From typing courses at school to learning to touch type online

Expertise through 30+ years of experience

From typing courses at school to learning to touch type online

Romer van Bavel

I am often asked, "How did you come up with this idea of providing such an online touch typing course for children?" That's a long, but fun story...

Romer van Bavel, TypeTopia CEO

1980:  The suitcase typewriter with the Commodore 64

Besides studying at the teacher training college for German and English in 1980, I helped my father who gave typing courses for children in secondary education. At the time, the typing course consisted of retyping exercises from a booklet, so it was pretty boring.

There had to be another way, so together with my brother, I programmed the first teaching system on the Commodore 64 to make Dad's lessons more challenging. A huge success in Utrecht, Amsterdam and Leiden. 

I continued to help Dad with his lessons. In those days, the pupils worked on ordinary suitcase typewriters. For the student courses, we worked on rock-solid electronic typewriters.

1990: Electronic typewriter

For the typing course at school, the lessons were then taught using the electronic typewriter, which still meant that all the typing had to be checked by hand, piece by piece. A lot of boring work.

1995: Laptops

With the move to the laptop, it became possible to automate all the correction work in the children's typing course. Mark, an artificial intelligence student and friend, helped me to make this step. The basis for the new learning system "Both Pinkies Interactive" had been born. 

The impact of this development was truly amazing. It saved an enormous amount of time because the programme could automatically correct the texts. But it went much further than that. You could see for each child which letters he or she made excessive errors in. That way, we could offer targeted training so that that problem letter would receive additional training immediately. It even went so far that we had developed an algorithm with which you could properly assess whether the student had typed the text blindly or not. 

The children brought their 3.5 inch floppy disks from home to show the results of what they had practised at home. Virus risks lay in wait when reading these diskettes.

Instead of having a typing class at school every week, the programme allowed us to provide the classes once every fortnight. So we could offer the typing course to twice as many children.

2000: The first step towards the Internet

To reduce the virus risk, the 3.5 inch floppy disk was exchanged for communication to our own server. Nowadays, that's a piece of cake, but back then it was quite a process. Because we were still using the software where the ownership rights actually lay with Mark, it was time to start all over again in the technology that was 100% accepted at the time, Flash.

2007: First version of TypeTopia

An important decision had to be made. If we wanted to work via the Internet, then we had to focus on that 100%. So we said goodbye to the schools where we had worked for years.

The playful environment and the story that was written around learning to touch type proved to be a huge success. There were plenty of opportunities for growth, because the server could be scaled up if necessary. 

Recruitment through primary schools with representatives was difficult, so in the end we took the plunge...

2010: First TV campagne with Zapp

What happened then was indescribable. Website traffic exploded, and not only that, but TypeTopia, the touch typing course for children, was taken up in massive numbers. The course was then also translated into English and German. At the time, we received the Digita Award in Cologne, and a year later the Comenius Prize in Berlin.

2015: Flash would no longer be supported

Time for an update. Now that we have the chance to rebuild everything, let's do it right. With the help of a Creative Producer, Educationalists, Unity Programmers, Artists, and Ruby on Rails Programmers, everything has been rebuilt in a technique that will last us for years to come.

With this team of 14 people, we also program TopiaTrainer, an adaptive training programme for Dutch primary school students from years 5 through 8, that trains arithmetic, language and study skills. This program consists of more than 80,000 questions, all classified by level, so that you can stimulate the student to take a step up each time.

2017: New version of TypeTopia is a fact

Because multilingualism has been well thought-out in the basis, as well as the different variants of keyboards, it is possible to quickly handle other languages. At the time of writing, TypeTopia is available in Dutch, Flemish, German, Swiss, Spanish and soon also in Catalan.

Thanks to the flexible design of the editor, the course is not only available for children. In the Netherlands, the version for adults is already a fact, and the 13+ version is also available. There is even a variant for visually impaired and blind students that has been specially developed for Stichting Bartimeus and Koninklijke Visio (Dutch institutes for the blind).

TypeTopia de spannendste typecursus van het universum

2021: New website and TypeTopia versions for 13+ and parents

With a team of online marketing specialists, we decided to optimise the front end. The website should explain more clearly to children and parents how our method works. For children there is even an own page with reviews vlogs of other children and fun typing games to play. We also introduce an adapted Typetopia version for children aged 13+ and for parents who really want to learn to touch type together with their children.

Although I have always said that I did not want to be a typing teacher for the rest of my life, it is beginning to look like it. Although a lot has changed over the years in terms of typing courses for children.

Romer van Bavel, TypeTopia CEO
Romer van Bavel

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