Monday, March 17, 2014

Creating Better Research Posters

Poster sessions provide opportunities for one-on-one interactions with individuals in your field and can facilitate high-quality networking that will benefit you and your future career (Shives, 2014). Avoid some of the common mistakes people make when putting together research posters by following the tips below:

  • Focus your information: Poster size is limited so you need to focus in on the main information you want to convey. Determine what specific data you need to include in order to get your message across to an audience that may be unfamiliar with your research topic. Determine the minimum amount of information that is needed to create a convincing narrative of the research. If you keep having to reduce the font size to under 18 points to fit in all the information, you need to start cutting back. "Great information is often trapped in dense documents. Rechunking and turning words into pictures helps make them understood" (Duarte).
  • Keep it simple: Do not overwhelm your audience with tiny, dense text and a dozen hard to decipher images and graphs. Use only the data and text that you need in order to support your conclusions. The Cornell Center for Materials Research suggests limiting posters to 250 words that describe only a few major points.
  • Employ good design:
      • Don't use too many bright colors or fancy fonts.
      • Use elements that enhance the information you are presenting such as text boxes and bolt print.
      • Don't underestimate the value of white space on your poster - every inch of the poster does not need to be filled with text and/or data.
      • The design should fade into the background so that your research can be clearly interpreted.
  • Arrange information for maximum impact: Viewers expect the most important part of the poster to be right in the middle. Fill the middle of your poster with the experimental figures and other pertinent information and in the other sections place the introduction, conclusion, methods, acknowledgements, references, etc.
  • Know your audience: Posters are the compressed version of your work that will be presented to an audience so it is important to know who that audience is. Know what the audience expects from your poster and whether it is a general session or a specific subsection of your discipline in which every knows the same jargon. Duarte suggests that you take a mental walk in your audiences' shoes and try to anticipate their concerns and questions and keep those thoughts in mind as you construct your poster.
  • Look at examples: Most graduate departments should have some examples of previous posters on hand that you can look at for a template of how to arrange the content. You may also be able to find examples from your specific discipline by doing a Google image search. The Cornell Center for Materials Research has put together a 68 page step-by-step guide for poster design that covers everything from the size of the title to the size of the graphics.
  • Hone your poster talk: If you have the opportunity to present your poster during a session, take some time to plan your talk. Use this opportunity to talk about the highlights of your research and convey any additional information that you were not able to include on the poster. Now your information well and be ready to answer questions.
For more information:
Cornell University. Scientific poster design: How to keep your poster from resembling an abstract painting. Cornell Center for Materials Research.

Duarte, N. Slidedocs: Spread ideas with effective visual documents.

Shives, K. (March 9, 2014). 5 Pointers for a Better Poster. Gradhacker.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Innovative Methods for Giving Students Feedback

This article will focus on innovative methods of providing formative and summative feedback to online and face-to-face students that go beyond the usual text email or marked-up Word file. Through the use of free, easy-to-use tech tools, instructors can make a more meaningful connection with their students and provide the type of feedback that will engage the students with the content and the assessment. By using these feedback tools instructors "can now provide more personal, more meaningful and more effective instruction in an acoustically and/or visually supported manner" with voice tone and intonation helping to convey feelings and to build rapport with the students (Veronica's Teaching Online Blog).

Audio Feedback:

Audio Feedback provides formative feedback to students in real-time in order to encourage them to dig deeper and think more critically to expand or clarify their argument or position.  Formative feedback is often more valuable to students than the final assessment because it fosters depth of learning during the course and/or activity. Audio feedback is useful because:
  1. This type of feedback allows students to choose when, where, and how often they will listen/watch the feedback
  2. It is especially relevant in an online class because it adds an element of instructor presence.
  3. Audio feedback is not only useful for commenting on tasks, reflections, and papers that students submit, but also to provide pronunciation feedback on spoken tasks done during online phases and to record the instructor's reflections on end-of-course evaluations.

 Tools to Use for Audio Feedback:

  • Built-in VoiceTools within Moodle. Voice Authoring embeds an audio announcement recorded by the instructor directly into the course. Voice Email allows instructors to send audio recordings from Moodle to a student's University email account. The only drawback to using the Moodle VoiceTools is that Java is required in order to play the recordings so students using mobile devices that do not run Java will not be able to play the recordings. For more information on using Moodle VoiceTools attend one of our workshops or contact the ITRC.
  • Apps that are available for Mac and Android systems that facilitate audio feedback such as:
      • Vocaroo - the most highly-rated audio app because of its simplicity. For more information visit the article: Using Vocaroo for Student Feedback.
      • Evernote - use the audio record feature and then email the voice recording in a note format to the student. For more information visit the Evernote knowledge base page: How to Record Audio in Evernote.
      • - a free, online video messaging platform that allows you to create and send video messages in a self-contained, spam-free environment. There are several videos available on YouTube that demonstrate how Eyejot works:


Screencasting allows an instructor to talk through a student's work by recording audio comments on the student's actual assignment which is displayed on the instructor's screen. This type of feedback is formative and summative because the focus is on the student's work. Veronica's Teaching Online Blog lists 3 reasons to provide feedback through screencasting:
  1. The feedback can be viewed during an online phase which frees up valuable face-to-face time for other activities.
  2. Explaining while visually highlighting and correcting errors on-screen helps student to understand the feedback more easily than just posting a copy of the answers in the form of a document with comments and/or corrections.
  3. It allows students to watch the feedback as often as they need to, when it is convenient.

Tools to use for Screencasting:

  • Jing and (both by the TechSmith company) are free programs that enable you to capture basic video, animation, and still images and share them on the web. This type of program allows the instructor to open the student's file on their computer, and while it is open, annotate the document and give audio feedback. Using this type of tool allows the instructor to speak naturally just as they would while giving face-to-face feedback to a student.
  • Screencastomatic is another free online application with one-click screen capture recording on Windows or Mac computers. The free version allows up to 15 minutes of recording per upload and can be published to an MP4 movie. The pro version has editing tools and unlimited recording time for only $15/year.

Google Drive:

Google Drive/Google Docs is available to all students and faculty through their University email account. Google Drive allows instructors to provide feedback directly on a student's document. Here is how it works:
  1. The student creates his/her document in Google Drive, and enables the instructor to view and edit the document through the sharing feature. 
  2. Through the share feature the student enters the instructor's email address which sends the link to the document to the instructor.
  3. The instructor makes comments and notes directly on the student's document. Google Drive provides excellent tools for providing comments in the side bar and/or making comments within the document itself.
  4. The student is automatically notified of the comments made.
For more information on how to use Google Drive for giving student feedback view the informative article provided by Powerful Learning Practice, Google Drive: A Better Method for Giving Students Feedback.


By using tech tools such as voice recordings, screencasting, and Google Drive, instructors now have the ability to provide more personal, meaningful, and effective instruction to their students. This type of feedback also addresses the different styles of learning with information presented in multiple formats.


Giving Feedback on Student Writing. University of Michigan Center for Writing. A pdf document that offers an overview of some widely shared ideas about giving good feedback, followed by descriptions of a variety of possible ways to put these ideas into practice.

Audio Feedback and Human Touch? Veronica's Teaching Online Blog

Best Methods and Tools for Online Educators to Give Students Helpful and Meaningful Feedback, Online Learning Insights blog