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Ask Slashdot: Teaching Typing With Limited Electricity, Computers?

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the muscle-memory dept.

Education 325

An anonymous reader writes "I am tasked with developing a service project to teach students in a Bangladeshi village how to type. The school has about 500 students, 12 computers donated to them in 2006, and a limited electricity supply. The students will be given job placement opportunities at a local firm in the city once they reach a certain proficiency. Therefore, we are trying to teach as many of them typing skills as possible. The problem: limited electricity, limited computers, many kids. I have some additional funding collected through donations. Instead of buying more computers, I am looking for a cost effective way that does not need a steady flow of electricity. I realize that to teach typing, I do not need a computer. I could achieve the same using a keyboard connected to a display. A solar powered calculator is a perfect example of a cheap device which has a numpad for input and an LCD for display. But so far I have not come across a device that has a qwerty keyboard and an LCD to display what's typed. I know there are some gaming keyboards that have LCDs built in but they are quite expensive. I am aiming to build a device that cost below USD 50. I considered using typewriters but they are in limited supply on the market. I also considered OLPC but it is double my anticipated budget. Do you have other suggestions?" Considering that (at least in China) sub-$50 Android tablets with capacitive screens are already here, I wish the Alphasmart line was cheaper, but apparently it currently starts at $169.

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"One laptop" program may be what you want (-1, Redundant)

peter303 (12292) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376509)

An MIT professor designed low cost, self-powered lap top computers here [laptop.org] .

Re:"One laptop" program may be what you want (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376545)

I was under the impression that Bangladesh's education ministry itself would have to order those, not a private charity.

Re:"One laptop" program may be what you want (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376793)

I think the key here will be virtualizing.

I did this a while back with Virtual Desktop and my Mac, I am sure other VM can do the same thing.
I took the VM and I Mapped the USP Device to that virtual machine, then I repeated the process with an other virtual machine. Then I used the laptop keyboard for the primary OS. I in essence had one computer with keyboards(and mice) that controlled 3 OS's at the same time.

I normally only did this with 2.
OS X and Virtualized Windows XP. And a seporate monitor plugged in it was like having two computers.

Re:"One laptop" program may be what you want (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41377067)

Did you read the submission?

  I also considered OLPC but it is double my anticipated budget. Do you have other suggestions

Typewriter (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376531)

What about an old fashioned typewriter?

Re:Typewriter (4, Informative)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376961)

My mother, now aged 85, learned to type using a printed picture of a keyboard, and exercises very similar to "Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing". Its true there is no record of what keys you actually press, etc, but she could type a lot faster than I ever could, and is using an IPad as I type this.

My point is: stop being obsessed with technology: anyone in the third world can have a photocopy of a picture of a keyboad, and probably has the motivation to try and learn with it. Once a week, use a real machine to test their progress if you have to. (Yes I have visited third world countries).

Re:Typewriter (1)

na1led (1030470) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377127)

stop being obsessed with technology

I think the whole point is to learn technology, otherwise, what's the point.

Here's an idea (1, Insightful)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376555)

Mechanical typewriters. Paper. I bet there's a bunch of them already in India. You'll just have to look around.

Why does everything have to be electronic? Especially in remote or third-world conditions?

Re:Here's an idea (1)

alphax45 (675119) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376575)

That was my first thought too.

Re:Here's an idea (2)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376677)

Indeed. It is "a device that has a qwerty keyboard and [a method to immediately display] what's typed".

The old Remington worked just fine for teaching me touch typing.

Re:Here's an idea (4, Interesting)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376603)

They don't want them, even in India. The last mechanical typewriter factory in the world (in india) shut down last year...

http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-04-26/news/30072856_1_typewriters-manufacturers-machines [businessinsider.com]

You could probably look around for enough of them, eventually, but the effort probably isn't worth it.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376721)

Why wouldn't it be? Under the conditions he's describing, a mechanical typewriter would be perfect. Furthermore, because they require more key pressure to type, they encourage you to use good typing form.

It would be helpful if Timothy/Anonymous Reader could explain why he is ruling out mechanical typewriters.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376779)

He doesn't need thousands with a guaranteed supply. If nobody wants them, they should be going for cheap.

Re:Here's an idea (4, Funny)

bunbuntheminilop (935594) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376833)

Everyone knows that the typewriters aren't worth anything, because they make such a huge profit from the ink ribbons.

Re:Here's an idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41377247)

An all-in-one device seems to be what the OP is asking for. Typewriters do have a 'no power required' advantage but there's also issues involved -- shipping costs (they're relatively quite heavy), storage issues (they're relatively bulky), and there are the incidental costs (a constant based on usage) of ribbons and paper (paper is also bulky and heavy when compared to just reading a LED or LCD readout).

Re:Here's an idea (1)

OhSoLaMeow (2536022) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377261)

Mod +1 Funny

Re:Here's an idea (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376863)

The last factory shut down *last year*. That was actually better than I expected. There must be millions of them still out there, a large percentage still in use.

Let's look at it from their point of view. I have no power, or very problematic power. I have a very limited budget. (More limited than us fat, gadget-festooned westerners could possibly imagine.) Now, I have to type a letter. What's the practical solution, given the conditions and the budget?

I'll bet you an iPhone XXVI (due out the latter part of 2014) that mechanical typewriters are very common there, even today. (That's actually not a fair bet, as I've spent some time working there, and can verify from personal observation.)

Re:Here's an idea (5, Informative)

Necron69 (35644) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377077)

That is a myth that the last typewriter factory in the world shut down. They are still very much in use (and demand) in the Third World.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/26/worlds-last-typewriter-factory-closes_n_853670.html [huffingtonpost.com]

The very fact that this question is being asked just reeks of stupidity. You just DON'T go straight from stone age to 21st century, especially without electricity. Buy some manual typewriters. C'mon man....

Necron69

Re:Here's an idea (1)

theatreman (931919) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376613)

Typewriters in India are no use to him, he is in Bangladesh...

Re:Here's an idea (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376889)

India is right next door!

Re:Here's an idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376633)

Wasn't there a story on /. on manual typewriters still being used in this neck of the woods?
The original way of learning typing.

Re:Here's an idea (-1, Offtopic)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376649)

He's probably under 30 and never saw a manual typewriter. He may not even know such things ever existed. My kids are in their twenties and I doubt either one ever saw a typewriter, period, let alone a manual one.

I was going to post what you posted, but it's hard to imagine (unless you're wet behind the ears) that anyone would even ask the question.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

Donwulff (27374) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376843)

Considering the very submission reads " I considered using typewriters but they are in limited supply on the market." I bet that must be the case... and all the non-trollish replies to the article so far just point "use a typewriter". That said, this does seem bit of like a solution looking for a problem, or what have you - any other solution one could come by would be even more "limited supply on the market", given there's not general demand for that.
Only thing that comes to mind to me is that USB-attached keyboards should be easy to come by, surplus, used, sponsored deal whatever. Get a few USB hubs and connect them together to a single computer with a handy software. Unfortunately that's far from ideal, as the screen will have to be shared, and electricity is still required. But as far as an easily available geeky solution goes, I think that's a start. Maybe blink the lights or something if they make a typo - actually learning/teaching on them would be harder, but then you can do that even on a blackboard or so.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376991)

>>>My kids are in their twenties and I doubt either one ever saw a typewriter, period, let alone a manual one.

They've never watched old movies with secretaries typing-away on their manual or selectronic typewriters?

Re:Here's an idea (0)

OAB_X (818333) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376663)

+1 to mechanical typewriter. Move the best to the computers when they become competent. Used market is not too expensive. Electric typewriters will work too if you can't find enough manual ones (and they are less expensive than computers).

Re:Here's an idea (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376891)

Indeed. They work even better as a teaching tool if you stick a poster size picture of a QWERTY keyboard on the wall and use sandpaper to remove the markings from the keys so the kids are forced to look up instead of looking at the keys. That's how I learned to touch type, back in high school... looking back, it was the most useful course I ever took.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376949)

Yep. The typewriters in my high school class had blank keys too. It's amazing how fast you learn when you're forced to remember. Of course, this predicates that there is some kind of standardization of keyboards, especially for the cute little symbols you don't use much.

Re:Here's an idea (1, Informative)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377187)

Typewriters are definitely the way to go for the initial lessons. Manual ones for starters, then maybe electronic ones if they are available for the next stage - just make sure that any ribbons that are needed are cloth so that they can be re-inked though.

Some more thoughts for the next stage - moving them onto actual "computers". You might want to looking into re-purpose one or more of the 12 PCs as a *NIX box using your favourite distro (via LiveCD if need be), then running some dumb terminals off it. With an RS-232 port board and a bunch of Wyse terminals you could easily run a whole classroom from a single decently specified server box, or even some more modern terminals that have Ethernet. Dumb terminals are still quite common in India and other countries I've been too in the region, so I'd imagine they wouldn't be too hard or expensive to obtain across the border in Bangladesh. Ask around too - maybe a local company that has upgraded to PCs might have some in a store room they'd be willing to donate for some favourable press... Alternatively, if you can get hold of some extra graphics adapters, monitors and keyboards, you could take a look at this tutorial [linuxgazette.net] that walks you through building a six-headed Linux box - one server, six keyboards & monitors and (more importantly) concurrent users. That's all going to need some power, but a heck of a lot less than an equivalent number of stand-alone PCs.

Re:Here's an idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376693)

Mechanical typewriters. Paper. I bet there's a bunch of them already in India. You'll just have to look around.

Why does everything have to be electronic? Especially in remote or third-world conditions?

Or about $5 at any garage sale in the U.S. plus $10 shipping - assuming you stockpile typewriters and ship by the container full.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376707)

Exactly! What is wrong with learning to type on a manual Underwood typewriter? In high school I typed all my essays and papers using an Underwood typewriter and achieved sustained speeds of 2 minutes per page, doubled-spaced. People forget there was a time when electricity was scarce in the current developed world but business, education, and life went on rather well. Hades! When I was in high school we still used encyclopedias and other reference books because the Internet and more specifically the World Wide Web was not available to those outside government, academia, and some specialised businesses.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376745)

Did you, or the people that modded you up, even read the summary?

I considered using typewriters but they are in limited supply on the market.

Can't use typewriters if you can't find any.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

Kergan (780543) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376789)

Plus, it needs paper...

Re:Here's an idea (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377001)

You clearly have not been in that part of the world. You can make paper in your back yard, if you're patient enough.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376979)

He isn't looking hard enough.

Typewriters were manufactured in India, right next door, until last year. There has to be a huge used market if he could figure out how to tap into it.

But, if all you know is gadgets, then gadgets tend to be your solution.

Re:Here's an idea (2)

hjf (703092) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376907)

I'm in Argentina and the police here, in some jurisdictions (especially in small towns) still use typewriters for paperwork.

Sure, they have computers, with internet and all. But if a typewriter does the job just fine, why even bother? They use the computer for the tasks that require, for example, reporting to a remote location. But if it's for forms and paperwork, a typewriter is cheaper and much more reliable.

In OP's case a typewriter is just fine. And paper, you can get for really cheap (doesn't have to be brand new reams).

The only problem I can think of is how to deliver the machines. But I'm sure they can manage that. There's another really reliable machine avaliable everywhere: the truck.

Re:Here's an idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376927)

This. My thoughts exactly. 'Tis like our modern technology has made us stupid. We managed amazingly well without. Just take a few steps back and see what the older stuff can do.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

kenorland (2691677) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376937)

Mechanical typewriters are actually pretty expensive to buy and maintain compared to something electronic.

If you want to go low-tech and used, a whole bunch of old serial terminals (VT100 etc.) hooked up to a PC via USB-to-serial ports would be another option. Linux supports that kind of usage fully and there is tons of software available for it.

Of course, as I was saying, I think a low-end Android tablet and a USB keyboard are really the way to go.

Re:Here's an idea (2)

pdabbadabba (720526) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377037)

Read to the end of the summary: he has considered typewriters but does not think he can find them in adequate supply.

Re:Here's an idea (3, Insightful)

dcollins (135727) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377227)

From the summary -- "I considered using typewriters but they are in limited supply on the market."

Seriously, what is wrong with Slashdot people that you can't even read an 8-line summary, and mod something like the above to maximum value? Geez.

Re:Here's an idea (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377303)

Up until a few years ago all Letters of Credit our company received from India were always typed.

they once had these things..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376559)

What about and old school mechanical typewriter? No electricity required, just some paper.

Re:they once had these things..... (1)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376691)

And replacement ribbons. That you have to find in Bangladesh. For a typewriter that hasn't been manufactured for many years. Good luck.

Re:they once had these things..... (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376815)

If it accepts a cloth ribbon, It can be re-inked. If the intent is simply to learn typing, it doesn't have to produce a crisp beautiful page, it just has to show what was actually typed.

Re:they once had these things..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376839)

If he's willing to source electronics off eBay, he's capable of ordering typewriter ribbons online. For the record, even dual-spool cloth ribbons are still available to fit many vintage machines and the great thing about them is that they can be re-inked several times.

Ummm... (0)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376565)

Typewriter?

If you can find just one or two models for which ribbon is still manufacturer, you could probably get some donations of compatible manual typewriters.

I realize it' a stretch, but it's not a completely impossible idea.

You know what would be cool? (5, Funny)

multipartmixed (163409) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376581)

If you just want to learn to type, you could possibly provision some purely-mechanical keyboards.

The displays would not need to be particularly high-tech; you could go with a hemp or wood pulp WOD (write only display) that works by mechanically striking the pulp with an embossed pigment delivery die.

Re:You know what would be cool? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376913)

or a trs80 model 100...

Re:You know what would be cool? (2)

Fox_1 (128616) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376943)

I know this (the parent) is a joke, but the basis of learning to type is drill and repitition. I see nothing wrong with just geting a bunch of keyboards, don't bother to get computers for them and have the kids drill.
A A A A
S S S S
ASDF
etc.
If the kid is going to hit the letter 'W' 12 times in a row, they don't need to see it actually show up on screen or paper, that's not the point, the point is to establish the muscle memory. Make sure the kids have the finger movements down in drill before you ever sit them at a powered computer. Just walk around the class and make sure the kids are hitting the right key as you call it out.

You know what would be cool? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41377105)

If you just want to learn to read, you could possibly start by reading things to their entirety (like the summary).

I considered using typewriters but they are in limited supply on the market.

Re:You know what would be cool? (1)

cvtan (752695) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377173)

Gee, this is almost the same acronym as the wood-insulated gate write-only memory, the WIGWOM.

Typewriter...? (0)

Burning1 (204959) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376587)

Out of curiosity, have you considered purchasing used mechanical typewriters?

Manual Typewriter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376589)

I learned on a manual typewriter. People around me complain I pound on my keyboard. Sometimes the keys fly off.

AVR! (1)

d33tah (2722297) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376639)

AVR processors can do pretty good job getting text from PS/2 keyboards. They also don't consume too that much power. The only problem then would be getting a bunch of LCD's, perhaps SD cards for storage and some software...

Did any of you even read the question? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376641)

"I considered using typewriters but they are in limited supply on the market"

" I also considered OLPC but it is double my anticipated budget."

"Do you have other suggestions?"

PS2, Arduino, and an LCD (2)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376651)

It would be fairly trivial to combine a low end Arduino platform, old PS2 keyboards, and an HD44780 based 40x2 LCD into a system that would cost under $30 each, and run on 4 AA NIMH batteries. You could recharge the batteries when the power was available.

Re:PS2, Arduino, and an LCD (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377199)

You don't even need the LCD. There is no reason for the student to review their results real-time. Just a simple circuit to read the keypresses and store them for later retrieval. You could probably operate the device on a watch battery for a year.

AlphaSmart (3, Informative)

akerasi (1076913) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376655)

Old AlphaSmart devices can be had VERY cheaply on e-bay. You already know what they are, since you did mention them, and other than mechanical typewriters, they may be your best bet. Just need a pile of AA batteries.

One computer between two (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376661)

Pair typing. It's agile and totally moar extream.

Touch screen downfall (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376665)

Allow me to be among the first not to duplicate roc97007's comment:

Considering that (at least in China) sub-$50 Android tablets with capacitive screens are already here

The problem with trying to type (or to game) on a tablet with a capacitive touch screen is that most such screens have no texture to indicate the positions of the keys. A touch typist positions his hands relative to the keys by feeling the bumps on the F and J keys and the edges of the other keys, and he can't do that on a typical tablet [pineight.com] .

Re:Touch screen downfall (1)

abelenky17 (548645) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376715)

Android tablet with Bluetooth, then paired with a Bluetooth keyboard.

If you can get one keyboard per student, they can practice the fingering even when not attached to a tablet.
They can share tablets (1 tablet per 3 or 4 kids), and practice fingering the rest of the time.

Re:Touch screen downfall (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377025)

Android tablet with Bluetooth, then paired with a Bluetooth keyboard.

If you can get one keyboard per student, they can practice the fingering even when not attached to a tablet.
They can share tablets (1 tablet per 3 or 4 kids), and practice fingering the rest of the time.

If cost is an issue, I'd see if you could find a tablet that works with USB OTG. "Bluetooth" seems to quadruple the price of a keyboard, and usually implies that it will be designed for thinness, not ergonomics. USB keyboards are cheap as dirt by contrast.

Start by spending your entire budget on (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376675)

contraceptives. THEN teach them about typing after they learn to not overpopulate so terribly. The problem is too many people and not enough resources, job skills just a smokescreen on the real problem.

Re:Start by spending your entire budget on (0)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376717)

Start out the class by having a screening test, then kill the worse performing half.
This both helps with overpopulation, motivates the others, and reduces amount of required hardware.

Re:Start by spending your entire budget on (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377219)

You have it all wrong. Breed them by typing proficiency.

Manual Typewriters (2)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376689)

Go to the district in Dhaka in that sells used stuff. Buy some manual typewriters. They, obviously, do not need electricity.

Raspberry Pi (1)

lisco (844292) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376751)

The Raspberry Pi project seems to be a good fit for this provided you can source the monitor/keyboard somewhere cheaply or already have one. The non-networked version (model A) is $25 and is probably perfect for this, unfortunately that is not out yet (I believe). The version B which has networking and is ~$35 would probably suit you very well in its stead. Throw a linux distro on there like Debian or Arch and you have yourself a great little machine that uses almost no power that you could teach typing. The only high power device at that point would be the monitor. You could probably get a line display and figure out how to get that working with the raspberry pi to resolve that as well.

Awesome (2)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376753)

Question: "... I considered using typewriters but they are in limited supply on the market. ..."

Slashdot: "Typewriters"

Re:Awesome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376893)

Very, very seriously doubt it. Might be in limited supply locally, but they can be purchased, even new. Typewriters would be the best solution in this situation.

Sounds like a great excuse for (1)

sunking2 (521698) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376765)

Hunger Games to see who gets to use the computer.

No problem (2)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376797)

about 500 students

The students will be given job placement opportunities at a local firm in the city once they reach a certain proficiency

OK huge call center moving in

The problem: limited electricity, limited computers,

The solution seems obvious, ask the call center how they're dealing with having limited electricity and limited computers. If the problems seem insurmountable to them, then your problem doesn't matter because the call center will not be opening. If they have a solution, presumably you can copy their solution.

Also some simple math here... you've got 500 students and 12 computers. Hmm. You can't really "practice" for too long at a time, even under ideal conditions. So 500 / 12 computers = 41 students per computer. Probably the best way to do this is 48 half hour practice sessions per day. So some kids session will be from 2:30 am to 3 am local, so what, welcome to transcontinental call center operations, he's gonna have to get used to it sooner or later.

Frankly, the biggest call center problem isn't slow typing. As long as the kids know the alphabet and numbers before learning to type, you'll be OK.

Re:No problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41377101)

The call center's solution will be to have their own diesel generators. If the dude cannot afford OLPC, he sure as hell isn't going to be buying a diesel generator.

Re:No problem (2)

pdabbadabba (720526) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377111)

The students do not live in the city. They live in a village. They will move from the village to the city where the call center is located once they learn how to type. I imagine there is much less trouble getting a reliable supply of electricity in the city. The call center also, presumably, has a larger budget.

Raspberry Pi Centered Idea (5, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376805)

Well, I don't know much about what an average Bangladeshi village has on hand but I'm going to wager that it's a very wide spectrum. So my personal advice is no matter what you find to be your solution, you should provide the DIY equivalent any DIY-able components of the pieces. In this way you can treat yourself as a one man thinktank and you can publish this stuff under CCBY3.0 [creativecommons.org] and your project may enjoy self sufficiency without requiring your constant attention.

So to start at the core of it, I would personally select a $25 non-ethernet (Type A?) Raspberry Pi, an $8 USB keyboard [monoprice.com] and $5 flash card [amazon.com] . From there those little devices have the RCA Video (analog) out and also an HDMI out. So if one of your computers goes bad, you can always rig it up to one of these little guys. However, I also understand that you need more displays. Now this is where you have the option to become a rockstar superman. If you are not afraid of code and working GPIO pins [elinux.org] I would suggest purchasing some of these little guys [parallax.com] first getting it to simply display and read across what they are typing and secondly maybe use one row to take in a file that progresses in typing difficult and displays that on the first line while it waits for input and validates on the second line (might even have room to use LEDs or something else on the RPi for score keeper/carrot/stick. If you document all this, it might turn out that the villagers get wise on how to ripe a seven segment display out of anything and hook it up to these GPIO pins?

So how to power this? Well the easy way would be to use what you have already available for power but get some of these guys [monoprice.com] and daisy chain these guys [chinabuye.com] from one of your existing computers until they don't produce enough power. I would suggest researching that screen and the Pi and figuring out what their power draw is. Maybe get some cheap fuses to protect your hardware. A lot of broken appliances still have good electric motors in them and electric motors often produce energy as turbines if you spin them. Now, the big problem is how do you clean the power if people are cranking these turbines with their hands or connected to a bike's gear set? That's something I'm not much of an expert in. I do know the Pis run off of two rechargeable AA batteries just great but you also have to take care if they're planning to try to charge those batteries with a hand cranked appliance motor. From my understanding it's pretty tough to not screw stuff up if you're dealing with human generated power. Had to keep that steady and to find existing ways to clean it down to what tiny sensitive devices need.

The upswing of all this would be that the RPis are versatile, any of those students could really do a whole bunch of things with these. And if you make this a part of the Raspberry Pi wiki, you might get people helping you with those screens -- might. At least others will be able to use your work.

Re:Raspberry Pi Centered Idea (1)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376995)

Mod UP! This is the next best alternative to mechanical keyboards.

Build a mechanical keyboard tied to 100 students (0)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376829)

The school has about 500 students

Plenty of manpower available for about 5 keyboards. Build a mechanical keyboard with 100 strings attached to students. Each student gets a key. When the learning student is typing on the mechanical keys, the string is pulled, and the key student shouts out his key. Rotate the learning and key students in and out.

No electricity, and it will make learning boring typing a hoot and a half for the students.

Re:Build a mechanical keyboard tied to 100 student (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41377051)

That would limit them to, pretty much, 1 character a few second. It certainly is a good start though.

any recent Android tablet/phone (1)

kenorland (2691677) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376883)

You can plug a USB keyboard into any recent Android phone or tablet. Obviously, you can charge them when you have power and use them for many hours. If you look around, you should be able to get a Coby or other Chinese Android tablet and a cheap full-size USB keyboard close to your price range (you also need a USB-to-Go cable, but they are less than $1). I've used them and they are perfectly fine tablets. Students can also use them for reading books.

There are also some typing tutors, although more geared towards on-screen typing. There are also tons of text editors you can use for practice.

Is the screen absolutely needed? (1)

franciscohs (1003004) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376917)

This might sound like a stupid question, but couldn't you start learning just using a computer keyboard disconnected from the computer, learn were the keys are, practice on getting better, etc. and then move to the computer?

I know there is a problem on not having feedback, but I've seen many people (and I've done it myself from time to time) that when they write, they are looking at the keyboard and don't even look at the screen. In a way, this provides all the feedback you need, since you have a visual confirmation that your fingers stroke on the correct key.

Ask for Old PC's (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376957)

Send a request to HP / Dell or another large Corporation (Microsoft / Google etc). A lot of these corporations get really old PC's no one wants to use for recycling, and they may give them to you if the can write it off in taxes. You don't need gaming level systems or business level PC's, you need a very very very basic PC to teach typing, older models (3/4+ years old) should work perfectly for this.

I don't get it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376959)

So you're in an area where there isn't enough power available to enable computers, but you need to teach people to type on them?

The only other idea is typewriter, but if there isn't enough money for power, there probably isn't enough money for typewriters and supplies, either.

The need is what again?

You have defined a null set (2, Informative)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376963)

You have effectively eliminated all of the commercial solutions with your boundary conditions. You indicate that you don't have reliable power - that means you need a power generation device - or a power storage device - as part of your kit, or a device which does not require external power, but you have ruled out typewriters.

You have $50, total, per piece, into which you would like to provide a monitor of some type. Given that you need a display device, a power supply, and a usable input interface, you have nearly priced yourself out of the market with this parameter alone. To that you need to add a keyboard and an interface (a raspberry pi would work) to the display. But even at the rock bottom price of a Pi, you've in for $30-35 between these two devices.

I suppose if you can come up with a display with a DVI or HDMI input, plus a power supply, for under $20, you can get close. With the world market these days, if you need it to be cheaper than a COTS solution (commercial off the shelf) - you need a different budget or enough units to justify hardware production runs.

Have you considered seeing if Dell will ship you a crate of 6 year old laptops for $40 a piece, and you can throw away or keep for salvage the ones which don't work?

I had this very same idea. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376967)

Use a rasberry pi $25 for the core. Build it into a standard keyboard. (~$4 with some looking), you can get small lcd screens from amazon for around $25
They can be powered using batteries. (the lcd will need 12v so may need to use 2 6v lantern batteries, which can be found cheap at any discount hardware store)

For slightly more, solar panels could be used. Would put you above your target but save money in the long term. Or Small hand held 12v crank generators can also be had for ~$12 off amazon for possible battery charging.

IT Consultants (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41376987)

Start a company and use the students as it-consultants. Your clients won't be able to tell any difference.

Well... (3, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#41376993)

New alphasmarts are hilariously overpriced; but used ones can easily be a factor of ten cheaper, so that isn't a bad route to go down. You'll need to fleabay or otherwise scrounge; but you can get them at pleasingly low prices.

Another option, if the locals have some TVs, might be 'famiclones' or their slightly more modern ilk. The ones that just have controllers are no good; but there is a genre of 'c64' styled keyboard-based ones. RF and/or composite out to a TV, keyboard, usually some sort of BASIC or other typing environment of some degree of not-entirely-useless. Nasty; but cheap, cheap, cheap at the right dodgy flea market.

With some work... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41377005)

You could attach a character LCD to an Arduino (or an Attiny once it's working for the extra savings), a battery, and a keyboard and create a $50 typing tool.

Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41377027)

Perhaps teach them the same way Kintaro (Golden Boy) taught himself.

Self Built Arduino and 2x16 lcd display (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41377029)

Total Cost about $22, ultra low power.
Do a search on Home made arduino clone, it will cost you about 30$ to make your programmer (you'll only need 1), but then about 7~9 per unit after that, depending on the bulk of your purchase you can get the 2x16 lcd displays down to 12.00. If your keyboards are USB its a simply hack to make them work, but if they are ps2, it would take a little research.

Good Luck

Word Processors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41377033)

Available CHEAP (Under $20 + shipping and seem like EXACTLY what you are asking for)

Alphasmart 3000 on EBay? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41377047)

http://www.ebay.com/itm/251152640672?redirect=mobile as an example. 25 for $400, an surely AA batteries can't be beat for power.

The perils of manual typewriters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41377063)

I learned on a manual typewriter in the 1980s. This was in high school. The class was taught by a classic "proper lady" with gray hair. I have little doubt that she had been in the public school system for a couple decades, grooming young ladies for "secretarial" positions. I have no idea what the transformation was like for her, or what she thought of the boys in her class. IIRC, there were still more girls in the class than usual.

Arguably, learning how to type did as much to help me in computing as learning how to program! I made a lot of bad choices when I was young, but taking that one course was a stroke of genius. All I remember was that my C-64 had a keyboard and I wanted to be able to use it "as intended" instead of hunting and pecking. The fact that my Dad was a clerk in the Navy and had an old typewriter made it a non-taboo practice. There was no "sissy factor" as far as I was concerned.

Anyway, we learned on manuals. The problem? To this day I pound the keyboard. It's a habit that's hard to break. People complain about it sometimes. I try to tone it down; but it always comes back.

So. If you can find manuals and can afford paper and ribbon (ribbons may be hard to find these days) then yes, maybe that's an idea. Somehow I doubt it's the best solution though. I don't know if learning on a manual will gives most people the pounding habit or not; but why chance it?

Two solutions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41377099)

Use a PalmPilot and a folding keyboard - palm pilots start at $10 on ebay and keyboards start at $20. These run on 2 AA batteries.

The TRS-80 model 100 has a great keyboard and an integrated display. They run on 4 AA batteries if I remember right. They start at $10 on ebay.

Less Hi Tech but More Social and Fun (1)

LeoXIII (888066) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377185)

Print a keyboard on sturdy paper (possibly over sized) and pair the kids. Have one kid "type" and the other kid check. Make them compete. Should be fun!

I hate to do this... (1)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377213)

It's a bit above your $50 price tag, but moments googling "typing tutor toy" [google.com] took a total of 0.8 seconds to complete and brought me this solution [amazon.com] not far from your price range.

I had something like this as the oldest of 8 kids, the batteries were C or D and lasted for months/years. It was sturdy enough to easily endure the abuse that 8 kids put it through. We weren't "nice" to it.

Re:I hate to do this... (1)

na1led (1030470) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377249)

The Quantity listed on Amazon = 1. I don't think this is going to cut it.

Whiny babies - learned to type in the Army (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377265)

We used MANUAL typewriters and we LIKED it.

Whiny whiny babies.

You don't need a computer to type.

Heck, Neuromancer was written on a manual typewriter ...

Laptops are the way to go! (1)

davydagger (2566757) | more than 2 years ago | (#41377279)

combined keyboard, monitor, mouse, AND UPS into one easy to cary package.

the UPS part is a must for unreliable electricity.

depending on what your budget is, how about a single large, UPS for the entire room? or even a small generator?

USB keyboards connected to a Hub (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41377299)

I don't remember why my Slashdot Account is anymore, been a while since I posted.

Anyways, would you consider writing some custom software that will let you connect an arbitrary amount of keyboards to a PC, and then project each line of typing on a wall? (Your only limit is how many kids can type at one time, and still be legible on the screen)

That way, you only need 1 computer, but you will have many many (cheap!) USB keyboards. I'm guessing you will need to buy a bunch of (cheap!) USB hubs and have an ugly daisychain go across the classroom.

The trouble here will be programming, if you don't know how to do it, it could be tricky. I don't know of any "off the shelf" software that does the behaviour you want. The good news is that if you ARE a programmer, making a program that does this should be fairly trivial.

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