Ergonomics in Lectures

This sheet gives information about ergonomics in lectures - how to promote good posture in sitting and taking notes in a lecture or seminar.

Posture and movement

In a lecture, the most likely posture is sitting. What is a good sitting posture?

In the ideal sitting posture:

  • the back and neck are upright - as if a cord attached to the top of your head is pulling you upwards, but with the natural S-shape curve maintained;
  • the shoulders are relaxed, not hunched up;
  • the weight is passed through the pelvis (the ischial tuberosities), not the lower back;
  • there is flexibility in movement;
  • hips are at no greater than 90 degrees; when the hips are at 60 degrees, it puts less strain on the lower back to maintain the natural curves;
  • the knees and ankles are at approximately 90 degrees;
  • And, ideally, there is support at the back.

Typically, we tend to lean forward, hunch our shoulders, cross our legs - and then we need to take notes, which frequently means twisting and leaning to one side, if there is a lift-up table in the lecture theatre. While the ideal is not always possible, good ergonomics is getting as close to ideal as we can.

Tip: Check your posture the next time you are in a lecture, and try to sit up, with your shoulders relaxed.

The movements that are most commonly performed when in a lecture are small movements of the dominant wrist and hand, when taking notes by hand. Adopting a static posture, particularly a bad one, combined with only small movements of the wrist and hand can cause difficulties.

If possible, maintain the good sitting posture described above while taking notes. This may mean raising the height at which you write (e.g. by leaning on a folder).

If possible, change your posture slightly during the lecture. It is ideal if there are breaks in lectures of more than one hour. In lectures of an hour, try to check your posture and perform simple, discreet movements (such as rolling your shoulders) on occasion.

Ways to make note-taking more ergonomic are described in the work organisation section below.

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Environmental factors

In a lecture, the student has limited control over the environment; however, there are some possibilities:

  • If a PowerPoint presentation or overhead projector is being used, ask for the lights that are directly in front of the screen, or that shine onto the screen, to be turned off. This reduces glare on the screen, making it easier to read.
  • Dress appropriately for the temperature of the room. Remove coats etc before the lecture starts if needed..
  • It is each student's responsibility not to talk in a lecture, and it is important that all distracting noises are avoided, such as talking, rustling of papers etc.
  • If it is difficult to hear the lecturer, ask for a microphone to be turned on, or sit closer to the front. If other students are asking questions that are hard to hear, ask for these to be repeated..
  • Position yourself in a good place in the lecture theatre - at the very back makes hearing and reading harder; in some lecture theatres, sitting at the front means that you need to tilt your head back to read the board. If you are left-handed, where possible get a chair with a left-handed table.

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Work Organisation, Information and Operation

The way that you work in a lecture may have a significant influence on your ability to adopt a good ergonomic seated position. Key tasks involved in lectures involve taking notes, listening to the content and understanding / remembering the content.

Make sure that the desk on which you are writing is at the right height for you. If needed, use a folder or large book to raise the height of the desk.

Note-taking strategies:

Note-taking is a skill in itself. If a person is franticly hand-writing verbatim what the lecturer is saying, then it seems more likely that their position will not be very ergonomic. Reduce the volume of writing that you need to do, while making sure that you have all of the relevant information.

  • If notes are available before the class, get these and print them out. This way, you will only need to supplement the existing notes with information from the lecturer.
  • If notes are available after the class, make sure that you note key pieces of information, to add to the notes.
  • Consider sharing notes with class-mates.
  • Do a learning style questionnaire, and adopt a style of note-taking that best supports your learning style preference.
  • If there is recommended reading, do this before the class, so that you will be aware of the topic and possible terminology used.
  • If you can, take short breaks in writing, and stretch and release your hand.

Some people find it easier and quicker to use a laptop computer to take notes. This may suit some people, but may be more awkward for others. If you do intend to use a laptop for note-taking, see the guide on laptop use in this series.

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