A Plea for Poster Sessions

Many research methods classes end with student presentations of their research papers. In the typical format, this requires faculty to clear three days of class time for students and faculty alike to sit there and be bored by badly organized and poorly designed ‘presentations’ of research. Unless students are given significant guidance on what to include and how to organize it, their talks usually omit important elements of the paper. Instructors resent the loss of class time, students resent either the loss of instructional time or the obligation to sit there and appear attentive when they don’t care, and no one really gains much from the whole situation except, perhaps, a small bit of public speaking experience.

I’d like to make a plea instead for poster sessions instead of presentations. In a typical 50- or 75-minute class,  you can run two mini sessions where half the class presents and half is the audience. This costs you one period of instructional time – perhaps two – instead of three or four for standard presentations. Poster sessions are all about audience involvement. Instead of talking about their research once, students will speak about it informally and repeatedly for 20 minutes and respond to more questions from their peers as audience clusters come and go. They learn to speak succinctly and clearly about just the highlights of their research while still having to respond to questions about the details that students glean from the poster. With the aid of a simple poster review sheet, the audience members will engage more with their peers’ research and think more critically about it because their active involvement is a crucial part of poster sessions.

In short, poster sessions are significantly more active than traditional panel-style presentations, and they have clear benefits for presenters, audience members, and faculty alike. Guidance for students (and faculty) on what to put on a poster, and how to convert your traditional powerpoint presentation to a poster, is in chapter 11 of my Empirical Research and Writing: A Political Science Student’s Practical Guide. (Or request a review copy from CQ Press.) It also contains some basic suggestions for how to organize a poster session in a regular classroom without nice big bulletin boards.

One thought on “A Plea for Poster Sessions

Leave a Reply