Posters and Post-its
Poster sessions are established features of academic conferences. They are periods in which people with contributions which do not add up to full papers, or those wanting to up-date on work in progress, are each allocated a table or space in a hall, where they put up a stand or simply stick a poster on the wall. Originators stand by the poster, and other delegates wander around reading them and talking to their "owners". (This may take place over a "nutrition break" as they are now known.)
There are several ways in which this idea can be adapted for teaching purposes.
- It can be used instead of a series of presentations, especially when the group is large, and a succession of presentations would take too much time.
- Designing the poster in small groups is a useful way of breaking up a long and perhaps rather arid teaching sequence. Encourage members to express theoretical ideas in some graphic and metaphorical way, using flip-chart paper and felt-tip pens, then display them during a coffee- or meal-break.
- Teacher-designed posters can be used to inform students about by-ways of the subject which do not justify taking up time in main classes, but which are nevertheless valid aspects of it. School-teachers make very good use of posters in their classrooms; why not college and university teachers? (Assuming you work in a regular room.)
- Mini-posters: anything from the size of a Post-it note upwards can be stuck on a wall to note student reactions to a teaching sequence: people can anonymously ask the teacher to vary the pace, use simpler language, or spend more time on particular topics and less on others. Again useful for large groups. Give everyone a few post-its at the start, and encourage them to stick them up as they leave the room.
- Reporting-back from large numbers of small groups can be done in this way, too. Instruct the group reporters to write just one point on each piece of paper or card. Wandering around the groups, pick up a general idea of the main themes which are likely to emerge. Use this to start a mind-map on the whiteboard, or divide it into columns or areas. Reporters then post their individual findings onto this in the appropriate place, and everyone gets a chance to have a good look at the result before the next session.
- Use a similar system to match up students with information to provide, with those who want to know it. We used to do this as part of an induction programme when students came with very different experiences of working in disparate areas of social work. Each would be asked to list their experience on cards ("working with young offenders", "day-care for dementia sufferers" etc.) and also their areas of ignorance, on different coloured cards. Matching these up provided the basis for informal student-led seminars for the best part of a week, and ensured that when we started "teaching proper", there was a much more consistent base of shared experience to work with.
- Photograph the posters and the post-its, and put them on the Virtual Learning Environment or a module blog.
Posters give something to do as well as something to look at, and enable students to get out of their seats.
As ever, always make sure that you give value to what is offered by commenting on it both formally and informally, and refer back to it in formal teaching. (Very easy if they are still on the wall)