A number of studies show that working with computers can lead to health problems that can be preventable. We can help instill good habits for tool use now to help prevent long term physical problems as children grow and continue to use technology tools.
From hardware setup to length of time looking at a computer, understanding and building good habits will contribute to healthier learners. When reading through the areas of ergonomics below consider the following list of the characteristics that can help build continued ergonomic awareness in the classroom:
The compact size of the keyboard spacing, monitor size, and pointers make laptop users more at risk of suffering from hand cramps, repetitive stress injuries, and eye strain than users of desktops. When using a laptop, students should use it while it’s on a desk rather than on their laps. If used frequently, the user might benefit from a separate keyboard and mouse, rather than using the built-in keyboard and touchpad, to reduce strain on wrists and hands.
“While standing, users will often adopt a ‘forward neck’ posture typically because of the weight of the tablet or to obtain an improved viewing angle. The more your head is bent forward the greater the force on the neck leading to aches and pains to the neck, shoulders and back. To maintain a neutral neck posture while comfortably holding the tablet:
- aim to position the tablet just below field of vision (just below 30° perpendicular to line of sight)
- maintain a comfortable viewing distance; typically somewhere between 45cm and 70cm.
The same principles apply in sitting as they do in standing. Research suggests that lap-level positions should be avoided because they are associated with high head and neck flexion postures.”
A poor sitting position can cause many health problems, such as sore knees and tension in the back and shoulders. To avoid this, the lower back should be supported, and the chair should be adjusted so that the keyboard and mouse can be easily reached. A footrest can be used if the chair has been raised accordingly and the user’s feet don’t reach the floor.
The separate monitor
Improperly configured or placed monitors can cause a great deal of eyestrain, resulting in headaches, difficulty concentrating, and tension in the neck. To avoid these troubles, ensure that the monitor is set at a height so that the user’s neck will be straight and that the distance between the screen and the user is more than 50 cm. Try placing the keyboard away from the monitor, as far as possible on the desk, and increasing the screen font size.
The mishandling of the mouse may cause tension in the forearm and shoulder. To avoid this, make sure to show to your student how to manipulate the mouse correctly by doing the following:
- Keep the mouse easily within reach and avoiding gripping too tightly
- Keep the forearm resting on the table and the palm of the hand on the mouse
- Try using assistive technology solutions like a trackball or a touchpad if you feel that the use of the mouse bothers the student
- Use a mouse size proportional to the hands of students, especially for preschoolers
The separate keyboard
When spending a lot of time typing, keyboard placement and use can greatly affect the risk of getting repetitive stress injuries. A good guide is to have elbows bent at a 90° angle when typing on a keyboard. If the desk or chair is not adjustable to achieve the angle a keyboard tray may be a good option. Using good typing techniques such as keeping wrists elevated and not hitting the keys too hard are also beneficial strategies.
Typical classroom lighting can often create a great deal of eyestrain by making the computer monitor screen difficult to see. Adjust the window blinds, curtains, or lights as much as possible to reduce glare, and position monitors at an angle that reduces reflection. If overhead lights need to be dimmed or turned off then small desk lamps can be used.
Extended learning activities using computers may contribute to muscular and visual fatigue and discomfort. Make sure to take frequent breaks, get up and walk around, and change positions frequently. The Ontario Ministry of Labour Health and Safety Guidelines on rest breaks recommends scheduling a break of 5 minutes of non-computer work per hour. Alternating instructional approaches (workshops, conferences, lectures, for example) may help to deal with this issue, while still continuing learning activities.
Educating students on ergonomic workspaces
To educate students on the importance of an ergonomic workspaces, to keep the use of technology a secure activity in the classroom and beyond, you can:
- Hold an awareness week, during which you present students with the characteristics of an ergonomic workplace and ask them to carry out test adjustments.
- Offer students the opportunity to participate in an awareness project that encourages them to share their knowledge on the subject with their peers.
- Provide a platform for students to research the subject, contacting an expert in the field of occupational therapy or physiotherapy and possibly inviting that person to speak to the class.