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Task Furniture in Education - The research, design and development of innovative school furniture for classroom tasks, accommodating the latest technology and responding to new teaching methods

Final Report Summary - TFE (Task Furniture in Education - The research, design and development of innovative school furniture for classroom tasks, accommodating the latest technology and responding to new teaching methods.)

Task Furniture for Education
Final Report

European studies have found that 60% of school pupils experience back problems by the age of 16. The use of computers at home and in schools has changed the way that children and young adults learn, work and play, yet, little emphasis has been placed on the health risks that arise from these changes in educational activity. The demand for appropriate school furniture is now urgent and in order to promote the health and well-being of future generations, the best possible school furniture is required.

The aim of the project was to exploit the opportunity for knowledge transfer and new product development within a consortium of complementary researchers working in the field of Task Furniture in Education (‘Task Furniture’ here refers to seating, desks and related items used by pupils in schools). The project was conceived and structured to research and develop new and innovative task furniture solutions addressing modern advances in teaching and learning, the integration of technology in the classroom and the postural implications for children and young adults in schools.

The four-year project combined the expertise of three industry partners representing furniture manufacture (VS Vereinigte Spezialmöbelfabriken GmbH & Co. KG), educational learning environments (Fielding Nair International) and ergonomic testing (Bundesarbeitsgemein-schaft für Haltungs-und Bewegungs-förderung e.V.) and three academic partners (National College of Art and Design, Ireland; Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and Escola Superior de Artes e Design, Portugal) in a work programme that was structured to exploit the synergies of the partners. The total value of EU Commission funding was €1.33 million which was matched by contributions from the partners.

The project involved designing, developing and testing conceptual models, prototypes and methods to help establish practical, economic, sustainable solutions for Task Furniture in Education, creating new guidelines for policymakers, industry and stakeholders and disseminating this new knowledge to a diverse range of audiences. The project sought to fully engage key stakeholders and prospective and actual users of task furniture through an open design participatory model of design research, creating a series of design concepts, methods and guidelines that sought to address the ergonomic issues facing schoolchildren by applying and adapting the best ergonomic user-centred design and research.

The key scientific findings and outputs of the project were:

Review and Analysis
The project has resulted in the production of a comprehensive review of the most up-to-date theories, practices and design applications in the field of contemporary task seating. Through a series of lab, studio and field based studies the TFE team has analysed and reviewed the burgeoning use of computer technology within classrooms, determined the physical performance to be catered for in the design of task seating for children and young adults in education and reviewed the pedagogical practices of contemporary education. These reviews will provide future researchers with a strong platform for further academic and industry research and development.


Design Development
The project successfully developed, tested and evaluated new concepts for task furniture through an iterative process of idea generation meeting established research criteria, utilising the knowledge base of the many expert ergonomists and designers working in the field, and producing working prototypes, methods and guidelines suitable for industry. Facilitating idea generation and evaluation using a participatory process enabled the TFE team to produce outcomes that were enriched and informed by real world experiences. Concepts ranged from furniture modification, through to new forms of standing desks and tablet based learning environments. These will be of interest to furniture design manufacturers, and help inform a new template for task furniture for education.

Ergonomic Testing
The exploratory research led to the development of an observation checklist and testing methodology for secondary schoolchildren. As one of the first studies to quantify sedentary behaviour in the context of the secondary school classroom, the research undertaken is of particular interest to the ergonomic community and the development of European standards such as EN1729, with the research demonstrating that there is a lot more to the comfort and wellbeing of pupils in school than simply responding to anthropometric data.

Knowledge Transfer
The project has promoted and developed interdisciplinary working methods and practices to help ensure that pedagogical, ergonomic and IT knowledge be successfully transferred to the design of pedagogically sound, economically viable, health-positive and attractive furniture products for use in 21st century learning. The design and ergonomic study guidelines produced will be of considerable interest to national and professional bodies, international associations and the furniture design and ergonomics community.

Dissemination
The project has highlighted key discoveries and developments in the area of task furniture in education through academic publication, online platforms and participatory design workshops, competitions and public engagement activities that actively sought to escape the ivory tower of much ‘traditional’ research. The use of an open design process will be of particular interest to the design research sector, and demonstrates the potential benefits of crowdsourcing design development, designing ‘with’ rather than for ‘for’ people.

Conclusion
The TFE project has produced an interdisciplinary body of research findings that demonstrate the synergies brought about through a design-led research process, and provide an impactful legacy of guidelines, concepts and prototypes that can be commercially exploited, widely adopted by a range of stakeholders and above all improve the long-term health and well-being of school pupils through the design, manufacture and adoption of 21st century Task Furniture for Education.

Professor Alex Milton
Principal Investigator

For further information please visit:
www.tferesearch.com
www.movingeducation.net

Contact Details:
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Phone: +353 (0)6364000
Postal: Task Furniture in Education, NCAD,
100 Thomas Street,
Dublin, Ireland