A new experiment with iPads – brainstorming for poster topics. First year students in all life science programmes put together a poster within their tutorial groups that is then presented at a noisy and somewhat chaotic but very enjoyable big poster session. Unless their tutor is more micro-managerial, the students will pick their own topic. It’s a serious academic activity- the posters are judged much as they would at a conference (quality and depth of content, readability etc), and any member of the group should be able to give a 1 minute poster talk. As the posters are glued onto cardboard in the old-fashioned way as opposed to just printed, there is a lot of scope for arts and crafts -occasionally including elaborate paper-mache structures and other 3D features.
The trouble with the laisser-faire approach to poster topics is that students sometimes struggle to find one. I thought that a digitally aided brainstorming session could help. Padlet (formerly known as wallwisher) has been around for some time, but this was a first for me. Anybody can “start” a virtual wall that works pretty much like a digital pinboard. Text, pictures, links etc can be posted and moved around by anyone who’s got the URL. I sent students the link and invited them a few days before the tutorial to get started. I also suggested they bring their own laptops to the tutorial if they have, but I brought some iPads as well. Only one or two posts were put up before the tutorial but it wasn’t a great problem. During the session I explained that I wanted each of them to find material, post it (ideally with their name on the post) and tell the group why they thought it was useful. My expectation was that the parallel/ synchronous literature search and discussions would speed things along.
It did more or less work out that way. None of them had used padlet before, so it took a few moments to learn how to post and edit. I practiced beforehand (wanted to come across at least a little competent) but they got the hang of it more quickly than I did. The fruit of their labour is above- a messy jumble of scientific and not so scientific fact(oids) about sloths, the algae in their fur and possibly some other creatures. Note the artwork by one of the students! The friendly green blob is an algae. A great start and not bad for the 40 minutes we had for this. It is obvious from the tagged posts that some students posted more avidly than others; some got lost in watching (scientifically related) Youtube videos and one or two seemed a bit lost at first. The students told me they were going to continue discussing and planning this activity on Facebook but that they’d keep the wall for reference.
All in all, a useful tool, I think. Some time was lost finding the wall (students who got a borrowed iPad needed to type in the URL manually) and learning how to post different types of content. I found it quite a bit more fiddly on the iPad than a desktop computer. There was also a correlation between the collective levels of extroversion in the group, (apparent) digital literacy and how much got done in the session. However, it’s nice that collaborative work can continue seamlessly after the tutorial, and that seems to have happened in the other group who brainstormed on penguins instead of sloths. Now that everyone is familiar with the “app” I think I’ll use it for other purposes.