Anyone who has taught at a college or university has experienced the follow scenario countless times: Students come to class on day one and choose their seats. Students sit in those exact same seats for the rest of the semester, even if moving (say, to be with members of a work group) would be more practical or to their advantage in some way.
Just because I am a disruptor at heart, but also because I want them to think about why they are sitting in the same seats over and over and over, I sometimes force my students to sit in a different place. If you really want to have fun in a seminar, arrive early on week four or five and grab someone else’s seat, then watch the discombob-ulation that follows as students enter the room and try to figure out where to sit in the new circumstances.
For years I’ve wondered why students cling so tenaciously to the seat they chose on day one. Now I know. Last night I was doing a teaching observation for a colleague who was teaching about behavioral economics and what the findings from this sub-discipline can teach us about the economic choices people make. It turns out that the behavioralists have a name and an explanation for my students’ behavior–status quo bias.
Now that I know the answer to this question that has puzzled me for years, I’m going to have to go read the book my colleague assigned for last night’s class (Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational) to see what other insights I can glean that will help me understand my students choices when it comes to learning.