“Lecture Hall” by Sholeh is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How Do Students Choose Where To Sit in a Classroom?

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“Lecture Hall” by Sholeh is licensed under CC BY 2.0Dr. David P. Smith, NTF, BSc, PhD, SFHEA

Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry / Course Leader MSc Molecular and Cellular Biology and National Teaching Fellow
Sheffield Hallam University, in the UK

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Lectures are not going to go away, when done well they can be an effective method for teaching large groups of students. To make the lecture experience more effective we wanted to find out why students chose to sit in a given location such that we can better interact with them during taught sessions. We also wanted to find out the reasons they made this choice and if this choice of location had an effect on finial attainment (marks). 

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

  • The choice of location has not real effect on the grades a student gets. High marks are equally likely at the front, middle and back of the room.
  • Academics perception of students likely to gain good marks is better predicted by if those students overtly interact.
  • The main reason given to sit in a location is to be with friends. These friendship groups tend to cluster together in rows. The members of these peer groups tended to get similar grades to other members in the group during problem solving tasks that involve collaboration.
  • Students sitting in eye-line at the front, actively want to engage, students sitting at the back do not want to overtly (openly) engage, but do want to be present. By overt or openly engage I mean answer questions in an open format so the whole room can hear.
  • Students often sit around the side of the rooms as they want to be able to “escape” not feel trapped or do not like people sitting behind them.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

  • Academics should be aware that students have chosen to sit where they feel comfortable, and so moving them around could have a negative effect on engagement. This can come about as you are asking students sit in an environment that they might find uncomfortable or even threatened.
  • Students who are happy to interact openly are at the front, those that would rather not are at the back. So you need ways of including all of them in the session, without needing them to speak openly. Anonymise text response systems are very good for this task or even the clicker based multiple choice systems.
  • When performing peer – peer interactions activities beware that students of similar ability are working together in the classroom. This means academically strong students are talking together but miss conceptions can get reinforced with an group. A better learning experience for all can be achieved by mixing these groups up. With out getting students to move this can be achieved by getting students to talk with people behind or in front of them as they will not know them directly. Academics could also get students to swap work with others in the room, to get written feedback. 

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

  • Gaining an understanding of why peer groups form in today’s students would be very helpful. What is driving the formation of the peer groups at the onset and what is the effect of that going forward in their academic life. Do students with a similar background always cluster into peer groups at University and does that then effect their final outcome.
  • What methods can we use that allow learning to be shared by all without breaking the strong bonds within friendship groups.
  • How do these peer group effect play out in other environments, for example what occurring in the taught laboratory setting when students are able to self select their lab partner.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

  • The patterns of seating choice was mapped out in one lecture theatre. However, we would hypothesis that in different locations the observations can be used. Openly engaged students at the front, students wishing not to engage openly at the back, students who like to feel safe, and not enclosed on the edges or near doorways. Friendship groups cluster together.

The staff involved in the work are all academics teaching on bioscience causes. Funding was from department of bioscience and chemistry at Sheffield Hallam University 


David P. Smith, Angela Hoare, Melissa M. Lacey. Who goes where? The importance of peer groups on attainment and the student use of the lecture theatre teaching space. FEBS Open Bio, 2018; DOI: 1002/2211-5463.12494




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Last Updated on August 30, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD