The passion with which many people responded to each of the articles on sitting and standing workstations was both surprising and gratifying. I didn’t realize it was such a hot button topic, but it is gratifying to know how many people are reading the articles we publish here. Analytics aside, it is sometimes hard to know for sure. I think the consensus of informed response was that a middle path is needed. The more variety, change, and adjustability in the user’s posture, the better the results will be. There are many performance indicators (physical, cognitive, and affective) and it is impossible to maximize all of them – a perfect posture, elevated cardio to compensate for the lack of other movement, emotional balance, task support, and cost.
This article is the last in the series. It was motivated by the recent push to create a child-focused technical group within HFES, the number of hours that students spend at their desks in school, and the lack of control they have for adjusting, customizing, or taking any independent initiative regarding how the sit, stand or otherwise position themselves in the classroom. So the middle path might be hard to pull off for them. Further complicating matters, organizationally schools are constrained more than most companies are by cost, lurch this was and that by hype that galvanizes ergonomically uninformed parents and teachers, and a desire by administrations to be uniform throughout their school district.
So when Fast Company published this case study I jumped. It demonstrates many of these characteristics. Vallecito Elementary School in San Rafael, California went from all seated desks to all standing desks throughout the school. They started with one classroom based on the efforts of one set of parents. Within just a few years (not enough for longitudinal research), they took the plunge for the whole school.
“We left that day and that was sort of the first time we thought, hey, we’ve been recommending standing desks to every adult we work with in the corporate world or athletic world or otherwise, and yet there we are sending our kids off to sit there all day for six hours,”
The motivation was the elevated cardio that this set of parents had experienced with standing workstations in other environments (including their gym). To the school’s credit, they did review the research before making the switch, but as we have discussed in the past articles in this series, the research is mixed, depends on what performance measures are being used, and doesn’t always consider the benefits of variation. The research cited regarding the effects of standing for school desks is based on short term studies, weak control groups, and a high risk of a placebo effect.
But despite all my doubts, I can also think of some reasons that standing might be particularly useful for students of that age in school. The article suggests that standing might be good for students with ADHD. Despite (full disclosure – my personal opinion) the vast overdiagnosis of ADHD, I agree that it is good for any fidgety student. Even at the university level, I encourage my students to stand up and walk around frequently during class and I intentionally design my courses to have very limited activities that require students to sit still and listen passively.
Because of the dearth of research, I am not going to make any recommendations for what should be done in schools. But this particular domain is very important because of the constraints I listed above and the importance of our kids’ education to the future of society. So the one thing I will ask for is more research on the subject. I am glad to hear of the movement to create an HFES technical group. And if you want to chime in some opinions, I have no doubt you will take advantage of the opportunity.
Image Credit: Alan Levine