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Exam season: Tragedy of the (Learning) Commons

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Isn’t it so annoying when you are looking for a space in the Library or Ali G and you see a space, but someone has dumped their stuff there and left? Or you’re sitting next to someone and they decide it’s the perfect time to eat their tuna mayo sandwich? Now don’t get me wrong, we’ve all be there and done something annoying in the Library at some point. Whether that’s saving seats for your housemates who said they would be there for 10, but it’s now 11 and you have people staring you down to give up the seats. Or maybe you were so hungry you had to open those steak flavoured McCoy’s, you couldn’t possibly have carried on without some form of salty and filling snack.

Each time we carry out one of these irritating acts, Garrett Hardin’s theory on public goods would claim we are carrying out a tragedy in the commons. Back in 1968, Hardin coined this phrase ‘tragedy of the commons’ to describe the problem of when open resources are exploited by the public because each person’s personal incentive is to use up the resource before anyone else can. We, as students, are a case in point when we rush to the Library or Ali G during exam season so to get the best seats or to claim one of the university computers because we all have our own best interests at heart when we do this. This is not to say that we should all not use these resources, but if we all begin to exploit them we run the risk of causing tragedy in our learning spaces at uni.  Therefore, we need to be considerate of others when we use these spaces which leads me to some points which we can all agree are annoying things people do in the Library…

Computers & laptops

Using a laptop and a computer at the same time during the busy periods of the term is inconsiderate. Not everyone has the privilege of owning a laptop, or at least one that works. For these people, the University’s computers are their only option to do work on so if you have a laptop don’t waste a computer as well – having two screens is great but you’re exploiting the resources when you do this!

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Saving places for others

This is a more contextual point as it depends on how long the person is going to be and how busy the Library is. If you see lots of people coming in looking for spaces and your friend is not going to be there for another hour, you should probably give up the space it’s only fair – think about how you would feel if you were the person looking for a space.

Hogging a space

Like the previous point, this is dependent on the context. If you are going to be working there all day but need to go out for an hour then that would be okay, but if you have a three-hour seminar then this is exploiting the resource.

Smelly Food

Food is a difficult one, because we’ve all got to have some nice snacks when we’re working. But think about what you’re eating, if you had someone next to you about to eat what you are going to eat, would you want them next to you? Also remember that with some foods, such as peanuts, even the smell can cause an allergic reaction. Just be considerate and remember not everyone is a fan of tuna mayo!

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In previous years there have been stories of people’s laptops and mobile phones being stolen. Imagine having your dissertation/essay/project being stolen as you went to the loo (and there’s no mitigating circumstances for stolen property). It is sad to acknowledge that there are people out there that will do this, but as students working in these spaces we can be vigilant and look out for each other. If someone goes to get a coffee, keep watch of their stuff as you would want someone to do the same for your laptop or phone.

So, as we come to the exam season, please keep my ranting remarks with you. January is a tough time for everyone on campus, but if we are considerate of our fellow students we can at least make our learning spaces a more pleasant place to work.  Good luck with all your assessments, see you on the other side!

What’s the worst moment you’ve had in one of the learning spaces on campus? Tweet me at @FrancesLiddell or send in your moments to frances.liddell@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk.

Or you can share your moments with Students at Manchester, tweet @uomstudentnews or email studentnews@manchester.ac.uk. 

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