Philosophy Classroom Poster Sessions

Nick Byrd, a PhD student in philosophy at Florida State University, has posted about the classroom poster session that students in Marcela Herdova‘s Free Will & Science course recently took part in. He says that it “was one of the most enriching classroom experiences I’ve ever witnessed.”

The idea is based on conference poster sessions, which are still somewhat unusual in philosophy, and which Byrd likes because “discussions at poster sessions are much more focused, extended, and constructive” than typical paper presentations.

Additional reasons to put on a classroom poster session:

  • “Classroom poster sessions buy you [a few] classes of learning and review in exchange for a bit of grading”
  • During poster sessions, “students learn things that cannot be taught online,” and so help make a case against replacing traditional classrooms with online-only teaching.
  • “Students learn how to quickly pitch their ideas to peers and supervisors.”
  • “Students learn how to both ask and field questions about specific claims and arguments.”
  • “Students can autonomously explore the course material in ways that they otherwise could not.”
  • “Presenting a poster to a few peers and your instructor is much less nerve-racking for students than presenting in front of an entire class.”

My late colleague, Ann Johnson, would have the students in her Engineering Ethics course participate in a somewhat different version of a semester-end poster session, reserving a large room and inviting faculty and students from all over the university to come by, see the posters, and discuss them with the students.

Byrd provides more information about classroom poster sessions, including instructions on putting one together and examples of posters, here. Check it out.

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7 years ago

Can you (or anyone I guess) maybe recommend an online introductory source for poster sessions from the teacher’s perspective? The videos of the finished products are helpful, but I’m trying to envision how to construct the assignment–what the specs and rubric are like. Are there resources for this somewhere?

Shane Epting
7 years ago

Excellent topic! I’ve assigned group posters/projects over the last few years for environmental ethics and engineering ethics. It works really well. The students get engaged, almost becoming experts on the topic. Instead of a final exam, we hold a mock conference. Heck, I was so impressed last year that I catered it with cheap pizza.

To ensure success, I have the groups present abstracts about week 9. Then, about week 13, they present a follow-up of their research. During these presentations, the students give each other feedback and criticism, and I make sure that they are not trying to tackle a project that is too big.

For a rubric, the intro is worth 20 points; argument is 40; the “future areas of research” is 20, and they must turn in a one-page reflective essay on the project worth 20 points. Part of the essay includes describing their part in the project, a mechanism that holds them accountable.

From my experience, I highly recommend posters/projects when it fits with the course. I have a friend, Jason Matteson, who teaches engineering ethics at Northern Arizona U, about 3.5 hours from Las Vegas (I teach at UNLV). Next year, we are giving our students the option of having a joint conference. These assignments cut back on plagiarism, improve their public-speaking skills (building confidence and character), and I have seen them help students find passion in their education.

Reply to  Shane Epting
7 years ago


What’s your class size like? My class size tends to be small, and I’m wondering how that might affect conducting the mock conference. Do you only use one class session to conduct the conference?

Shane Epting
Reply to  guy
7 years ago

I’ve done it with classes of 25 and 45, holding it during a 2 hour final exam session.
With 45 students, it ran a bit over, but there wasn’t a final exam scheduled in the same room later that day. I check with students in advance in case some of them have a final that immediately follows ours. In such an event, I let them present first so that they can leave on time.