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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


SLABBERT, Irene; MENTZ, Elsa  and  OOSTHUIZEN, Izak. The ergonomically ideal computer lab for the enhancement of learner security. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.1, pp.111-128. ISSN 2224-7912.

Ergonomics is the discipline which focuses on the impact of human needs and capabilities on the design of technological systems for the purpose of promoting harmonious cooperation between humankind and technology. In computer studies, it studies the interaction between pupils and the computer environment in order to promote learner well-being. The future health and learning opportunities of learners are at risk if computer skills are not mastered in a safe and healthy environment. Risks associated with computers have increased because of the increased time young people spend with their computers both at school and for recreation. The use of computers as teaching aids has also increased. The purpose of this article is to report on research that was conducted in computer labs in high schools in South Africa about the establishment of an ideal ergonomic environment in order to assure optimal learner security in the computer labs. Caring supervision is a prerequisite for optimal teaching and learning. Security expresses itself in a classroom environment in terms of pedagogical outcomes as well as the physical security and well-being of the pupil. The provision of security in the computer lab is not restricted to the present; it is also prospective in that it is aimed at the future security and health of the pupils. A computer environment that does not comply with ergonomic norms could harbour a number of health risks for students, including muscular-skeletal injuries due to an incorrect posture, also headaches caused by conditions such as a glaring screen or insufficient lighting. Pupils could also become victims of safety hazards such as electrical shorts and fires caused by electric cables lying on the floor, and faulty appliances. There are a number of guidelines available with respect to the design of a computer lab, amongst others concerning equipment and furniture, the support of wrists, the use of the mouse, keyboard, non-reflecting screens, the height of the screen, the adjustability of apparatus, lighting, a good view of the projector screen and white board, the document stand, and the size of the computer stand. An empirical survey was done to establish to what degree computer labs indeed complied with the guidelines and general expectations. A qualitative interpretivistic design was used. The study population (n=8) consisted of all the Computer Application Technology teachers of high schools in one of the regions of the North-West Province of South Africa. Observations were recorded in all 8 of the schools. Use was made of an observation schedule. In addition to this, several photos were taken to confirm what had been observed. The observations were further confirmed by means of interviews with the teachers based on semi-structured questions. Categories of responses and observations were created on the basis of coding. The same was done with respect to the obstacles encountered by the respondents to change their computer rooms into ergonomically safe places. It was found that none of the computer science labs visited fully complied with the guidelines as stipulated above. Some of them had uneven floors, in others papers were lying around and cables ran over the floors creating electrical hazards, none had wrist support for using the mouse or the keyboard, only three had mouse pads but room to use the mouse was limited, no computer screens were adjustable, most computer stands were too small to place a book onto it, no desk could be adjusted, only two labs had document stands but they were incorrectly placed with respect to the rest of the apparatus, there were no upholstered chairs, no chair provided lower back support, none had footrests, and most did not provide for the addition of such a rest. In most rooms the lighting was inadequate or reflected from the screens, in some it was difficult to see on the data projector screen because of the lighting, the artificial lighting in one room was poor, and in no room any ergonomic awareness posters appeared on the walls. Most computer labs fortunately had recently serviced fire distinguishers. Teachers identified the following as obstacles to overcome before their labs would be ergonomically up to the required standard: ignorance on the part of the teachers, absence of guidelines with respect to safety and health, a shortage of money and the attitudes of all involved. They also had to contend with the possibility of fire and other health hazards such as uneven floors and untidy rooms. In addition to this, they were not aware of their liability due to neglect, and of the fact that the computer labs were actually contributing to the insecurity of their learners in terms of health problems. Teachers, schools and departments of education should take a number of urgent steps, the most simple of which is to resort to creative methods such as using pillows on chairs and books under screens. Schools should immediately draft safety and health guidelines for computer labs, and the ergonomic design of such rooms should enjoy high priority from departments of education. Teachers and principals should also not only be made aware of the need for ergonomically well-designed classrooms, but should indeed receive in-service training in this regard.

Keywords : ergonomics; computer ergonomics; ergonomics in schools; computer health risks; classroom safety; security; learner security; computer lab safety.

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