Can poster assignments improve the student learning experience? Benefits for students and educators

Recent years have seen increased emphasis on developing the student learning experience in business school education. In addition to understanding how students engage with learning materials in their respective units of study, attention has turned to how students develop insights about themselves and their own personal development in the learning process (Dixon, 2022; Bovil, 2020).

Correspondingly, there has been an increased interest in how this learning can be represented in assessment work. ‘Reflective practice’ (Finlay, 2008), such as the ERA Cycle (Jasper, 2013) and the 5R Model (Bain, Ballantyne, Mills & Lester, 2002) help students tease apart significant learning experiences with a view to future practice. Likewise, self and peer-assessment tools allow students to retrospectively analyse and evaluate their learning, often with a nod to future development (Kearney, 2013).

There are, however, problems in representing the student learning journey over an extended period – such as an entire semester – in a traditional written assignment format (Scanlon, MacPhail & Calderon, 2022). For example, communicating non-linear learning (Costigan & Brink, 2015), the development of creative thinking skills (Schnotz, Baadte, Muller, 2010) and problem-solving abilities (Klegeris, Dubois, Code & Bradshaw, 2019) can be difficult for students to achieve using a normative text-based assignment structure.

Poster assignments can provide a medium for students to showcase the complex, non-linear and ‘messy’ nature of their personal learning journeys, whilst incorporating relevant discipline-specific knowledge and addressing necessary unit of study learning criteria. A popular format in science (Weaver, Shaul & Lower, 2022) and medicine (Fatima et al, 2022), poster projects are less prevalent in business education (Kendlin & O’Brien, 2017). The format has significant potential in innovation and entrepreneurship studies, where connecting student personal goals, values, and motivations to new ways of organising and, potentially new venture formation, is key to the overall learning experience.

As a teaching team, Professor Steven Maguire and myself designed and implemented a poster assignment category for SIEN1000, the first cross-faculty Innovation and Entrepreneurship Major which spans five faculties across the University of Sydney and multiple disciplines within the Business School. In the Major, we approach innovation and entrepreneurship as processual phenomena that manifest differently depending on the contexts they occur in – such as public, private, and not-for-profit – and the actors and organisations involved.

A key theme underlying SIEN1000 is the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and creating the capacity for students to connect these Goals with core unit material and their own passions and interests. Students also interact with local, national, and global organisations in their learning journey over the semester. By incorporating the SDGs and site visits to other locations, we seek to ‘get students out there’ and create the capacity for them to make meaningful advances on their own personal innovation and entrepreneurship journeys.

We decided that a poster assignment, where students could chart their learning journeys over semester and how they might continue these journeys after completion of the unit, would be an ideal final assessment item for SIEN1000. The poster itself is A0-size, and is essentially a blank canvas for students to create and represent their learning experiences. Sample themes that students could address were their own purposes and personal goals as innovators and entrepreneurs, their approaches to innovation and entrepreneurship, the opportunities to make a difference that they identified, the innovation/entrepreneurship process they intend on pursuing after semester and beyond, the ecosystem they see themselves operating in, and an actionable plan for the next steps of their innovation and entrepreneurship journeys. Students annotated their posters to their peers in three-minute spoken sessions at the end of semester.

Overall, the benefits of the poster assignment were threefold:

1. It allowed students to represent the non-linear and processual nature of their learning journeys and relate such to the non-linear and processual unit of study subject matter (innovation and entrepreneurship). Students could portray the often messy and iterative nature of learning; the unplanned and the uncomfortable as well as the planned and comfortable, using a combination of visual, textual, and physical materials.

2. The poster format encouraged independence and diversity – two key tenets of innovation and entrepreneurship. Students experience and learn differently, and this was particularly the case in SIEN1000, considering the varied cultural backgrounds, disciplinary knowledge and personal interests of the students undertaking the unit.

3. The assignment encouraged creative thinking and communication. Students invested significant time, energy, and effort in essentially forging a living artifact that represents where they have been, where they are right now, and where they want to go in the future. Annotating the posters in group-based workshop encouraged discussion amongst the cohort as they compared and contrasted their journeys, taking inspiration from each other in the process.

Overall, poster assignments are a viable and exciting medium for developing and communicating the student learning experience. For educators, the format should not be based on the idea that we help students by making learning easier (Brown, Roediger & McDaniel, 2014). Neither should it be viewed as a simple replacement for a traditional exam or written essay. Rather, the format needs to be framed as a medium for enabling student learning, creativity, and engagement.

About the author

Paul Finn

Dr Paul Finn is a Lecturer with the Discipline of Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Sydney. In his current role, Paul is co-developing the first cross-faculty Innovation and Entrepreneurship major which will span five other faculties in the university.

Published by Paul Finn

Dr Paul Finn is a Lecturer with the Discipline of Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Sydney. In his current role, Paul is co-developing the first cross-faculty Innovation and Entrepreneurship major which will span five other faculties in the university.

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