This article was written by Sofia Doyle, our contributing student author.
As Teaching Block 2 comes to an end and exam period begins, study spaces at Bristol have started to fill up. It is around this time of year that finding a seat in the Arts and Social Sciences Library after 10am is nothing short of a miracle. With that said, it is clear that we all have our favourite places to study; our go-to spaces where we feel we can get the work done. Some feel motivated by the grandeur of the Wills Memorial Library, others enjoy the buzz of the Arts and Social Sciences, while my personal preference is the retreat offered by a small study room for those studying Master’s degrees in SPAIS.
Despite many peoples’ clear preferences, most of the time we do not question what it is about a particular spatial environment that appeals to each of us as a place to study. We might know where we want to go, but the reasons why are a little more hazy. When we do talk about it, factors that often come up include the likelihood of getting a ‘good seat’, proximity to subject specific resources, and whether or not your friends and a cafe is nearby for the all important coffee break(s).
Recent research into student perceptions of their learning environment have sought to dig deeper into these questions, unearthing what makes a good study space and why. This research has investigated both physical and social factors that influence how we feel about the spaces in which we learn.
In respect to physical factors that impact our learning environments, the research shows that temperature, light, and air quality are of major importance. A space in a room with a lack of sufficient natural or artificial lighting, that is too hot or too cold, or is stuffy with no air-flow, is unlikely to fulfil the ‘good seat’ criteria. In fact, a room that’s overly hot and stuffy is not only uncomfortable to study in, but can have a significant impact on concentration levels.
On the social side of things, research has shown we prefer quiet spaces when completing individual work, and tend more to avoid the hustle and bustle of busy social environments. This is contrasted to the benefits of more social spaces for group project work. Learning environments that combine the ability to retreat to quiet study while providing access to social spaces like cafes or canteens score highly; they give us the opportunity to complete individual study while facilitating spaces where we can collaborate and socialise with our peers. In other words: the best of both worlds.
While we seldom think about these factors on the way to the library in the morning, they may be subconsciously influencing our decision to study in some spaces over others. Next time we all snag our favourite library seats, it might be worth reflecting on the physical and social environment of the study space we are in. Does it tick all the boxes, or could it be better?
Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching