The Results Are in! Recent Ergonomics Research on Sit-Stand Desks in the University Classroom 

University students are bound to see changes in the classroom this year, but will those changes make the grade? Recent studies highlight the fact that students would be happy to see sit-stand desks lining the classroom. 

One question that draws interest is whether college students are inclined to use an alternative workstation in class. That’s what researchers were trying to find out in a new study from Western University’s Exercise and Health Psychology Laboratory. They wanted to know what kind of seating students preferred in a university classroom, and whether students would actually use sit-stand desks in the classroom. They looked at classrooms with fixed standing desks, sit-stand desks, and dynamic sitting options like exercise balls, and compared them to traditional sedentary classrooms.

The study found that students would overwhelmingly like to use a standing desk in the classroom. Even though fewer than 15% have ever had the opportunity to try any sort of standing desk, the great majority (62%) would prefer to see their classrooms outfitted with adjustable sit-stand workstations. And over 80% said they would use a sit-stand workstation in the classroom if it were available. (Most students preferred a height-adjustable workstation to a fixed standing desk.) Similar results have been found at the University of Iowa, which raises further questions about how sit-stand desks would affect student health and performance.

Why Standing Desk Research Is Important for University Students

The Western University study builds on what other researchers have long accepted – the value of ergonomic desks. In the workplace, companies find increased morale when they pay attention to ergonomics. Universities commonly invest in ergonomic assessments and accommodations for staff and faculty to create an environment that encourages healthy behaviors. Ergonomic workstations in office environments are understood to reduce awkward or prolonged postures and repetitive motions, which in the end helps reduce musculoskeletal disorders. These same principles make sense in a university classroom as well.

Students know the importance of ergonomics too. As one student in the Western University study said, “Sitting for too long is not good for your health.” The fact is that sedentary behaviors begin around age 12 and accelerate into adulthood. When students hit college age, they find themselves sedentary an average of 11 hours a day. Universities form the front lines to help reverse this trend, and standing desks in the classroom are a signal flare that a university values and prioritizes student health and wellness.

The Moment for Sit-Stand Desks

The timing of this research is ideal. Currently most college and university classrooms resemble the same rooms from decades ago, and have not yet adapted to new methods of instruction. Think of tight fixed rows of desks and chairs. Universities are re-imagining many aspects of traditional college instruction, and redesigning learning spaces has emerged as one of the biggest trends. 

Classrooms redesign efforts are driven by the need to bring in more digital elements, the desire to accommodate more active learning, and, more recently, social distancing requirements. The new classroom models encourage active learning and natural collaboration. They allow more mobility, more flexibility, and more digital device usage. With the need for social distancing, desks that enable easy classroom reconfiguration have become that much more critical. Electric sit-stand desks with power cords would limit options for adaptable environments, but pneumatic height adjustable desks present an ideal solution. 

The Western University study of ergonomic desks for the university classroom clearly shows that students would like to try stand-up desks in the classroom, particularly in the back rows where they would cause no distraction. As an alternative to traditional seated desks, students overwhelmingly favor the sit-stand option. Students would likely find quicker and quieter pneumatic height adjustable tables less distracting than their noisier electric counterparts.

Beyond the University

The great enterprise of universities is to train young minds how to think creatively, to expand our knowledge and do more than we did before, and better. Students arrive on college campuses in the fall ready to embrace new experiences that they may not have considered. For most, it is a stage in life when they are most open to ideas, and are exposed to them in many forms.

Answering the call for stand-up desks in the classroom may be more than a temporary way to improve spinal alignment, or productivity, or sensory engagement for these students. If we can retrain our brains about movement while training our minds in university classrooms, how can this benefit life beyond the classroom? Simply presenting the option of sit-stand desks poses no real risk, with great potential benefit in the long term. At best, it could encourage something more fundamental to a university education – a lifelong flexibility and openness to good ideas.

 

Resources

Smith ST, Deck S, Prapavessis H (2019) Students and Faculty Perceptions of Standing and Dynamic Sitting in the University Classroom. J Ergonomics 9:256. doi: 10.35248/2165-7556.19.9.256