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Undergraduate researchers and the poster session.

Undergraduates presented original research in classroom poster sessions open to students, faculty, and friends. We assessed the reaction of the students to the experience and their reported change in their interest in presenting at conferences. Students enjoyed the poster session experience and indicated they preferred this method over other methods of oral presentation. Students were more willing to submit their research for scientific conferences after the poster session experience. Further, a control group who had not been exposed to the poster session experience was less likely to submit their research. Several students who participated in the study have subsequently submitted their work to upcoming conferences.

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Research is an anxiety-provoking activity for both students and faculty (Heppner, Kivilighan & Wampold, 1992; Higgins, 2002). Reducing fear and intimidation and replacing these feelings with enjoyment for research are important for future productivity and success (Smith, Baker, Campbell, & Cunningham, 1985). Brems (1994) proposed an effective method for decreasing anxiety associated with written research for undergraduates. She incorporated study of research, including reading articles and assessing method sections into all levels of classes. However, students' anxiety generally increases if the instructor suggests an oral presentation of the results (Wood & Palm, 2000).

Although designing research and writing the results are primary tasks in most research classes, encouraging students to share their results at a conference, a final phase of research, is an important educational goal in itself (Carsrud, Palladino, Tanke, Aubrecht, & Huber, 1984). Most undergraduates who have not attended a conference are unaware of poster sessions and assume that presenting means giving a speech. We believed that introducing students to poster sessions might reduce anxiety and encourage them to submit their work for conferences. Poster sessions are useful teaching tools, as authors have reported successfully using poster sessions as a classroom experience to increase knowledge of subject matter and interest in research (Chute & Bank, 1983; Gore & Camp, 1987; Maynard, Maynard & Rowe, 2004). Hughes (2005) used posters session to improve learning in a sensation and perception course. Rosenberg and Blount (1988) described a successful research convocation that included submissions by undergraduates. Surveys of attendees showed over 90% wanted the convocation continued.

This two-part study evaluated the poster session as a classroom tool to increase excitement about research and encourage participation in psychology conferences. In Part 1, a pre and post-test design assessed the following: (a) Do students enjoy presenting in poster session format? (b) Does the poster session increase the students' perceived understanding of research? (c) Does participation in a poster session in the classroom increase the students' willingness to present at a scientific conference? In Part 2 of the study, participants' ratings from Part 1 were compared to those from a separate group who had not been exposed to the poster session experience.

Method

Participants

Nineteen undergraduate psychology majors and one criminal justice major enrolled in a required psychology research class volunteered for Part 1 of the study. Slightly over half of the class were seniors (n = 12); and the remaining students were juniors (n = 8). There were 17 women and 3 men, typical of the current ratio of women to men in many undergraduate psychology programs ("Facts and Figures," 2000). All students reported planning to attend graduate school. Only two of the students had been to a poster session at a conference, and none had ever presented research at a conference. Part 2 of the study included 23 students, 19 women and 4 men, enrolled in another section of the same course that did not include poster session experiences. None of these students had experience attending conferences.

Measure

An 8-item instrument, designed for this investigation, measured the experimental group's response to the poster session experience. Participants responded to 8 statements using a Likert type scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Participants in Part 2 of the study completed only one question on the instrument. This question asked if they were interested in presenting at a professional conference.

Procedure

Students in Part 1 participated in two preliminary activities designed to introduce poster presentations. First, they completed a group project producing a poster describing the contents of major psychology journals. The instructor provided the names of one or two journals in a particular area of psychology. Students completed posters including topics, authors, and descriptions of studies. They presented the posters in two sessions with half the class presenting and the other half touring and asking questions at each session.

The second activity was attendance by the class at a small poster session on campus. Graduate students and faculty presented work prepared for a regional conference. The students and their instructor reviewed each poster and discussed the content of the research, the type of information provided, and visual display. The group had a chance to speak with some of the presenters about their work.

Students then produced a poster based on their individual research and presented their results in a poster session in the classroom. Topics were diverse and included body image, sex education, color perception, relation of weather and mood, employment, and college achievement. Criteria for completion of the posters were commensurate with expectations for posters at scientific conferences. Students presented their posters in two sessions. Students stood adjacent to their posters, presenting findings to attendees, including faculty, the department head, and friends. The instructor evaluated the posters on content and aesthetic presentation. Finally, students' reactions to the poster session experience were measured using the 8-item scale described above.

Results

Four items from the 8-item scale addressed the first research question: Do students enjoy presenting in a poster session format? Study 1 participants indicated they enjoyed presenting posters (M = 5.6, SD = 1.54) and preferred presenting information in a poster format as compared to individual oral presentations (M = 6.4, SD = .82). They also indicated that this format decreased their nervousness (M= 5.7, SD = 1.59). They indicated they would recommend poster sessions for use in other classes (M = 6.3, SD = 1.29). Students affirmed that participation in poster sessions increased students' understanding of research (M = 5.8, SD = 1.07). Students also indicated poster presentations were a positive learning experience (M = 5.7, SD = 1.45). The final two items assessed the participants' willingness to participate in a scientific conference prior to the poster session experience and after. The students' interest in participating in a research conference increased significantly from before the poster experience (M = 4.6, SD = 1.96) to after the poster experience (M = 5.6, SD = 1.57), t(19) = 3.42, p < .003, d= .56. Due to the transparency of the hypothesis of interest for participants in Part 1, the ratings of interest in participating in a poster session were then compared to the ratings by participants from Part 2 of the study. These participants had not been exposed to the poster presentation experience and thus acted as a control group. Overall, the students in Part 2 were significantly less willing to present at conferences (M = 3.74, SD = 1.7) than those who had been exposed to the poster experience (M = 5.6, SD = 1.57) in Part 1 of the study, t(41) = 3.71, p < .01, d= 1.14.

Discussion

Incorporating poster sessions into an undergraduate research class proved to be a positive experience for both the students and instructor. Students reacted positively to the two activities intended to introduce poster sessions. Attending the poster session on campus resulted in some students remarking, "I could do this." At their poster session, the students were able to share their excitement, interest, and disappointment in the results of their research. Most students enjoyed the process, although 2 students complained that any oral presentation, even in poster session format, was excessively anxiety provoking. This experience has provided a change in departmental culture as some of the study participants are excited about presenting research at conferences. Overall, one student from this study has presented at a regional conference, and three others intend to submit their research for an upcoming regional psychology conference.

Author Note:

We would like to thank all of the students who participated in the poster session and the audience members who attended the session.

References

Brems, C. (1994). Taking the fear out of research: A gentle approach to teaching an appreciation for research. Teaching of Psychology, 21, 241-243.

Carsrud, A. L., Palladino, J. J., Tanke. E. D., Aubrecht, L., & Huber, R. J. (1984). Undergraduate psychology conferences: Goals, policies, and procedures. Teaching of Psychology, 11, 142-145.

Chute, D. L., & Bank, B. (1983). Undergraduate seminars: The poster session solution. Teaching of Psychology, 10, 99-100.

Facts and Figures, A snapshot of psychology graduate students. (2000, October). The Monitor on Psychology, 31(10), 15.

Gore, P. A., & Camp, C. J. (1987). A radical poster session. Teaching of Psychology, 14, 243-244.

Heppner, P. P., Kivilighan, D. M., & Wampold, B. E. (1992). Research design in counseling. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Higgins, C. C. (2002). Factors associated with research anxiety of human resource education faculty in higher education. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 63, 573.

Hughes, A. (2005). A poster project for an undergraduate sensation and perception course. Teaching of Psychology, 32, 58-59.

Maynard, A. M., Maynard, D. C., & Rowe, K.A. (2004). Exposure to the fields of psychology: Evaluation of an introductory psychology project. Teaching of Psychology, 31, 37-40.

Rosenberg, J., & Blount, R. L. (1988). Poster sessions revisited: A student research convocation. Teaching of Psychology, 15, 38-39.

Smith, S. L., Baker, D. R., Campbell, M. E., & Cunningham, M. E. (1985). An exploration of the factors shaping the scholarly productivity of social work academicians. Journal of Social Service Research, 8, 81-99.

Wood, M. R., & Palm, L. J. (2000). Students' anxiety in a senior thesis course. Psychological Reports, 86, 935-936.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Gail Johnson, Department of Psychology and Special Education, Texas A&M University-Commerce, PO Box 3011, Commerce, TX 75429-3011; Email: gail_johnson@tmaucommerce.edu

Gail Johnson and Raymond Green, Texas A&M University-Commerce.
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Author:Green, Raymond
Publication:Journal of Instructional Psychology
Date:Jun 1, 2007
Words:1662
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