One of the main goals of the Integrated Cluster Learning Model is to provide students with opportunity to practice talking about their work and their learning with authentic audiences. For example, in the Spring 2019 semester, students in my section of IS4220 presented their work to partners from PSU’s Admissions Office, Enrollment Management team, and the Student Success Office. In addition, the President, Provost, and Associate Provost attended the presentation. The audience provided valuable feedback and helped students see that their work is meaningful and matters in the world. Many classes provide this kind of opportunity for students. But many classes don’t.
When the First Year Seminar Fellows conceived of a new iteration of the course, we wanted to ensure that all students in all sections of the course had this kind of opportunity. So we developed a First Year Seminar Poster Symposium in which all students would participate. The event has evolved quite a bit over the last three years.
The first Symposium was in the Fall 2017 semester. Each student group created a poster explaining their project and what they learned from engaging in the work of the semester. We hung the posters on the main floor of the library for the entirety of Finals Week so that people walking through the library would be able to see the various projects that had been completed. Students stood by their posters to engage whomever came by during their regularly scheduled 2.5 hour Final Exam time. We learned quickly that 2.5 hours was too long of a period to stand by a poster. We also learned that the library doesn’t have a “natural” audience at all times of day. For example, I had two sections of First Year Seminar that semester. My section that had a final at 11am had a great audience moving through the audience and stopping by to talk to them about their work. My section that had a final at 8am had only 2 people stop by and the students were quite disappointed.
For Fall 2018, we decided to revise the Symposium. We held it in our field house where we could fit all the project groups so they could present at the same time. We scheduled the event on the evening of the last Wednesday of classes which also happened to be right after our monthly faculty meeting. We hoped that faculty would go directly from the faculty meeting to the Symposium to provide the bulk of the audience for the students. We learned that our field house feels like a long way from the main campus, especially at 5pm in early December when it’s dark and cold outside and the sidewalks are not exactly cleared of snow. There was a high level of excitement in the room for the Showcase but many students were disappointed that so few faculty, staff, and other community members attended. Those who did attend as audience members had nothing but good things to say about the work of the students and wished that more people would have attended. Some of the students who were presenting also struggled to attend because they had other classes, sporting events, and/or work and family obligations.
This year is the first time we offered a new version of the First Year Seminar that we are calling Tackling a Wicked Problem (TWP). With the name change, we decided that we would have a new event called the Showcase of Student Engagement, modeled after an event we have been holding every Spring. On the last Wednesday of the semester (Dec 4 this year), we preempted all classes before 3pm with the Showcase event. Each project group from TWP was assigned a one-hour block during which they would stand by their poster to talk about their project with the audience. All faculty, staff, and situdents were told that they were expected to attend the event which was scheduled for 10am-3pm. This formulation of the event appears to have been quite successful. The audience in attendance was large and energetic and students report that they were able to share their posters with lots of people. We had NH State legislators on campus that morning for a brunch to learn more about Plymouth State University and our various new initiatives including cluster learning. After the brunch, most of the legislators also attended the Showcase and were quite impressed by the work of our first year students. In addition, we had our General Education Advisory Group on campus for a meeting in the afternoon. This advisory group is comprised of community members and alumni whom we ask for advice about our General Education efforts. Several of them attended the Showcase before our meeting and, again, they talked about how impressed they were with our students.
Another big change that we made this year concerned the way in which we displayed the posters. In the past, we printed 3 foot by 2 foot color posters at a cost of $30 each ($10 per linear foot) and tacked them to an easel or wall for display. This year, we had 211 TWP posters and so printing them would have cost us over $6000. Instead, we had each group create a project description slide with the name of their project, the names of the students in the group, and a brief abstract describing the project in addition to their poster. We then stored the posters online and created a QR code that would lead to the online poster. We put the QR code on the project description slide and printed all of those slides in color. We then tacked the slides to easels. Then when someone wanted to see a group’s poster, they simply used the phone to take a picture of the QR code. The students also brought a laptop on which they could display their poster if the audience member didn’t have a phone or chose not to use their phone to view the poster. This process seemed to work well. The cost for printing these slides was about $25, which I think represents another big success.
Our goal is to provide at least two opportunities per year (at the end of each regular semester) for students to talk about their work with an engaged, authentic audience. We are also trying to create a campus culture in which everyone recognizes and values the meaningful work that our students are engaging in. This version of the Showcase was a good step in that direction and I hope that we move much more student work into this event in the future.
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.