Review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2019

UltraKey Online for Schools

Highly customizable but tired typing curriculum lacks depth

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts

Skills
  • Character & SEL
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
3–12
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Pros: Open-ended customization of lessons; integration of stretches and correct posture; overall philosophy of typing as communication.

Cons: Lessons are very short and lack instant feedback; interface is busy and looks and feels outdated; it may take a while for teachers to set up their classes.

Bottom Line: The program has exemplary customization options, but for in-depth lessons and an appealing experience, schools and families may want to look elsewhere.

Teachers can use UltraKey Online for Schools for one class, one school, or a whole district. It's a viable option for schools in North America, the UK, and Australia/New Zealand, as spellings, keyboard layouts, and content can be geared toward any of those geographic areas. There's a dizzying array of customizable options for teacher and administrator accounts, as well as student and class settings, so everything can be customized down to the individual level, including the typing interface, appearance of hands, the ability to use Backspace, how much practice is required, and whether students can access the Game Zone. Teachers, administrators, and managers have access to their own typing curriculum, so they can improve their skills along with the students, if desired.

The dashboard includes setting up students and classes (and schools for the multischool subscription); managing administrator accounts and roles; running reports; assigning assessments, skill checks, and typing tests to students; and editing or adding custom content. Teachers will want to familiarize themselves with the interface and existing content before assigning anything to their students, and the lengthy admin guide is a handy reference. The options in the dashboard are stellar, but the pieces are a bit spread out; the arrangement could be tightened up considerably.

Teachers may want to watch each section's introductory video with their class, and then set students free to work at their own pace through the lessons and skill checks, though students may need some direction as to how to go about covering all the material. Options for reading instructions out loud or turning on captioning expand the audience for this program. The free typing option can be used to integrate other classroom lessons into the typing curriculum; anything typed in the free typing area can be copied to the clipboard and pasted into other programs. As students progress, teachers can present them with certificates when they hit certain milestones. Lessons and practice can also be assigned for completion at home, with students logging in the same way they do at school.

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UltraKey Online for Schools is a typing curriculum that has subscription options from the family level up to a whole school district. The curriculum begins by helping students set a goal, either manually or through assessment. Then it moves on to seated posture and finger placement, and typing instruction begins with individual letters on the home row. The lessons start out slowly and build on what students have learned, going through the letters a few at a time and ending with numbers and symbols, and then words and paragraphs. Each section begins with an introductory video that has optional voice-over and captioning.

The curriculum includes body stretches to do periodically to keep healthy, instruction on correct posture, a set of lessons and skill checks, and an open typing forum. There's also a Game Zone, which includes word-based games that have students apply what they've learned in a new context.

Though the lessons are extremely short and it doesn't offer as much premade material as many of the other typing programs that are available (and with an interface reminiscent of decades past), UltraKey Online is quite customizable, from the student interface and options to the skill checks and assessments. Reports can be run by student, class, school, and district.

UltraKey Online has different subscription levels, including Family, Single-School, and Multi-School. The Family subscription allows for different numbers of learners; the Single-School subscription allows for one school with multiple classes, teachers, and students; and the Multi-School subscription allows for multiple schools with accompanying school managers. Though the features in the back-end dashboard differ slightly, the curriculum itself is the same.

Since teachers can customize content and settings for each class or individual student, UltraKey Online for Schools can be used for teaching groups of students with a variety of skill levels. Students or teachers can set the typing speed and accuracy goals, or students can take an assessment that will set a reasonable goal for them. Then students can work through the very short base lessons and other material at their own pace, starting with individual letters and working up to typing paragraphs for several minutes. Students do receive feedback on their typing, but, depending on which area of the site they're on, they'll only receive a star value, a pass/fail, or slightly more detailed error markings after they've finished typing. It doesn't give much feedback as you type, nor does it provide easy-to-read feedback, tips for improving, or a list of problem keys.

The skill checks have students reading what they need to type at the top, and actually doing the typing at the bottom, which may make it more difficult for some students to keep their place. The curriculum does emphasize being thoughtful as you type, especially in the Game Zone, where students apply what they've learned with more real-life typing.

UltraKey Online for Schools has a philosophy of approaching typing as a method of communication rather than just putting together a series of steps, but, other than doing the lessons in order, there isn't a clear flow for how students are to progress through the overall material. The skill checks, Game Zone games, and free typing give extra practice and reinforcement for skills from the lessons, but students who aren't self-directed may be unsure how to work through it all.

If you're looking to customize almost every aspect of your typing program, UltraKey Online might be a good choice, but it's lacking in modern style and a well-organized interface. The design, graphics, and voice-overs have an institutional feel rather than one of warmth or friendliness. Navigating the interface isn't intuitive for students or teachers, and the buttons to click don't always show up quickly, leaving students to wonder what they're supposed to do next. The content, customizations, and option to add personalized content mean this curriculum could do the job with a lot of effort, but it would also benefit from a complete makeover in terms of organization and audiovisual style.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The unsophisticated style of the interface won't pull students in on its own, but students who can look past the institutional feel should be able to learn to type with this program.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Very short lessons include the traditional incremental steps of learning to touch type, plus skill checks, free typing, and games that connect typing with higher-level communication. Student feedback is minimal, however.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The site includes integrated help and lengthy, detailed guides for reference. Additional assistance is available from the UltraKey publishers. Students would benefit from more extensive feedback and improvement data.


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