t simple and quick, and we knew we needed a change.

We started looking at Javascript and found out that browsers and technology had changed a lot. Javascript could be used to do nearly everything the Java Applet had done, and it would do it without annoying permission issues or pop-ups. We wrote a few sample pages to make sure our most important features worked (Blackout Timing, Timer Timeout, and anti-cheat features) and then set out to recreate the program from scratch.

After several months of rushed development, we were able to bring to market several fully functional Javascript programs for both students and teachers. As the technology was embraced, we were finally able to remove the Java version of the program, and support decreased dramatically. The program was simple again, and would work on any device, including iPads and Chromebooks.

Today and the Future

Over the past few years, features have been added constantly to continue improving the program. We moved the Teacher Manager to a newer platform that provided extra stability and support, and provided for even more rapid development. Our website has undergone a dramatic makeover and we are continuing to add new schools daily.

We enjoy the current platform stability and it is hard to leave the comfort that brings. As technology progresses, however, changes will be made to keep the program functional and performant. We want the students and teacher to have the best possible experience when using the program, and that includes shorter load times for the program and reports, as well as more responsiveness when using the application. We will be working hard for the future to bring these improvements and continually adding new features to the program.

We envision Keyboarding Online being at every elementary school, being used by every student, and having all students go into middle school and high school typing correctly with incredible speed and accuracy. Keyboarding is here to stay, and so is Keyboarding Online!