Mastering Tech Skills: When and What?

Technology Evolution for the Classroom

Technology has certainly evolved in the classroom, especially during the last 5 years. In most states, schools have added/upgraded internet and in many cases, schools are either providing 1:1 devices or are supporting BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices). Students in these digital schools are learning and completing assignments using technology. For the schools that do not have 1:1 devices yet, students do have scheduled computer class periods and have access to computer/tablet carts that are shared between classrooms. Most students also have daily access to technology – computers, tablets and/or smart phones - at home.

Prior to the computer age, 'technology class’ consisted of a typing class – an elective high school class. Fast forward to current times - toddlers and preschoolers are independently navigating and interacting with technology with apps on smart phones and tablets. Elementary students are using the Internet to complete assignments and are collaborating to create multimedia presentations.

Schools are scrambling to keep up with technology and the implementation of new online/digital resources. How are educational technology goals evolving to keep up with the new digital world?

To better understand the progression of educational technology, let’s first take a look at the timeline for personal/educational devices.

Personal Technology Timeline

  • 1976: First personal computers - which came as kits (MITS Altair 8800)
  • 1976: First Apple computer (Apple I; created by hand not mass produced)
  • 1978: Kurzweil Reading Machine (first text-to-speech synthesizer; approximately the size of a washing machine)
  • 1981: First IBM personal computer
  • 2000: First ‘classic’ BrailleNote by Humanware
  • 2007: First iPhone (smartphone)
  • 2008: First Android (smartphone launched by HTC)
  • 2010: First iPad

Editor’s Note: The time frame for educators to begin using computers for educational purposes varied widely between states, districts and even schools.  Personally, I began using a computer for work purposes in 1988, when my forward-thinking school district in Texas purchased Apple IIe computers. One computer along with a Daisy printer was placed on a rolling cart and shared between the specialists. The TVIs, COMS and other specialists used this technology to write reports and IEP goals. Students did not have access to this technology.

What Tech Skills should be Mastered? High School  High school girl sitting in class using a PC listening to her screen reader through an ear bud.

The following general categories are standard tech skills for all students in mainstream classrooms (not specific for students with visual impairments).  These skills should be engrained into every students’ daily tech use – across a variety of devices. Students with visual impairments and blindness should have the same tech proficiencies as their sighted peers.

  • Touch Typing - average at least 60 word per minute
  • Microsoft Office – mastery of advanced skills in Word, Excel and Powerpoint (create margins, headers/footers, charts & graphs, data analysis)
  • Computer organization – create files and computer maintenance – students’ computer maintenance checklist
  • Web browsers – bookmarks, favorites, clear cache/ browsing history
  • Online research
  • Digital Communication – appropriate email, texting, chat, social media skills
    • Understand and use different grammar rules for different people (informal emojis and abbreviations in text to friend; correct grammar/formatting in resume)
  • “Netiquette” – communicate with respect
    • Proper way to use social media, internet, emails (not complaining about teacher/student/boss)
  • Safety – antivirus, spam, phishing, too much personal information, online safety, stalkers

Click here for more information about computer skills for high school students.

What Tech Skills should be Mastered? 5th Grade  5th grade boy sitting in the library taking notes using his braille display paired on his iPad.

The following general categories are standard tech skills for all students in mainstream classrooms. Students should be independent and proficient with the following tech skills:

  • Touch Typing - at least 20 words per minute by end of 5th grade (minimum speed where typing is faster than writing). Many resources now state 30 wpm for 5th grade students.*
  • Troubleshooting and self-learning - (how to use a Help menu, where to find the manual, where to find resources/user forums)
  • Digital Citizenship – minimum age for many websites is 13; even though most 5th graders are not yet 13, they do need to learn about and apply safety, online bullying, online etiquette, communication, social media
  • Device specifics – student should be able to independently:
    • Connect to Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connections
    • Cite
    • Create and deliver multimedia presentations (Google Suites, Microsoft Office, or Apple apps)
    • Edit
    • Perform Internet Searches – age appropriate search engines and child-friendly websites
    • Collaborate using technology
    • Organize learning (folders, labeling documents, images)
    • Responsibilities - care for device, backup data, dangers of inappropriate multitasking (in the classroom and at home), limit screen time

Students with visual impairments should also:

  • Use auditory
    • Read aloud and/or screen readers
    • Listening speed should be close to or at 100% (Students with low vision should also be proficient with auditory skills!)
  • Set/adjust accessibility settings/preferences
  • Know and use accessibility commands to accomplish same classroom tasks as peers (gestures, keyboard commands, and if appropriate, braille display commands)
  • Acquire digital books - locate, download and read digital book from Bookshare, and other resources
  • Devices - Tech goals for visually impaired students in elementary school may focus on one device; by high school, students should be proficient on a variety of devices and should know which device to use for which activity/goal.

* Keyboarding - previously taught in high school typing class - is now being taught in elementary school. According to Education World, early elementary students use the hunt-n-peck method to type. First grade students are often introduced to Home Row keys and finger placement to type their name. Formal keyboarding skills are typically taught around 4th grade.

Common Core and PARCC recommend that students type at an average of 5 words per minute per grade level with an accuracy rate ranging from 80 – 95%.

Click here for more information about tech skills for 5th grade students.

Editor’s Note: Many educational resources were reviewed to identify what tech should be mastered and when these goals should be mastered. Long-term research is not available, as technology continues to evolve rapidly. Numerous sources were reviewed and the goals mentioned above were the common goals overlapping from a variety of educational sources.

Educational technology goals will continue to evolve as more educational resources – including digital textbooks and online assessments - are developed, more schools become paperless and more research becomes available.

For a detailed list of mainstream technology goals with skills broken down by scope and sequence and grade levels, go to the Common Core State Standards K-12 Technology Skills Scope and Sequence.

Tech Skills for Students with Visual Impairments

Technology is leveling the playing field for students with visual impairments and blindness. Accessibility features are being built into mainstream devices; enabling any device to be instantly customized to meet each student’s unique needs. With digital materials, students with visual impairments can access materials at the same time as their peers – without waiting for the materials to be converted to braille. Classroom teachers can instantly access their student’s work without waiting for the work to be transcribed into print.  Refreshable braille displays provide digital materials in braille for students whose preferred learning medium is braille.  Students with visual impairments have instant access to digital books and Internet content; students can create, edit and read digital Word documents, spreadsheets and PowerPoints.

There are growing pains as classrooms transition to paperless learning.  Tech and software developers are collaborating with educators to resolve the issues of making digital diagrams and math equations fully accessible. Besides including appropriate alternative text descriptions, new developments such as full screen braille displays and interactive diagrams on touch screen devices are being developed and field tested. Recently, software has been released that enables users to navigate and glean information from charts and graphs – including the use of sonification to “glance” at the image. As technology and software continues to evolve, there will be additional solutions to these issues. As accessibility awareness improves and better solutions are available, accessibility should become a standard feature.

Students with visual impairments and blindness should be expected to master the same tech goals at the same time as their peers. TVIs will need to teach commands that are unique to screen readers and/or magnification software in order for their students to be successful with technology in mainstream classrooms. Educators will also need to teach students with visual impairments how to trouble shoot and how to keep current on these commands. Technology will continue to evolve and improve and tech goals will change to accommodate the evolving technology.

Editor's Note:  Victor is the student in the 5th grade picture using his braille display with his iPad and magnified iPad screen. (Picture taken in 2013.) He is also one of the students in the engineering class picture using a Mac computer with VoiceOver. (Engineering class picture taken in 2017.) Read Victor's thoughts about his devices in the comment section below.

Collage of Tech Skills


Posted by Diane BraunerAug 17, 2017

Hello, my name, is Victor and I will be explaining the different types of technology that I have used over the years.

When I started using technology I used an iPad with the refreshable braille display and voiceover. The refreshable braille display is a device that takes any text that is on the screen of the iPad that voiceover can read and converts it to braille on the display.

The reasons that I started to use the refreshable braille display were to write documents on the iPad so that I could refer to them during class or for homework. After a I became good at using the refreshable braille display I moved on to using a Bluetooth keyboard that made it faster for me to write documents on the iPad and I would still use voiceover to read what is being written with the keyboard. Then I became more comfortable using technology so I got my first PC. When I got it I did not know how to use it at first but I learned how to use a screen reader named NVDA. NVDA allowed me to use the PC so that I could create larger files for my homework like presentations and word documents. It also allowed me to access some websites that did not work on the iPad because the iPad does not have flash on it. After I got the PC I got a mac and I love how the mac is almost like the iPad because it uses the same keyboard commands to control Voiceover so if you know how to use the iPad really well you can learn the mac voiceover pretty quickly. I think that it is important to use different types of technology because there are different use cases for them. For example, the iPad is used for small document writing and creating some basic PowerPoints. If you need to create a larger PowerPoint with some nice animations you would need a computer which is where using the pc with a screen reader or the mac with Voiceover can help.  Also having the knowledge of different types of technology can help you figure out ways of doing other things like solving some of the problems that you could have with them.


Posted by Diane BraunerAug 28, 2019

Updated information about reading speeds: Do You Read Fast Enough to Be Successful? Forbes article states an increase in reading rates of average students and adults with vision:

  • 3rdgrade students = 150 words per minute (wpm)
  • 8thgrade students = 250 wpm
  • Average college student = 450 wpm
  • Average “high level exec” = 575 wpm
  • Average college professor = 675 wpm
  • Speed readers = 1,500 wpm
  • World speed reading champion = 4,700 wpm
Read more about: Assistive Technology