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Corona risk — The Faculty of Humanities is to remove the tables from classrooms to make room for more students without breaking social distance rules. The Danish Association of Occupational Therapists says that it can lead to physical disability and concentration difficulties.
It sounds like something from a parody news site, a commenter writes on a Facebook group for humanities students at the University of Copenhagen. This is just one of the critical or derisive reactions to the Faculty of Humanities’ announcement that the coming semester will be without tables:
»When the tables are removed, there will be enough room for everyone. This means that you instead of table space for your computer and books, can attend class on campus and be with your fellow students, both academically and socially, and at the same time comply with the distancing requirements,« the faculty writes.
Associate Dean for Education at the Faculty of Humanities, Jens Erik Mogensen, says that the faculty has been working to ensure that students – due to the COVID-19 distancing requirements – were to attend half classes every second week, while otherwise keeping up with lectures via live streaming from home. But then management came up with an idea:
»The tables take up a lot of space, so there could only be 70 per cent – sometimes only 50 per cent – of the students in the classrooms to be in accordance with the new guidelines. If you removed the tables, there would be room for all of them, while complying with distancing requirements,« says Jens Erik Mogensen.
This is about priorities.
Jens Erik Mogensen, Associate Dean
The dean’s attempt to avoid infection by moving furniture does find some support among health experts (in spite of the derisive comments on Facebook). The Danish Health Authority’s guidelines on preventing the spread of infection contains a point on changing the layout of tables in primary school classes to prevent face-to-face contact. It states nothing, however, about table-free school classes.
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»This is about priorities. Our point of departure has always been that as many students as possible should be able to have on-campus teaching. This is based on feedback from students and lecturers. People need the social element of meeting up, and many students have felt lonely,« says Jens Erik Mogensen.
But how are you expected to take notes for the lectures?
»A table has a function, of course, but most people take notes on their laptops today,« says Jens Erik Mogensen. This was a point he also elaborated on to the listeners of the Danish radio channel P1 when the news broke of the Faculty of Humanities sacrificing their tables to prevent infection. Mogensen said to P1 that students could sit with a board on their lap so they would have a surface under their laptop.
»I said this as an aside. I had read some studies of male students’ sperm count, that stated that you should not sit directly with a laptop on your lap because it could negatively affect fertility,« says Jens Erik Mogensen.
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According to Jens Erik Mogensen, a board is available cheaply in supermarkets like Føtex, and that students have to buy it themselves. But how students work things put in a new table-free setting is »up to the individual students themselves,« the associate dean says.
How good is it for your back to have to sit hunched over your computer on a chair? Jens Erik Mogensen says that he is aware that the working position with a computer in your lap is not an optimal one:
»We need to be aware of whether there are any consequences in terms of ergonomics. We will see this as the situation evolves.«
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He says that it is, of course, important that the physical working environment is taken into consideration during lectures:
»I can imagine that you, as a lecturer, tell people to stretch their legs or backs, or whatever.«
»You can never defend having to sit like this at an educational institution. This will be the cause of injuries to the neck, back, arms and legs,« says the chairman of the Danish Association of Occupational Therapists Tina Nør Langager.
You can never defend having to sit like this at an educational institution.
Tina Nør Langager, chair of the Danish Association of Occupational Therapists
»For most people, the computer will be too low relative to the arms, and you will be sitting and tensing your neck muscles much more than if you had it on a table,« says Tina Nør Langager.
The missing tables will not only weaken students physically, but the working position with a computer on their laps will also give them concentration problems, she says.
»We need physical support to be able to concentrate on listening. When you don’t have that stability in your sitting position, the brain will be using energy to sit better and you won’t be able to listen to what is being said,« says Tina Nør Langager.
But can’t you do some exercises to prevent the injuries and help concentration?
»If you sit on a chair with a computer at home, you can find out how to sit with your arms and find the best support. You can buy a type of stabilisation cushion where you can get the computer up a bit higher. But this is not a solution that I would recommend in the long term,« says Tina Nør Langager, who questions the quality of the teaching when tables have been removed.
»If we want to have the best prerequisites for learning, we need people to sit properly. The fact that you can sit on a chair and do not have the option of a folding table or any form of support is completely inappropriate for the body and for learning,« says Tina Nør Langager.