What makes a good poster?

Here are some examples of posters.  I have a good one, a bad one, and a mockup for this year.

The good one…

goodI like this one for many reasons.  (Yes – I’m biased…it’s from one of my students.)  It has a detailed issue map – one that shows the complexity of the issue she was exploring.  For a first semester freshman, it’s very good.

The issue map is the result of many weeks of work.  She only put the question in the center after it had evolved many times and she settled upon it for the poster session.

I also knew that she was capable of discussing the observations, inferences, and questions she had chosen to display.

Her roadmap and points for discussion were very much on her mind during the poster session.  She saved each element of her poster as a PDF file, and later uploaded them to her ePortfolio.  It’s a subject she has continued to explore into her Sophomore year. In short, it’s indicative of someone who took FYS and its learning objectives quite seriously.

Some of my students (and students from other seminars) thought our posters looked too “cookie cutter.”  Yes, they looked the same from afar, but each was quite unique in their details!  (I did frown on putting pictures on their posters…but she rebelled!  Good for her!)

The second example is not very good – in fact I would not have given this student credit for this work.


It does not have an open-ended enduring question.  It does not have an issue map – or any indication that this students understands complexity.  It’s more of a junior high school level visual representation of a topic.  It probably took all of fifteen minutes to build, and had little to do with the FYS learning objectives.

Remember, these posters are about grasping the nature of complexity.  They don’t organize what we know, or show how the problem might be solved (We are working with adaptive/wicked/complex problems, not complicated/technical problems.

And they’re not art projects – with apologies to quality art projects…

Guiding Questions follow a similar line:

  • Personally relevant & incites your curiosity
  • Requires multiple perspectives across humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, arts
  • Does not have one “right” answer
  • Persistent and unavoidable as part of the human condition
  • Open-ended
  • Lends itself to focused inquiry on a particular topic
  • Requires critical thinking
  • Non-judgmental

Also attached here is a mockup of an FYS poster for the Tri-Fold.  (We’ll publish a mockup for the ePortfolio by week’s end.)

Mockup for FYS PosterHere’s the PDF for download: Mockup for FYS Poster

Remember – it’s a mockup, not a carefully done student project.  Some of the details are there as placeholders.  (It’s likely that an actual student project along these lines would have updated their issue map to follow their new question/issue a bit more closely.  I am showing the original map that sparked the journey in the first place.

It does, however, have all of the elements I mentioned last week:

  • Background – what’s the inspiration/reason for the Guiding Question
  • The Guiding Question stated clearly
  • The Issue Map – what makes the problem “wicked” (why is it not a technical, solvable problem?)
  • Roadmap – possible courses, internships, organizations, etc.
  • Points of Discussion – this is somewhat open to interpretation, but might include how your question evolved
  • A place for comments
  • Key Resources (references) used for understanding the complexity of the problem

I do have the two examples in my office and am happy to loan them out if you’d like to show your students.

As always, let me know if you have any questions.



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