I promised two follow-up posts to the ReGenring17 conference, but as one of them is also related to thinking recently disseminated at the internal Learning and Teaching conference at Staffordshire University, I thought I would put in this little interlude sharing with you what I talked about then.
The use (and possible mis-use) of academic posters is something I have been thinking about a lot recently, so while I have blogged about this previously here, here is a little update on my thinking. This has been informed by looking at a lot of posters in the academic realm from all sorts of disciplines.
Ever since visualisation literacy researcher and designer Lulu Pinney introduced me to the distinction of designing for immersing the audience in a subject or for igniting their interest in the subject, I have looked out for those distinctions. And I think current poster practice can be located along this spectrum – from immersing to igniting. Here are some (stereotypical) examples I have seen over and over again:
The Spineless Report
The idea behind this poster is to put as much of the data you collected onto the poster. It shouts “look at all the stuff that I have done! Surely I deserve extra credit for having collected this much data!” This might not be the best way to communicate your findings, but very often students end up with a poster like this, particularly if this is the only assignment they have to do. The text is invariably way too small to read, there is too much of it. Pictures, if there are any included, tend to be too small. This type of poster is truly trying to immerse you in its subject, and if you drown in all that information, then that is too bad.
The Box Set
This type of poster follows very clear rules and sections information into boxes. Very often this is based on a template given by the tutor. This is a much more sensible way to use posters in learning and teaching, but again it can often become an exercise in let’s see how much information I can cram into these boxes.
In practice this very often uses smart art from word processing programs, specifically the one that looks most impressive, but not necessarily the one that makes the most sense in the context of the research. However, the infographic format can be really helpful if used correctly – if the student can then avoid the temptation to fill the rest of their poster with text again. And the question remains where to put all the extra research, unless there is another outlet in the assignment mix.
The Visual Metaphor
This type of poster is dominated by a visual, and adds some text to explain the metaphor as well as extra details.
The Big Picture
Another type of poster that is dominated by a visual, this time not a visual metaphor, but rather a design or photograph of an actual thing of situation. Text explains the image and adds extra details.
The Poster Spectrum and Higher Education
All of these different examples – and there are probably a few more – have some traits in common. With the genre of the (printed) poster comes the idea of a limited amount of space, usually in a prescribed rectangular size, although the maker might get to choose orientation. With specifying an academic or research poster usually comes the aim of summarising a particular project for a specific audience (that might be experts in the field or lay people, for example). And when academics and researchers put together posters they know their objectives, whether it is to network, tell people about an on-going project or just needed to hand in something so they could attend a particular conference. Based on that knowledge, and of the knowledge of the specific home discipline, it is easy to choose where to locate one’s own poster on the immersing/igniting spectrum.
However, when using the poster format within Higher Education as assessments, this becomes more difficult. I have seen a lot of guidance on academic poster design that highlights the importance of using visuals and being careful not to use too much text. In a way it seems that the advice is to stay away from the immersing end of the spectrum. The assessment acts as another layer of requirement. If the poster is the only assessment required for a course, students have little choice but to go for the immersing end of the spectrum, because it becomes about demonstrating as much of the research they have done as possible. If, however, the poster is part of an assessment mix, then students can afford to not include everything on it, because there will be other opportunities to include those details and information, such as a handout or report, for example. So potentially this will make for less text-heavy posters.
As educators using the academic poster as a learning opportunity for our students, we need to be clear about our objectives in assigning them AND we need to make sure that our students are clear about the aims that the posters themselves have. We need to talk to them about the different types of posters they could produce and the pros and cons each type might bring with it. Because not every poster is alike.
Can you think of any other types not yet included? Please let me know in a comment!