Adjusting to Technology

Adjusting to Technology

With classroom Internet access nearly universal in public schools and computers ubiquitous on every school and university campus, classroom furnishings have evolved to accommodate the machines so students can take full advantage of the technology.

The desks, tables and other furniture that a school chooses for its computers will depend on the types of machines being used, but the key features most sought after are comfort, mobility and flexibility.

Comfy chairs

For computer users who expect to spend extended amounts of time in front of a monitor, having comfortable seating that wards off fatigue or injury is crucial.

Ergonomics is important for all classroom furniture, but especially for pieces that will be involved with technology. Concerns about users' posture and the repetitive nature of many computer tasks make ergonomics a critical feature for chairs, desks and other furniture.

The key elements of proper ergonomic design include having the top of the computer monitor at eye level and having the keyboard positioned so that a user's shoulders can relax and arms can rest at his or her sides. When using a keyboard, a person's forearms should be parallel to the floor, and elbows should be at about a 90-degree angle (see sidebar, p. 30).

If tables or benches are used, have enough space for students to work side by side without interference.

Making adjustments

In a computer lab, a school might have to accommodate students of differing ages and sizes, so having furniture that is flexible and adjustable is paramount.

Having tables, chairs and keyboard trays whose height can be adjusted enables students to find the level that matches their size and provides the greatest comfort.

Whether computers are on desks, tables or workstations, schools need to have a way to manage the tangle of wires that connect components to each other, to networks and to power sources. With trays and compartments built in to desks, tables and workstations, schools can conceal all of the wires necessary to make classroom technology function.

The wires still should be accessible to accommodate technical workers that need to repair or upgrade systems.

For many schools and universities, a better solution is to eliminate the need for managing wires by eliminating the wires.

Unfettered access

As wireless connections to the Internet, as well as laptop machines, become more commonplace and affordable, schools may find that they no longer need to acquire as many pieces of furniture dedicated to desktop computer workstations.

When schools first began incorporating computers into learning spaces, they often installed a handful of bulky desktop machines along the perimeter of an existing classroom. In most cases, the educational benefits of technology more than compensated for the space crunch created by the machines and the accompanying furniture.

The trend toward flat-screen monitors has reduced the footprint required for desktop computers, but converting to wireless laptops frees up even more space. Wireless technology and the improved quality of laptops enable schools to tap into the benefits of technology just as easily, if not more so, than they can with desktop computers, without having to surrender valuable square footage in a classroom.

The National Center for Education Statistics estimated that in 2005, 15 percent of public school classrooms had wireless Internet connections.

In some of those schools, sets of laptops are available to travel from classroom to classroom and make wireless connections to the Internet. Students feel more at ease remaining in their own classrooms, and a traveling caravan of laptops can free up a classroom that otherwise would be set up as a computer lab.

For administrators selecting furniture, the growing prevalence of school laptops means shifting from computer workstations used to accommodate desktop machines, and looking at easy-to-maneuver mobile carts that can hold and transport a classroom set of laptops throughout a school.

The carts come in various sizes to accommodate different numbers of machines, have electrical plugs to connect to power sources and keep the laptops charged, and typically come with security features to deter theft or vandalism. And, of course, they're on wheels.

Hot tip

One negative aspect of laptop computers is the heat they generate. When the machines are used the way their name suggests — on one's lap — the heat can be uncomfortable or even injurious to a user.

“The heat from some laptops can be enough to cause superficial skin burns, even through clothing,” says the Cornell University Ergonomics Web.

To counteract the potential harm from laptop heat, manufacturers offer trays, lapdesks, cushions and pads that can protect students and their thighs.

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

Computing posture

Sit. It might be a simple command to give to a dog, but when it's applied to students of all shapes and sizes using computers or other technology, how they sit, where they sit and what they are sitting on can become a complicated set of choices that can affect students' health and academic performance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compiled recommendations regarding the ergonomics of computer workstations that shows the amalgamation of options school administrators must be aware of as they select the furniture in their learning spaces.

“Contrary to popular belief, sitting, which most people believe is relaxing, is hard on the back,” the CDC says. “Sitting for long periods of time can cause increased pressure on the intervertebral discs. … Sitting is also hard on the feet and legs.”

The CDC has the following advice about furniture used with computers:

  • The chair back should have a lumbar support. The user should be able to adjust the height of the backrest to support the natural inward curve of the lower back. It may be useful to use a rolled towel, lumbar roll or cushion to support the lower back.

  • The trunk and upper legs should form an angle between 90 to 115 degrees. The height of the chair should allow users to rest their feet flat on the floor. Adjust the seat so that thighs are parallel to the floor and knees at about the same level as the hips.

  • The back of users' knees should not come in direct contact with the edge of the seat pan. There should be 2 to 4 inches between the edge of the seat and the back of the knee.

  • The height and width of armrests should be adjustable so they allow users to rest arms at their sides and relax or drop their shoulders while keyboarding.

  • Use a footrest when furniture adjustments fail to keep the user's feet on the ground.

18 TO 30

Recommended number of inches between a user and a computer monitor.

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