Posters are tools that enable visualization in the classroom to foster student learning. Cognitive science supports the visual display of information as useful for student learning; in particular, dual coding theory describes the benefit of both verbal and non-verbal processes for key components of cognition (Clark & Paivio, 1991). Posters provide an opportunity to pair visual learning with textbook reading, lecture, and traditional homework assignments. As such, posters are often created by students to visually display a significant course project, developing research, or a particular perspective for class to consider. Posters have typically been adopted in STEM courses, but they can be highly effective in humanities courses (Manarin, 2016), and have been shown to improve metacognitive practice too (Logan, et. al, 2015).
Instructors looking to implement posters in the classroom can consider using the backward design process to develop a poster activity aligned with course learning outcomes. The following examples provide approaches to this strategy:
- Class Brainstorm - An instructor poses a question to the class and gathers student responses on a poster for a class brainstorm. A student volunteer or the instructor acts as the scribe.
- Summary of Main Ideas - Students work together in small groups to summarize main ideas from class readings or other lessons. Each group later gives a 1-minute overview to the class of the ideas captured.
- Concept Map - In order to tie together key concepts learned from the course, students work in groups to create a concept map, providing a window into their conceptual understanding. The instructor uses these maps as formative assessment.
- Common Poster Presentation - Students choose a topic to investigate further for a class project, or carry out research for independent study or class. They display their main ideas on a poster and present it to the class, the instructor, or to attendees at a departmental poster session.
- Problem-solving - Students in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) course work in groups and are assigned particular problems to solve. They work out their solutions on posters.
- Before-/After-Assessment of Knowledge - Students are given a particular task such as developing a concept map or listing all of their knowledge about a particular topic at the beginning of a course or class session. The instructor saves these “pre-” posters. At the end of the course, or class, the students repeat that task. The instructor displays the “before-” and “after-” posters side-by-side and asks students to consider their learning progression. The instructor also uses their posters to monitor whether they have reached particular learning outcomes.
- Diagram of a Process - For certain processes, visualization via a diagram can be useful for learning. An instructor presents the process to the class and asks the students to draw it out on large posters, which reinforces collaboration, varied learning, and skills application.
- Timeline - Students develop a timeline of major events learned on a poster. Examples could include: events leading up to a historical event such as the Civil War, geological time scales, or the life events of a particular historical figure.
- Table - Students have a list of key terms, such as important historical figures, based on course content. They complete a table, filling in key information, and comparing posters to ascertain missing elements or different perspectives. Students then use this table as a study tool.
- Venn Diagram - Students capture similarities and differences between the items under discussion in class by creating a Venn diagram.
- Select an appropriate poster type - Posters come in many forms, from traditional cardboard to large post-it note versions with adhesive backing, to formal displays printed by companies. Instructors can consider the space available and the assignment when choosing a poster type. For example, if a classroom has limited table space, but available wall space, posters with adhesive backing are likely easier to utilize, with students standing around the poster during the construction process. If there is sufficient table space, the traditional cardboard poster may be sufficient. For more formal poster presentations, the traditional tri-fold cardboard posters may suffice, or formal posters printed through a copy company. Depending on the activity and appropriateness, students may be asked to purchase their own posters for class.
- Implement a gallery walk - An instructor can consider implementing a gallery walk to encourage students to examine the posters of their peers. In this teaching strategy, when all posters are completed, students are given time to walk around the class to review the work of others. After the gallery walk, students can be encouraged to share their observations with their peers. Further, students can give brief lightning-style talks at their poster to describe their work.
- Archive posters - With the ease of modern camera technology on smartphones, posters can easily be captured and filed digitally. Instructors can consider taking pictures of all posters and uploading them to their course learning management system tool such as Canvas for archival purposes. Alternatively, they can ask their students to take a picture of their poster and upload it to the course site.
- Encourage Poster Study - Students can use their posters as a study tool, especially if the material from the poster will be assessed in class at a later point.
Clark, JM. and Paivio, A. (1991). Dual coding theory and education. Educational Psychology Review, 3(3): 149-170.
Logan, J., Quinones, R., and Sunderland, D. (2015). Poster Presentations: Turning a Lab of the Week into a Culminating Experience. Journal of Chemical Education 92.1: 96-101.
Manarin, K. (2016). Interpreting Undergraduate Research Posters in the Literature Classroom. Teaching & Learning Inquiry 4.1: 1-15.