Creative Student Assignments: Poster Projects

Looking for a final course project for your students that might give them an authentic learning experience – building skills they can use in their post-college careers? Think about a poster assignment.

For STEM career-path students, poster sessions are certain to be a part of their futures. Increasingly, those in Humanities and Social Sciences are finding that poster sessions are being seen in their professional/academic conferences. Posters and similar presentation approaches are becoming part of business (including non-profit) practice as well.

Student presenting at a poster session.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Becky Strauss

Poster projects can be designed to foster student research, writing, and presentation skills as well as pushing them to think visually. If having students print out their final product for presentation is too costly and/or space for a poster session is limited, students can present electronically. In fact, the easiest way to create a poster is to use a size-customized (e.g., 48”x36”) PowerPoint or Keynote slide, so presenting on a large screen to a class is feasible and cost effective.

You will want to provide students with specific objectives as well as concrete instructions, and, preferably, a few checkpoint deadlines along the way. Fortunately there are many online resources and guides for poster creators.  Here are three (if you have other sources, please share in the comments section):

SUNY at Buffalo Libraries – Designing Effective Posters
A collaborative effort hosted at NCSU: Creating Effective Poster Presentations
This one combines short videos and text in an introduction to Poster Design, especially good for layout and design elements.

There are many more, as well as YouTube and Vimeo video tutorials.

First time poster creators tend to err on the side of having too much text, so you should give your students some specific guidelines.  These, for example, can be adapted according to your pedagogical goals and academic discipline:

Title = 1-2 short lines
Abstract (if required) = ~50 words
Introduction = ~200 words
Materials/methods = ~200 words
Results = ~200 words
Conclusion = ~100 words
Other sections (footnotes, acknowledgements, sponsors) = ~50 words
TOTAL < 800 words

A total word count of 800 is may be difficult to achieve, but getting as close to that as possible will keep the content concise and focused. It will also leave more room for images and diagrams, the elements that will be most attractive to viewers in a crowded poster session.

You will want your students to think about using consistent design elements (layout, font, color, images, and data display) so that their visual language is both unique and subject-appropriate. This attention to consistent design will also set them apart from other displays. Looking at examples of posters in class and having your students discuss what is effective and what is not can be a good way to get students thinking visually. Use Google Images  to search for “examples of scientific posters” or “examples of humanities posters” or examples in your specific discipline to start the conversation.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Reid Sczerba, Multimedia Developer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Credit: NASA/GSFC/Becky Strauss