Classroom seating plan = personality profile?

21 06 2008

This cartoon is kinda funny, and kinda true. But, it misses some subtleties – at least from the perspectives of grades.

Back in the day I was the Teachering Assistant for the statistics class, so I had access to all the student’s grades. I was curious about whether there was any correlation between where one sat and their grades, so decided to do a little experiment. Twice a week we passed around a seating chart and everyone sign in. At the end of the semester I averaged the grades of everyone who sat in each seat, basically giving each seat a GPA for the semester.

Seating was not assigned, though I found that people tended to sit in the same place – or within a seat or two on the same row – throughout the semester. Sometimes the row would be filled when the student got there late so they sat anywhere there was a free seat, but that happened very rarely – maybe once or twice and involved only a half-dozen or so of the 100+ students in the class.

The classroom itself was a lecture hall – a large space that could seat about 200 students. The seats were set up theater-style, with the back row at the top of the space – and where the entrance doors were located, while the front row was on the same level as the professor. About the third row back the seats had gained enough height that the students sitting there were at the same eye level as the professor. The seats at the back were a good 20′ above the eye-level of the professor.

The result was interesting, though for the most part not unexpected. The middle of the third row, and a few seats in the middle of the fourth row, is where the A’s clustered. The B’s wrapped around them like a layer of onion that was starting to dry out: thin on the front, more on the sides, and intermixed with A’s and C’s in the 4th through 6th rows. The C’s had a couple representatives at the sides of the front row, and then about 5 or 6 rows behind the A’s, and some mixing with B’s. Behind them was a thin layer of D’s, with the few F’s in the back corners.

The thing that surprised me were two groups in the front and back. In the front row with the few C’s there were a couple F’s. I didn’t know any of the students so don’t know their motivation for sitting there. However, I do know that they were friends of the C students sitting there, and they were all very concerned about passing the class as it was required for their major. (Why else would you take a stats class unless you HAD to take it, or were totally geeky?) I had tagged that group as being the desperate students quite early in the semester because of their chatter that I overheard, and so I assume that they all were hoping that by being closer to the front they would better their grade. And maybe they did; who knows what kind of grade they would have had if they had chosen other seats?

The other surprise was the back corners. Those seats averaged out to a poor A, or a medium B. That really shocked me, so I went back to see who was there, and found that it was primarily pre-med students or a couple other disciplines leading to elite jobs, or the campus goofs. The pre-med students used the stat class time to study other subjects. I guess the other students were also doing the same thing, though the subjects they were studying had nothing to do with their college classes, if you know what I mean.

Running this over a single semester does not make this a definitive study, obviously. Though this class containing 110+ students does give it a bit more credibility than a class of 15 students. Several semesters of classes would have been better, but I had graduated and could not do the follow up. Likewise a different floor plan would have been good to include, a “standard” class with the writing arm seats and a “flat” floor. Classes of different sizes would have been another variable to check out.

The question that came out of this experiment was why the grades clustered like they did. Did seat choice affect the student’s grade, somehow determining, or influencing, how well he/she would do? Or was there something in the student’s personality that led them to a seat appropriate for their grade? Did the A students get there early and select the 3rd row, B students get there a bit later and fill in, with C’s intermingling with B’s and filling in around them, with D’s filling in behind the C’s, and the F’s taking the left overs? (I’m throwing out the A’s in the back corners and the “desperate section” because they had specific motives for their seat choice.) How would one determine causative agents in the equation? These are curious and interesting questions. I guess these are geek questions.

If any of you have experience with seating vs. grades, I’d especially enjoy hearing from you.

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