Guidelines on Computer Furniture Selection for Schools

from the System Shawtec Design Team

Topics Discussed

New Government Funding for School Computers The Goverment announced two initiatives in 1998 aimed at increasing the ratio of computers to students in Schools. See the W.A. Education Department Site for details.

One initiative commenced in 1998 which was aimed at halving the previously existing ratio of students to centrally funded computers in Primary and Secondary Schools. The second initiative commences in February 1999 and it runs over four years to further improve the ratio of students to computers. It is anticipated that by the year 2002 there will be a minimum of one computer for every 10 primary students and one computer for every 5 secondary student. It is expected that this funding will resut in an estimated 34,000 additional computers being made available to students in Western Australian Government Schools.

How many Computers can a classroom take? Because of the gradual introduction of computers into classrooms, careful planning is needed to ensure that the computer furniture selected can follow the transition to a fully electronic classroom. Over the comming years most classrooms may have small computing "zones" with pehaps 4 to 6 computers. These computer work zones suppliment the normal teaching roles and students take turns in accessing them. Beyond this number of computers, the room turns into a dedicated computer lab with students either sharing or having a PC to themselves.

Keep layout options open It is certain that the role of Computers in Education will dramatically change over the next few years. A key point in planning is to maintain flexibility in the arrangement and use of computers as their number and there usage changes. The range of Modular workstations developed by System Shawtec provides the flexibility to manage this transition. Each module in the range of desk designs can be applied in several configurations. While they may be configured as single user workstations now, the modules are equally suitable as the basis for dedicated computer labs well into the next century.

Determine the style of Computer Usage The style, shape and orientation of desks for classroom computers will be influenced by the focus of your computer teaching program. Will students work most of the time as individuals? Will they work collaboratively in groups of two or three? Or both? Will there be presentations to everyone in your classroom? Or discussions involving all students? Is space needed for non-computer activities?

Student Teacher eye contact With some computer labs its seems that it is a classroom of monitors not students!. In some situations students are able to "hide " behind the computer or miss important information and teachers cannot gauge the effectiveness of presentations and lectures. A layout that does not impede eye contact between the student and the instructor should be considered. System Shawtec's SPLIT range of workstations can be aligned in rows and by having the monitor lower than the desk height, visibility to the front is greatly enhanced. Alternatively the SWEEP range can be set up so that all the computers align in rows and students can look directly to the front. See the System Shawtec Workstations at Hale School's Technology Centre for an example.

How to Orient Your Room. When a few computers are introduced to a classroom there are generally a number of constraints regarding position.

  • Location of power points, network and internet cable.
  • Available space. As class sizes can at times be at their maximum, there may be very limited additional space.
  • If small computing zones are to be formed they should have some separation from the main teaching areas.
There is much more scope for designing a dedicated computer lab. Some points to consider are:
  • Conventional rows. These are advantageous for lectures, group training, and full time applications where there is not the need for interaction between students or individual attention from the instructor to the student. Rows can accomodate height adjustable desks or desks with diferent heights that can accomodate small students or students in wheelchairs.
  • Perimeter arrangement. This arrangement can leave the center of the room free for other activities. It is also the easiest for cable management.
  • Cluster Grouping. Its possible to arrange clusters of various desk modules that results in a highly efficient space utilisation. The general test for space efficiency is to consideraton is how much space surrounds the computer equipment that cannot be accessed by the student. The various illustrations of System Shawtec Workstations illustrate how with circular and hexagonal clusters the equipment if concentrated in the centre of the cluster while broad worksurfaces are available to the student at the perimeter. Clusters allow for efficient cabling since they can generally be served by a single entry and exit point. Clusters may take the following forms:
    • "L" configurations
    • "U" configurations
    • "Star" shapes
    • Clusters of 4 desks
    • Clusters of 6 desks

Depth and width for student workstations?  There is a fine line between wanting to provide enough space for each student to work comfortably and trying to get the most students into a given space. Some general guidelines:

  • Try to keep a distance of 1.5 - 2.0 m from the first row of desks to the front of the room. This should allow enough space for a teacher to stand and it is also the distance required by most overhead projection systems.
  • The ideal depth of desk that accomodates a conventional computer is between 800mm and 900mm. This allows some degree of adjustment for eye to screen distance. In many situations space constraints force the desk depth to 700mm but allowance for the screen to extend past the back of the desk is made. The desk modules that allow the computer to sit at an angled orientation such at the STAR and SWEEP are excellent since the PC is accomodated in a deeper area of the desk. With Laptops and notebook computers, desks as narrow as 600mm are suitable providing additional space is allocated to peripherals such as printers and network hubs.
  • Single user stations can be 900mm wide and two students can share a single PC on a desk that is 1200mm wide. Two User stations should be 1500mm wide. The range of rectangular desks that SystemShawtec manufactures can be ordered in any size and height up to 2400mm in length and 1000mm depth. These are a cost effictive way of accomodating up to 3 computers per desk.
  • Between rows of desks a minimum of 900mm is recommeded. ( more space to 1200mm is better if possible)
  • Aisles should be a minimum of 900mm and wider if possible.

Ergonomics - Screen Placement   There is much debate regarding "correct "ergonomics as applied to students at PCs in a classroom environment. Since this is multi - activity application, there are conflicting demands for vsibility to the screen, work materials and demonstration screens often at the front of the classroom.

Recommendations that originate from The International Standards Organisation (ISO)and Australian Standards (AS) were based exclusively on static anthropometric measures -a very unnatural posture. This particularly erect posture with a horizontal axis of vision can only be maintained for a few minutes. It is important to assess student posture in the clasroom and take steps to correct for poor ergnonomics- particularly when computing is involved.

As a guide when setting up, place the monitor on the worksurface, then, angle the monitor upward so that a line drawn from the user's eyes towards the center of the screen intersects the surface of the screen at a 90° angle. This sightline should slope 10° to 15° downward from the user's eyes. The low position of the monitor reduces eye movement & focusing adjustment when the user looks from the screen, to the keyboard, to reference materials beside the keyboard, & back to the screen. The upward, 90° intersect angle provides a distortion-free view of images on the screen. This placement is especially helpful to anyone wearing bi-focal glasses. Comfortable eye-to-screen distance varies from individual to individual. For normally-sighted people, it ranges from a minimum of 450 mm to 800mm or more. This is why monitors must be placed as far back in the workspace as possible; if they're not, a too-close screen location forces the user back from the tabletop edge, with the likelihood that hands, wrists & elbows won't be supported.

How High Should Desktops Be? System Shawtec provides offers the range of school workstation furniture in 5 heights that increase by 50mm at a time: 520mm, 570mm, 620mm, 670mm, and 720mm. Most office and commercial workstations are built to a standard height of 720mm. The smaller sizes follow the growth of students from pre-school to adult. Consider providing several tabletop heights in your classroom, so students can choose what's most comfortable. The "SPLIT" workstation range by SYSTEM Shawtec allows for independent adjiustment of the front and rear sections of the desk over the full five positions.

Fixing Modules into Clusters  All of System Shawtecs modules have junction connectors to lock them into rigid units. The problem with free-standing units is that they tend to creep from their intended positions as students come & go. Aisles gradually become too narrow or wide, & doorways & windows can end up blocked. Wiring from station to station can become exposed, with the risk of student & staff injury from tripping over cables, & computer & network crashes from electric power & signal disruptions.

Modular Workstations Work Best. Another advantage of a modular desk system is that you can add to, divide up, & reconfigure arrangements of student stations as your program changes & instructional technology evolves. Bottom line, keep your options open for the future. It's important that the manufacturer you select is committed to maintaining forward & backward compatibility of system components, as well as keeping replacement elements in stock in case of damage or vandalism; you don't want to end up with an orphan system!

Cable Management Is Critical. Anyone who has set up a computer will know that cables create a cluttered and messy looking enviromment that can also be a safety hazard. Cables left unmanaged can be tripped over causing harm to both student and hardware alike. All System Shawtec workstations provide desk surface cable ports to route cables under the desk surfaces. In addition there are a number of cable management chanels that support and direct the cables as required. All System Shawtec desk modules are designed to enable cabling to pass from one module to another effectively and safely.

Coping With Printers & Peripherals. Computer printers, scanners, & other peripherals are usually shared by several users via the Network. In cluster arrangements they are best housed on an optional platform level that sits above the screens. This avoids additional cabling and also does not take any working space away from the students. When straight desks are used in rows or in a perimeter arrangement, an additional desk 900mm or 1200mm can be used to house the peripherals

What About Chairs? For adult-size students who are orderly, an armless, upholstered, adjustable-height, swiveling chair on a five-arm castered base is ideal, especially if the floor is carpeted. If the floor is not carpeted, a castered chair may skid out from under a person who doesn't sit down on it squarely, with the potential for injury. If students are unruly, a castered chair can invite ride-around-the-room antics, especially if the floor isn't carpeted. In place of casters, you can specify self-leveling plastic glides. A swiveling capability allows students to turn from their workstations to the front of the class without having to get up from & lift their chairs. Seat height adjustment is important for proper ergonomic relationships of sitting height to tabletop height. A gas-lift base that adjusts with the touch of a lever is preferable for adults & orderly students, and these days are no more expensive than a height adjustment system that relies on spinning the seat up or down while the base is prevented from turning. Upholstered seats & backrests significantly reduce fatigue & physical distraction. Armrests are unnecessary and often undesirable because they typically prevent the user from sitting close to the edge of the worksurface. Avoid chairs with knobs that protrude from the backrest; when a student swivels the chair, the projecting knob may gouge a wall, the edge of a tabletop, or another student. Heavy duty construction is critical to withstanding the wear & tear of busy classrooms. A ``bargain" swivel chair is likely to fail in a few months.

Copyright © 2007 Shawtec - PO Box 56 - Belmont, WA., 6104. Ph. 08 9477 6911 - FAX: 08 9477 6922

For technical information about this site, email