Step 6: Think of Workstation Ergonomics
A number of studies show that working with computers can lead to preventable health problems. That’s why you have to know and teach your students how to use computers in a safe way. Here are the characteristics of an ergonomic workplace that have to be met in order to keep the use of technology a secure activity in the classroom and beyond.
Illustration 1: Ergonomic Workstation
Description: This illustration shows a person sitting in the appropriate way that helps using the computer in a healthy and secure way.
A poor sitting position can cause many health problems such as sore knees and tension in the back and shoulders. To avoid this make sure to keep your lower back supported, and adjust your chair so that you can easily reach your keyboard and mouse. If this means raising the chair so that your feet don't quite reach the floor, get a footrest to help keep your feet from dangling.
Improperly configured or placed monitors can cause a great deal of eyestrain, resulting in headaches and difficulty concentrating and tension in the neck. To avoid these troubles, make sure that the monitor is set at a height so that the neck will be straight and that the distance between the screen and the student is more than 50 cm. Some tips to help you are placing the keyboard away from the monitor and as far as possible on the desk and increasing the font size of the text on the screen if necessary so the student won’t be obliged to approach the screen. Note that the increasing use of flat screen monitors is allowing for better space use and more flexibility in screen position.
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:
- Keep the mouse easily within reach and try not to grip it 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 touch pad if you feel that the use of the mouse bothers the student
- Use mouse size proportional to the hands of students mainly for preschoolers.
If you spend a lot of your workday typing, where you place your keyboard and how you use it can greatly affect your risk for getting repetitive stress injuries. Your keyboard should be placed so that your arms are parallel to your thighs. If your desk doesn't allow for this, try getting a keyboard tray. You'll also want to do your best to use good typing techniques, keeping your wrists elevated and not hitting the keys too hard.
Common classroom lighting can often create a great deal of eyestrain by making the computer monitor screen difficult to see. In fact, working with computer often requires more light particularly for students with visual limitations. In this case, make sure to adjust the shades or lights as much as you can to reduce glare, and position the monitor screen at such an angle to light sources that reflection is reduced. Small desk lamps can also be helpful to keep overhead lights dimmed.
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 so that repetitive tasks and static work won't take their tolls. 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, conference, lecture, etc.) may help to deal with this issue while continuing the learning activities.
The compact size of the keyboard spacing, monitor size and pointers make the laptop users more at risk of suffering from hand cramps, repetitive stress injuries and eye strains than users of desktops. That’s why, when using a laptop, students have to use it while it's on the desk rather than on their lap. If used frequently, the user might benefit from using a separate keyboard and a mouse rather than using the built-in keyboard and touch pad to reduce strain on your wrists and hands.
Ideas on how to teach students how to use the computers in a healthy and secure way
To educate students on the importance of the an ergonomic workplace in order to keep the use of technology a secure activity in the classroom and beyond, you can
- Hold an awareness week during which you present them the characteristics of an ergonomic workplace and ask them to carry out tests adjustments.
- Offer students an opportunity to experience an awareness project in order to get them to discover and make known to the other students of the school the importance of a good position in front of the computer.
- Provide a platform for students to research a subject, contacting a person expert in the field of occupational therapy or physiotherapy, and maybe even invite the person in class to validate their research and recommendations.