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    • 22 December 2020

      How has social interaction changed during the pandemic? We measured it

      Places for learning and the ability to learn with and from others – have tremendous, measurable effects on our ability to learn. So it’s no surprise that the ongoing pandemic has dealt a major blow to traditional learning this year, requiring students and teachers to adjust to new methods with little notice. Gone are packed classrooms, gone are small breakout groups, gone are shared supplies and face-to-face discussion.

    • As part of an Industrial Ph.D. focusing on social interaction in higher education spaces, research fellow Krister Jens has spent the last two years investigating how students use communal spaces in the University of Cincinnati’s Lindner College of Business. While the two years have been nearly antithetical (particularly in the context of the study), the sensor-based approach has revealed interesting data regarding how people move, behave, and use the different spaces.

      Focusing on three areas, the atrium, working desks and round tables, Krister’s study zoomed in on and collected social distancing data before and after the pandemic using following parameters: movement and occupancy of the building, social interactions and group formations of users, and user activities and social distances.

      The first conclusion is also a predictable one: before the institution of COVID-19 restrictions, students regularly occupied multiple social hotspots throughout the Lindner Building. Afterwards, the number of hotspots reduced and students sat at larger distances from each other. The greatest increase in physical distances between individual occupants were found at the working desks with 59%, followed by the atrium with 25%, and finally the round tables with an increase of 10%. On average, there was an increase of 50 cm in distance between people in the atrium and almost 100 cm at the work desks.

      And while occupancy duration in both the atrium and the working desks reduced dramatically after guidelines were instituted, the average group (3+ people) occupancy at the round tables has shown a significant increase – from 3.3 minutes to 12 minutes.

      Why does this matter?

      We crave – need - social interaction. In times where close contact is unsafe, finding safe alternatives is crucial. The variety of spaces, spaces that support the distancing needed to maintain distance, available at the Lindner College of Business allowed students the moments of interaction they needed. These insights can help us consider what design principles are key in Designing architectural layouts, interior spaceplanning, and bespoke furniture that are resilient in the face of changing user needs and societal shocks.