Volume 54, Number 9
Puget Sound Chapter Launches “Technically Cool Computing”
By Kim Popovic, 2011 PSHFES Community Projects Chair
The HFES Puget Sound Chapter (PSHFES) is excited to announce that “Technically Cool Computing” (TCC) launched online this year. TCC is a user-friendly, 45-minute learning module that can be implemented by teachers or other volunteers to help educate fourth- through eighth-grade schoolchildren about appropriate computing posture, as well as quick and practical ways to adapt their computer workstations to reduce exposure to risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders. A free activity kit is available here. This educational tool is in line with two of PSHFES’s missions: to provide volunteer opportunities for HFES professionals to contribute to the Puget Sound community, and to raise public awareness of the value and benefits of human factors/ergonomics.
In 2007, PSHFES decided to focus on educating kids about ergonomics and formed the Ergonomics for Schools Project Committee. We found that very limited educational materials geared toward kids were available online in the United States and that we could not easily adapt the little we found internationally. Our literature review revealed evidence that both children and adults have experienced discomfort while at the computer. Among several studies reporting discomfort among children was a 2009 publication by Karen Jacobs, S. Hudak, and J. McGiffert (“Computer-Related Posture and Musculoskeletal Discomfort in Middle School Students, WORK, Vol. 32, pp. 275–283) finding that 40%–58% of middle schoolchildren surveyed reported discomfort while using the computer. Additional articles suggested that pain in childhood may be a predictor of future discomfort and an increased risk of musculoskeletal injury in adulthood. Studies have also found that children’s body postures at the computer are awkward in part because most equipment and furniture does not fit their smaller stature, which can increase the risk of discomfort and injury.
Given these findings, we decided to focus primarily on fourth- through eighth-graders because, on average, children in this age range often must use larger furniture and equipment (e.g., mice and keyboards) that are intended for use by adults. We also could not find much educational material targeted toward this younger age group.
The Technically Cool Computing Activity Kit is a collection of documents to guide those without ergonomics experience in teaching children appropriate postures while at the computer. The kit includes a letter directed to educators and a letter for parents explaining the purpose of the program. It also includes a PowerPoint presentation for use in classes, with notes to guide the instructor. The presentation depicts awkward postures that have been corrected with simple, everyday items. For example, one of the PowerPoint slides illustrates the “power pose,” which helps teach kids that if they work at the computer in this posture, they’ll get their homework done more quickly and have more energy for other activities they enjoy. We have found that this educates not only the children but the instructors as well.
The Activity Worksheet helps the instructor lead children as they work in pairs to look at each other’s arms, shoulders, head, knees, toes, spine, and eyes to detect awkward postures. The Problem-Solving Worksheet gives clear and practical suggestions about how to correct awkward postures. There is now a “TCC Train the Trainer” video, courtesy of GoErgo. Finally, a brief survey at www.pshfes.org enables those who have used the TCC kit to provide feedback and results. We hope to receive enough feedback to help us track outcomes and make modifications to the kit.
One of the challenges PSHFES has faced is finding the time to work with busy teachers and schools, but our persistence has started to pay off. Our chapter has piloted this project with several fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade classes in the greater Seattle region with great success. In our first class project in 2009, which used an initial iteration of the curriculum, 72% of students were able to recognize risk-producing postures and 61% of students were successful in correcting postures at their computer workstations. In addition, 89% of students felt they could repeat the exercise at home on their own computers.
After the first several pilot classes, we made drastic improvements to the handouts and curriculum. In the most recent pilot classes in 2010, which used the current TCC activity kit, 100% of the students reported they were able to recognize awkward postures and also were successful in improving their postures at their classroom workstations. As a result of one of the pilot classes, something exciting was unintentionally discovered: The desks in the K–6-grade classroom were set to the highest setting, which meant the desks were too high for many of the fourth graders and therefore were much too high for most of the younger children. Later, the school varied the desk height to better fit the kindergarteners through sixth graders, which was very rewarding for the PSHFES ergonomists who led this class.
The PSHFES Schools Committee has decided that the next step is to spread the word about the TCC teaching kit. We presented TCC at the PSHFES Annual Symposium in 2010, which consisted of about 100 of the region’s ergonomists, physical and occupational therapists, engineers, vocational rehabilitation counselors, safety and health managers, and occupational health nurses. In January 2011, we hosted a train-the-trainer event in the Puget Sound area for about 30 people, focusing not only on the materials contained in the activity kit but also on discussing TCC with the attendees after the presentation. We were happy with the feedback and reception from the eclectic group of attendees in both groups, which included a few former teachers.
We launched the final version of the activity kit online in early 2011, just prior to the chapter’s TCC presentation at the Applied Ergonomics Conference. Following that presentation, GoErgo developed the train-the-trainer video, which provides in-depth instruction and guidance for using the TCC kit materials and valuable lessons learned throughout our experiences of teaching the class and developing the kit..
With so many children using a multitude of electronic devices at an early age, we believe it’s important to provide education for students to achieve comfort, efficiency, and safety in their computer habits to help ensure a healthier workforce in the future. As the Technically Cool Computing project continues to evolve, one of our primary goals is to publicize it so more people have access to this free and effective program. Please join the discussion at PSHFES’s Linked-In group to get updates about TCC and help us continue to develop and distribute the kit. For more information or to comment, please contact me at CommunityProjects@pshfes.org.
Kim Popovic, PT, is an ergonomics consultant with ErgoFitConsulting, Inc.
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