Learnometers and Covid-19 by Professor Heppell
Professor Stephen Heppell has written an article on how the Learnometer can be used to deal with the challenges of a classroom during the covid-19 pandemic. You can read the full article below and on his website
LEARNOMETERS and CoVID-19…
Our Learnometer research project has been helping to optimise the learning environment for over half a decade now. It has produced some remarkable improvements in attainment, engagement, wellbeing. Put simply, when the light, sound, CO2, humidity and more are optimal, learning is too.
But CoVID-19 has brought new challenges and the little Learnometers with their cloud based data visualisation and on-board displays are offering real help to schools looking to keep learners safe, as well as keeping the learning at personal best levels. I’ll keep this CoVID update brief (but with links if you need detail), everyone is busy.
Caveat: papers seem to come out daily about CoVID and some offer counterintuitive conclusions. We are monitoring this emerging research and will add it below when it changes our understanding.
This is very important. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a large group of chemicals found in indoor environments and damaging to cognitive processes. Our Learnometers measure a group of 50 VOCs.
Unfortunately, because of CoVID induced Deep Cleaning we are seeing huge spikes in VOC concentration in schools. We have never seen these levels before.
Put simply, in trying to clean surfaces as thoroughly and frequently as possible, to protect children, the chemicals released by that cleaning (and they linger in the air for many hours) damage children’s learning. Using your Learnometers to chart VOCs in your buildings, helps develop a less harmful cleaning regime (eg cleaning at the end of the day, ventilating spaces afterwards, changing cleaning materials).
There are many studies on TVOCs and cognitive function, all unequivocal in their concerns. Here’s one we haven’t mentioned before.
Much of our previous research has helped schools drop their CO2 levels to below 1,000 parts per million – the level at which cognitive perfomance starts to become compromised. For example our Bring Your Own Plant project has shown dramatic drops in CO2 levels together with associated falls in ADHD, whilst academic performance and engagement climb.
Outdoor atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are now over 400 parts per million, but that is still much better than many classrooms. We have found many classrooms over 5,000 ppm. If you are looking to justify greater outdoor learning as you try to distance children in the limited indoor space available, the Learnometer gives a very clear score and justification.
But also, lower CO2 is (beyond plants) usually a function of excellent ventilation. Some air-con units just chill the air in a room, others import and chill fresh air. Now that the W.H.O. CoVID research is implicating the dangers of coronavirus being spread through the air in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, that ventilation becomes dramatically more important. CO2 levels are a good marker for better and more effective ventilation.
Learnometers have an excellent and very accurate CO2 sensor on board.
We are very clear that a temperature range of 18°C – 21°C is optimal for learning – and performance drops in a straight line beyond that.
However, research into CoVID infection suggests that there is a definitive association between infection rates for COVID-19 and ambient temperature, with the highest risk occurring around 9°C but higher risk observed all around that value. In brief: too cold is bad for CoVID, too warm is bad for learning.
Learnometers give a 24/7 display of room temperatures to help avoid both peaks and troughs. Perhaps most usefully, by allowing students to see the data, a meta-awareness cuts in and helps the children to manage their ambient temperatures.
And remember that coronaviruses are thermolabile, which means that they are susceptible to normal cooking temperatures (70°C+). So in busy spaces (like dining rooms) eating raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Please don’t put your Learnometers in the oven to check though!
So much to think about in keeping children safe… but humidity is important in two ways.
Firstly, cilia (outside of cells that line your airways) do not function as well in dry conditions — and they cannot expel viral particles as well as they otherwise would. Dry is bad in this respect.
Secondly, in winter as cold, dry air comes indoors and is warmed, the relative humidity indoors drops by about 20%.That drop makes it easier for airborne viral particles to travel. So dry may be bad in this respect too.
One thing we have been pleased about in our Learnometer research is that it all joins up – that aggregation of marginal gains we spoke about at the outset holds true even in a CoVID crisis. If you are using plants to cut CO2 levels in the classroom, deaden noise and improve oxygen, you’ll be delighted to hear that the moist soil also keeps humidity up. Which is a Good Thing in CoVID terms too, but beware: very high levels of humidity (eg in meat packing plants) can also make a contribution to higher infection. Apparently, 40–60% humidity may be ideal. Measure yours.
Helpfully, our Learnometers also measure humidity accurately.
We know that light levels above 500 lux, with the pure white LED bulbs that have Kelvin values of around 6,000, are just a great way to keep attention + engagement up, with misbehaviours + distraction down. So probably you will be sorting out the lights in your learning spaces very soon, if you haven’t started already.
But we are also monitoring the impact of ultraviolet (UV-C) bulbs in deactivating viruses. Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Labs have had great results – we will keep you in touch with developments – but it does look as if a proper look at your lighting will need to be a budget item going forwards.
Learnometers measure light levels of course and some of our most dramtic and immediate gains have come from sorting out the lights. Not the least were gains in reduced headaches and absence from colleagues spending all day under bad lighting.
Fine Dust (PM2.5)
The current Learnometers also measure microparticulates – soot dust from diesel engines for example. There is much debate about the role of the particles as a vehicle for aerosol droplet transmission, for example. But we already know that the impact on learner progress from high levels can be devastating.
If you are planning ways to better ventilate your learning spaces for greater CoVID safety. Discovering for example that simply opening windows will increase levels of PM2.5 could help you to consider other ventilation solutions (although beware rapid and / or loud fan noise which is also damaging cognitively).
Learnometers measure other things too, associated with better learning (noise levels for example). And of course you can simply assemble sensors from all over (a science lab?) to measure the factors above.