For students with low vision, learning to use keyboard commands in place of the mouse for some tasks is an important skill. As a vision teacher, I sometimes have students who are so accustomed to using the mouse that it can be difficult to get them to transition to using keyboard commands, even though they may have to practically put their noses on the screen to see where their pointer or cursor is. For my students who are working in the Google platform, tasks such as opening and closing tabs are much easier to execute with keyboard commands than looking for and clicking on the tiny “X” in the upper right corner of the tab or the blank tab to the right of the open tab. With enough practice, most students eventually see that using keyboard commands enables them to get assignments done more quickly and helps cut down on visual fatigue. I was very gratified in a lesson this morning when I asked a student to open a new document and type her first and last name, so we could practice using keyboard commands. Before I could even tell her what I wanted her to do, she quickly used keyboard commands to highlight, cut, copy, and paste the two names in various configurations. Success! I was even happier when I asked her if she had been using these commands in her writing assignments, and she said that she had!
So, sometimes continuing to stand on a particular soapbox with students pays off!
Anyway, in the past when I prepared to teach keyboard commands for a given operating system, program, or app, I would go online, pull up a list of relevant keyboard commands, save or print the list, and highlight 8-10 of the commands that I felt students would use most often. Then I would show the students those specific commands and make them practice them until they no longer needed teacher prompts to use them. At the end of the 2016-17 school year, which was the first year some of my students began to be assigned one-to-one Chromebooks, one of my middle school students discovered a cool feature of the Chromebook and showed it to me. (I call this particular student my tech guru, because he generally teaches me more about technology than I can find to teach him!) This feature was listed in the list of Chromebook commands that I downloaded, but I had not made note of it. For those who wish to have the commands in one document, I am attaching a list with common commands highlighted, as well as a document describing 25 of the most useful commands. In the list of commands, the Help feature for keyboard commands is noted as “See all keyboard shortcuts,” and the command to activate it is CTRL+ALT+?.
When this command is activated, it opens an image of the keyboard, with a superimposed prompt to use one or more modifier keys to see the list of commands that are activated by using those modifier keys, as shown below:
To see all commands that are activated by using the Control key as a modifier, the student presses the Control key, which shows the keyboard with the Control key highlighted and then has text on the other keys that indicates the action that results from pressing the Control and the key together. For instance, the keyboard shows that pressing Control and the “s” key activates the Save command; Control and the “w” key opens a new tab in Chrome. This is shown in the image below:
As a second example, to see all commands that are activated by using the Control and Alt keys together as a modifier, the student presses the Control and Alt keys, which opens a different screen. It shows shortcuts such as CTRL+Alt+h, which toggles High Contrast mode on and off, as shown below:
Other modifier commands can be used in this way to see the keyboard commands for those modifiers. The student can go in and out of help mode at any time by pressing CTRL+ALT+?. This is a quick way for a student to check for a particular keyboard command, and also a good way for the student to learn several commands at one time. I only wish other operating systems had this feature!
A couple of notes regarding the use of the feature by low vision and blind students: 1) The text on the onscreen keyboard image is small, and there is no way to enlarge it, even with the use of zoom magnification. I encourage my students to take a screenshot of each screen and save it into their Google Drive. With the screenshot open, they can then use zoom magnification to enlarge the text so that they can read it. Saving the image into their Drive also gives them another way to quickly access the information. 2) For blind users of the Chromebook, unfortunately the onscreen keyboard image is not readable by ChromeVox. For these users, I teach them how to download the list of commands and save it into their Drive for reference.
I hope this blog is useful for both teachers and students working in the Google platform!