In 2019, Nelly and I started working on TechLit Africa full time. We first were teaching adults how to make money online, but quickly learned that teaching kids digital skills would be more effective. Before chaning our focus, we had one major win with adults.
We built an offline web app, called qwerty, that motivated a group adult learners to show up every day and invite all their friends for weeks. It was a huge achievement!
Early on, we noticed that using a keyboard was an important skill we needed to teach for adults to do many tasks on a computer. When we introduced adults to skills like data entry, learning from online courses or even just signing into an email, they had to be comfortable typing.
Touchtyping isn't taught in any Kenyan schools we know of, even in colleges. So to this day, we teach touchtyping in our classes, because of how fundamental it is when using technology and how neglected it is as a fundamental tech skill.
Our first solution was to use a free service online called Ratatype, which worked great! Ratatype is actually how Nelly taught herself how to type. What ratatype does really well is challenge and reward the learner as they progress.
We had problems with Ratatype only because the internet wasn't dependable enough in Mogotio in 2019. Thankfully, only a few adults were learning to type at the time (it was really rare that adults show up regularly for classes).
I had been thinking of how easy it would be to replace Ratatype, so I found wrote the code for a browser-based touchtyping tutor that night with jQuery. What surprised me was that when I asked some adults to use my browser tool the next day, there weren't many issues!
Over the course of a few days, I added a login system and curriculum similar to Ratatype (our curriculum is entirely our own and has more repetition, but less explanation). We call our touchtyping tutor qwerty, and it works offline.
That first version of qwerty was a sinatra + sequel app serving haml templates with jquery for the touchtyping logic & animations.
Without depending on the internet, we were able to consistently reward students when they improved. The few adults who were learning to type because more dedicated, showing up every day.
It was Nelly's idea to add a leader-board to qwerty, and that's really when it became viral. Once the students saw what lesson everyone else was working on, who was the fastest and who had the most badges, they became really competitive!
Within a week or so, we went from just two or three learners to more than ten, which was the most success we'd ever had with adults.
To this day, we still use QWERTY in the classroom with over 4,000 students (but now it's a react and ruby on rails re-write in a new git repo). By the end of the year, our goal is to introduce 40,000 more students to touchtyping.