Last week, the Free Will & Science course finished up their poster sessions. It was one of the most enriching classroom experiences I’ve ever witnessed.† In case you’re interested, here’s a post about the why and how of classroom poster sessions — including templates for your own classroom.
Why do Classroom Poster Sessions?
Poster sessions are great. They afford a uniquely valuable opportunity to present and discuss your research.
Conference Poster Sessions
At the conference poster sessions I’ve attended large crowds of people attend the session (especially if the poster session includes food and/or drinks). So in one poster session, presenters can easily have more than a dozen conversations about their research. And these conversations are not constrained to 5-10 minutes and moderated like they are in more traditional paper presentations. So discussions at poster sessions are much more focused, extended, and constructive. You just can’t get that from a traditional paper presentation.
Classroom Poster Sessions
Most undergraduate students do not attend academic conferences. So most undergraduate students do not get to experience the value of poster sessions. So if we want our students to benefit from poster sessions, then we might just have to put those poster sessions in our classroom. And here’s a few reasons to convince you that you should:
- Your students do your job for you. After all, there will be multiple classes dedicated solely to poster sessions. These are classes for which you do not need to prepare a lecture, activity, etc. Further, the students are presenting about the course materials, so the poster sessions are also review sessions. So classroom poster sessions buy you a few classes of learning and review in exchange for a bit of grading.
- In classroom poster sessions, students learn things that cannot be taught online (see 3-5). Many institutions want more higher education to happen online. For example, the state of Florida has committed to putting 40% of its’ credit hours online. So if higher educators don’t want their jobs to be replaced by recordings of their lectures, then they’ll need to show that their results cannot be replicated in online recordings. Fortunately for higher educators, students don’t learn as much from listening to lectures as they do from interactive classroom experiences (Colvin et al 2014). So higher educators might be able to secure their jobs with interactive experiences like classroom poster sessions.
- Students learn how to quickly pitch their ideas to peers and supervisors. Being able to quickly make a claim and argue for it is crucial in many, many settings. So it is important that students get an opportunity to do this (and evaluate their peers while they do it) before they graduate. Poster sessions are a great way to ensure that this happens.
- Students learn how to both ask and field questions about specific claims and arguments. This is largely the result of the fact that all students have a stake in both asking and answering questions. It’s part of their grade (see “Grading” below).
- With poster sessions, students can autonomously explore the course material in ways that they otherwise could not. Students can choose which view they argue for in their poster. And students can choose which posters they want to look at, talk about, and write about. Students just don’t have that much freedom in traditional classroom experiences.
- Presenting a poster to a few peers and your instructor is much less nerve-racking for students than presenting in front of an entire class. You’re talking only to a few people. So it’s more of a conversation than a presentation.
How to do Classroom Poster Sessions?
There are lots of ways to conduct classroom poster sessions. I’ll go over one way to do it. After that, I’ll give some examples of what students might produce and I’ll provide some templates for you to use for your own classroom.
First, students make a poster (outside of class) arguing for a particular view about free will. Second, students discuss and defend their poster in one of three poster sessions. Third, in the other two poster sessions, students discuss and ask questions at their peers’ posters. And after the poster sessions, students write two short (≅ 400 words) essays summarizing and evaluating two of their peers’ poster presentations.
Each component of the poster session jointly determines the students grade on the poster session assignment. You can weigh each component however you like. E.g., you could weigh each element equally:
- Poster (33%)
- Poster presentation (33%)
- Two essays about two peers’ posters (34%)
Notice that this assumes the instructor (or grader, at least) would need to visit each poster and experience the student’s presentation. NB: I found it helpful to look at each poster in advance of each poster session so that I was prepared with some questions.
In the Free Will & Science course, the poster sessions happened in the 13th week of the (15 week) semester. Students have one more assignment after the poster session: A final paper that summarizes, criticizes, and then salvages one of the views from the course. Naturally, the poster exercise is a good warm up for that final paper.
Examples & Templates
There are many ways to make a poster and there are many ways to write a poster summary. In case you’re looking for templates, here’s a Powerpoint template for a simple poster and a Word template for a simple poster summary. And here’s a preview of the templates:
Classroom poster sessions have a lot to offer to both teachers and their students. And in some regards, classroom poster sessions seem superior to more traditional pedagogical practices. In short, there are plenty of reasons to include classroom poster sessions in your next course.
† Huge thanks to Marcela Herdova for introducing me to classroom poster sessions in her Free Will & Science course.