Down With Posters

10 Jan

I despise glitter. It’s proudly gauche and sinisterly invasive. Once a bedazzled project crosses the threshold of my classroom, the insidious sparkles permanently lodge in every nook and cranny. Months later my forehead looks like Lady Gaga’s because I’ve accidentally scratched my head after brushing up against an errant drift of pixie dust. I ban the stuff.

I’ve also moved almost entirely away from poster projects. There is nothing inherently wrong with posters. We’ve all seen effective, pedagogically sound projects carried out in this medium. Engaging visual aids, family trees in foreign languages, and movie posters for novels all make sense and can lead to critical thought. I argue, however, that this work becomes more effective and more sophisticated when teachers leverage web 2.0 tools to increase collaboration, develop authentic audiences, and extend the feedback loop.

When students put “poster” work online, there are many advantages for the teacher, and more importantly, the students. Before I give you some recommended links, allow me to convince you that I’m right in my desire to kill traditional posters. If you already agree with me, just skip to the links.

  • Organization is easier. Lugging around stacks of posters is impractical and students inevitably leave work at home. Also, posters stay within the classroom or hallways of schools. When work is posted online, the work can be accessed in many more locations and easily transported and shared.
  • More eyes on the work. Again, posters tend to stay within the four walls of the classroom. When work is posted online, more people can appreciate—and even evaluate—the work. Fellow teachers, students in other sections, parents, colleagues and peers outside of school, and even the general public can view the work. More eyes equal more opportunities for feedback, and such publication is more authentic.
  • Formative assessment goes beyond the teacher, and the feedback loop is extended. If so desired, it is much easier to offer formative assessment as the student creates the project if the work is posted online. The creation process can be more collaborative, mutable, and organic…again creating a more authentic experience. More people can offer more feedback.
  • The work can be changed. I feel wretched when asking a student to revise a completed poster because changes aren’t easy. Glue and markers are permanent; small changes can mean a complete redo. When I offer critiques, then, it feels more like a “gotcha” experience. The student is less likely to revise if the changes are difficult to make. When a poster is online, I can easily insist on revision. In the end, requiring students to create a more polished product is a more rigorous and effective practice.
  • Work posted online lives beyond the due date. My students often tell me when they receive online comments even after we’ve moved on to other units. It’s exciting to realize that quality work can attract attention months and years after it has been completed for a grade. Authentic publication of work should “stand up” over time, and students take such pride in the fact that their work can be strong enough to garner attention from the broader world.

Recommended Sites:

A site specifically designed for building online posters, finished products can be embedded in blogs, wikis, and websites. The free-for-education accounts have become less generous, but it is still possible for students to complete very sophisticated, multimedia posters for free.

Vuvox Collage Maker

Using this tool you can make stunning, mixed media timelines. These timelines/collages are easily embedded elsewhere.

The easiest and most visually pleasing way to make Venn Diagrams I have found, but this site allows you to do much more, too. It’s a free way to make stunning organizational graphics.

Another free tool for making interactive, mixed media timelines. This site allows users to create flowcharts, and video, images, and text are easily mashed together. It is still in Beta, so I have lost some student work using it, but it is free and very easy to use.  Most widely known as an alternative to PowerPoint, Prezi can easily be used to graphically organize and link text, video, and images. Creating the path can be the most complicated part of using this website, but the organizational thinking required to do so is very important for students and not always required when making a traditional poster. Essentially a free online version of Inspiration, this site makes brainstorming easy, and I especially like the ability to transform a mind map into a traditional outline.

Cmap Tools Another way to make organizational charts. I have not used it, but many colleagues have recommended it. Yes, I’ve saved my favorite for last. Many of you probably already know about—a company that seeks to obliterate the common PowerPoint. You can sign up for a free, full-access educator’s account that allows you to give students free, full-access account. I use this tool all the time and can’t recommend it enough. I like it so much, I pay for a yearly subscription. I don’t want them to go bust.

As a little treat for working your way through this list (and of course there are many, many more free, online tools we can use in much the same way we used posters in the past), here’s an epic Google Demo that demonstrates it’s not really the tool but how you use it that’s important:

Stunning Use of Google Presentation

NOTE: This post originally appeared at

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