Friday, September 01, 2006

Effects of Physical Features on Performance and Feelings

Point 1: Noise

A common expectation is that noise will have a negative effect on task performance, however laboratory research results are mixed. This is mostly due to the number of variables involved, e.g. the properties of the noise, the type of task being performed, the stress tolerance and other personality characteristics of the individual (Baker & Holding 1993) lead to inconclusive findings since it would be very hard to control all these variables. This places some doubt over the validity of laboratory experimental research methods to investigate this phenomenon.

Nevertheless there are some interesting findings. For eample, loud noise does not seem to effect the performance of simple motor or mental tasks, though sudden noise may distract and break concentration. Worse is unpredictable noise which does seem to have a negative effect on more complex tasks, however these effects seem to be overcome if the individual perceives that they have control over the noise (Glass & Singer 1972). Persinger et al (1999) undertook a study looking at the effect of background noise sound fluctuation from ventilation fans on the tiredness of students. During four consecutive lectures, data was collected after each hour, that reflected student fatigue and their ability to concentrate. During half of these lectures, overhead ventilation fans in the lecture hall were turned on, generating sound that was more or less continuous and averaged about 60-65dB. During the remaining lectures the fans were turned off. The effects of noise were dramatic: Student reported greater fatigue when exposed to the noise conditions and this may have interfered with their ability to concentrate.

However the effects of noise on performance may not always be immediate, this may be because the arousal which noise creates will last after the event and therefore we may see 'after-effects'. Glass et al (1969) found that participants who were exposed to high volumes of unpredictable and uncontrollable noise before attempting a task showed lower levels of frustration tolerance (as indicated by continuing, or not, with an insoluble puzzle problem). Similarly Sherrod et al (1977) found that the greater the perceived control that participants had over noise the more persistent they were in working through unsolvable puzzles once the noise had stopped.

Point 2: Crowded Conditions

The ability to perform well or otherwise in crowded conditions has very significant 'real world' implications. For example, the number of students that are appropriate in a classroom for effective learning to take place. Early research tended to show that there was little or no effect on performance in crowded or overcrowded conditions (Freedman et al, 1971). Recently the UK government has endorsed research that showed student learning was not affected by class size. However this does not fit with our lived experience of teaching and learning nor indeed with other research findings. For example, in general, high density has minimal effects on learning of simple concepts appropriate to a lecture format, but interferes with learning of complex concepts and with activities that require students to interact (e.g., Ahrentzen et al., 1982; Weinstein, 1979).

Point 3: Seating Arrangements

Sociopetal spacing (spacing that brings people together) as opposed to sociofugal spacing (spacing that separates people) tends to be closely associated with more interaction. For example, Sommer & Ross (1953) found that by altering the layout of chairs from being in lines around the room of a psychiatric ward to being in circles doubled the level of interaction between patients. One may presume that this will be the same in educational environments. However learning is not all about group interaction, indeed much teaching and learning occurs in fairly traditional didactic formats. The study below highlights the need for us to recognise that different classroom layouts are only as good as the educational objectives that are set.

A study that you may find of interest (because it obtains results that you may not anticpate) in regards to the impact of seating arrangements and learning is outlined below -

Wheldall et al (1981)

Aim: To compare the effect of classroom seating arrangements (in rows or around tables) on children's 'ontask' behaviour.

Method: Two mixed-ability classes from different schools in the UK, containing children aged 10 and 11, where seating was normally around tables, were systematically observed for two weeks in their usual 'tables' seating arrangement, followed by a further two weeks seated in rows, and finally for another two weeks seated around tables. The classes were observed daily by two independent observers for 30 to 40 minutes during academic lessons. Using a stopwatch and pre-prepared sheet, each child was observed and rated every 5 seconds as to whether s/he had been 'on-task' for the whole of he preceding 5 seconds or not. 'On-task' behaviour was defined as compliance with teacher instructions, eye contact with the teacher when requested, eye contact with textbooks and materials when asked to get on with set work. 'Off-task' behaviour included calling out, interrupting a neighbour, talking to a neighbour, being out of one's seat without permission, non-compliance with teacher instructions and not getting on with the set work.

Results: The inter-observer agreement was around 90%, supporting the reliability of the measures obtained. For both classes, mean on-task behaviour was higher when the children were placed in rows then when they were seated around tables. The rows condition had its most powerful effect on children with low initial on-task behaviour. Overall, on-task behaviour was lower in the final tables condition than in the initial one. After the study was carried out, the children said that they preferred sitting in rows, and the teachers of both classes opted for a permanent change to rows.

Conclusions: Children pay more attention in class when they are seated in rows.

Sourced from Legge & Harari (2000).

Point 4: Lighting

We know that natural lighting, or rather the lack of it, can directly affect mood levels because of the diagnosable disorder of S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Disorder). So we would expect that lighting, in paces like schools, will have some affect on student learning behaviours and mood. Below are some studies that suggest there is a link between lighting and educational performance.

Titoff (1999) using a controlled study verified that depression was lowered among those students who experienced learning under full-spectrum lighting. Also, depression actually increased under standard fluorescent lights among the fourth graders (USA system). As an elementary school principal, Titoff discovered that when the project was completed, “the teachers with the full-spectrum lighting refused to let me take it out and put back the old-style fluorescent bulbs.”

Harmon (1938) found that over 4000 children developed observable deficiencies associated with Malillumination (poor lighting). In the late 1940's conditions of the learning environment (lighting, seating and decor) were improved in a selected number of schools, resulting in the following student improvements: 65% reduction in visual difficulties, 47.8% decline in nutritional problems, 43.3% reduction in chronic infections, 25.6% reduction in postural problems and, finally, 55.6% decline in chronic fatigue. Though we should note that this research is correlational, not experimental.

Ott (1960) first discovered that mice lived an average of seven to eight months under pink and daylight-white fluorescent lights; whereas those mice living under natural, unfiltered daylight lived twice as long and were hardier. In 1973, Ott studied four, first grade classes in Florida. Two classrooms were installed with full-spectrum, radiation-shielded fluorescent light fixtures, while the other two classrooms remained with the traditional cool-white fluorescent bulbs. Concealed time-lapsed cameras took random sequences of students and teachers in the classrooms. Although teachers were aware of the research, neither they nor the students were aware of when they were being photographed. With cool-white fluorescent lighting, some students demonstrated hyperactivity, fatigue, irritability, and attention deficits. In the classrooms with full-spectrum lighting, however, behavior and classroom performance, as well as overall academic achievement, improved markedly within one month after the new lights were installed. Furthermore, several learning-disabled children with extreme hyperactivity problems calmed down and seemed to overcome some of their learning and reading problems while in classrooms with full-spectrum lighting.


Post a Comment

<< Home