09 SES 02 A, Investigating Conditions of and Influences on Test Performance
The purpose of this research study was to investigate and identify possible patterns relating to academic performance on the effects of university students self-selecting where to sit in a lecture theatre.
The key research questions are:
- Does seating position affect student performance?
- Do the most academically able and engaged students regularly sit at the front of lecture theatres?
It also seeks to investigate and report on possible natural temporal seating migrations, such as movements due to taught content or other significant events such as in-term assessments or final exams.
The answers to these questions will gain insights in the effects of seating on student academic performance. This has possible consequences for teaching delivery styles and architectural design of lecture theatres throughout Europe and worldwide.
The performance effect of where students sit during university lectures has received much research attention (Weinstein 1979). Conventional teaching experience and most the research in the area has suggested that students that regularly sit at the front of the lecture theatre tend to achieve higher grades than those that sit elsewhere (Benedict and Hoag 2004; Holliman and Anderson 1986; Pedersen 1994). These studies have tended to conclude that higher grades are achieved by the regular front row occupants because the academically best able students tend to voluntarily position themselves there.
Decision to sit at front - attitudes
Other studies have sought to further identify factors why there appears to be a relationship between grades and seating distance from the lecturer. Some studies have sought to establish the causation factors in the decision making of students with regard to decision to where to sit. These studies have included an analysis of the attitudes of the students including attendance (Stires 1980), attention (Schwebel 1972) and motivation (Burda 1996). Generally they suggest that those that sit at the front are indeed the best attenders, most attentive and motivated.
However the convention that the best students are to be found at the front was challenged by Perkins (2005). In that seating experiment seats where randomly allocated to the students. Nevertheless the report concurs with the majority of other studies illustrating the generalised pattern of degradation of final grade the further back the students sat. This would suggest that there are other factors affecting performance and seating than simply student ability or positive attitudes.
Better learning experience
Regardless of ability or engagement perhaps the students that sit at the front may simply have a better learning experience and consequently end up with better grades.
Marx (1983) links active participation of students in a lecture with a more positive learning experience and resulting in a strong positive influence on attention and long-term memory storage. Students that sit up front are generally less inhibited at asking questions and are able to make better eye contact with the lecturer and are regularly the most participative (Cuseo 2007).
There are some other obvious logistical reasons a student may opt to sit at the front. These include where their friends are sitting or if the student were late to class and the front happens to be all that is available (Mastrine 2012) or better visibility and improved ability to hear at the front (Martin 2012).
Gaps in the research
The methodology employed in most of the seating studies involved students being restricted to the same seat for all lectures. It is arguable that this control restriction improperly influences the research outcomes. It also follows that any temporal factors that may influence a student to change seats could not be accessed or reported on in these studies.
Benedict, M.E., and J. Hoag. 2004. Seating location in large lectures: Are seating preferences or location related to course performance? Journal of Economic Education 35 (3): 215–31. Burda, J. M., and Brooks, C. I. (1996). College classroom seating position and changes in achievement motivation over a semester. Psychological Reports, 78, 331-336. Cuseo, J., Fecas, V. S., & Thompson, A. (2007). Thriving in College & Beyond: Research-Based Strategies for Academic Success and Personal Development. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hint. Giles, R. M. et al. (1982). Recall of lecture information: A question of what, when, and where. Medical Education, 16(5), 264-268. Holliman, W.B., and H.N. Anderson. 1986. Proximity and student density as ecological variables in a college classroom. Teaching of Psychology 13 (4): 200–03. Kalinowski, Steven; Taper, Mark L 2007 The Effect of Seat Location on Exam Grades and Student Perceptions in an Introductory Biology Class. Journal of College Science Teaching, v36 n4 p54-57 Jan-Feb 2007 Kierwa, K. A. (2000). Fish giver or fishing teacher? The lure of strategy instruction. Teaching at UNL, 22(3), pp. 1-3. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska-Lincoln Pedersen, D.M. 1994. Personality and classroom seating. Perceptual and Motor Skills 78 (33): 1355–60. Mastrine, J. (2012) Does where you sit in the classroom say a lot about you? Available at http://college.usatoday.com/2012/01/05/does-where-you-sit-in-class-say-a-lot-about-you/ Martin, J (2012) It doesn’t matter where I sit does it? The Effect of Changing Classroom Seating Position on Student Performance and Motivation Factors. Online Educational Research Journal. Available at : http://www.oerj.org/View?action=viewPDF&paper=51 Marx, R. W. (1983). Student perception in classrooms. Educational Psychologist, 18, 145-164. Schwebel, A.L. and Cherlin, D.L. (1972) Physical and social distancing in teacherpupil relationships. J. Educ. Psychol. 63, 543-550. Stires, L. (1980) Classroom seating location, student grades, and attitudes: Environment or self-selection. Environ. Behav, 12, 241-254. Weinstein, C.S. 1979. The physical environment of the school: A review of the research. Review of Educational Research 49 (4): 577–610.
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