Laptops and Furniture in the Classroom

These are just some summative thoughts about ergonomic issues of laptops in the classroom. It's in fact an e-mail response to the question, "What kind of furniture should we get in the Middle School to accommodate laptop use?":

To cut to the chase, the issue is with the laptop, not the furniture. Laptops were never intended to be used as a primary working device. Their popularity, portability, and (unfortunately) profitability has changed that.

The only ergonomically proper way to work with a laptop is to elevate it, so the monitor is centered about 15 degrees down from a forward gaze, and at least at arm's length. This means an external monitor (preferably ergonomic) must be attached and placed on a relatively low table or keyboard tray, or on the lap. See the short, good video
And another idea is to have room sets of laptop pads, which elevate them on your lap a bit. Chairs with adjustable heights, as I got for my lab last year also make sense, particularly in a Middle School with all shapes and sizes, but good ergonomic ones are very expensive.

Since a lot of this advice doesn't lend itself easily to traditional school table and chair arrangements, the best thing when looking for furniture is to keep in mind the basics of good ergonomics, as hinted at above. For more details, I think I do a pretty good job with the following links:

And as I stress in the above link, beyond an optimal physical set up, variety and limits of time on the laptop are key. And this leads to the one major ergonomic advantage of laptops, you can indeed use them in a variety of positions. So having some bean-bag stations in the corner of the room would be a great idea, and encouraging kids to switch between having them on their laps, and having them on the table is also very good advice. For, if it takes x amount of time to reach the threshold of a certain repetitive stress injury, it takes x/2 amount of time to reach that threshold if you have two quite different positions you use equally.