Students at Anniversary Fair

10 Years & Counting!

The Academic Poster Contest

West’s Winning Approach to Learning

In 2011, after reading about research conducted at Stanford on increasing student engagement and success through project-based learning, West’s Professor Holly Bailey-Hofmann had an idea. Dr. Hofmann introduced a new final project to her pre-collegiate level English 21 courses. Along with writing a traditional research paper, students prepared and presented educational posters to the college community. The fact that it was a competition with prizes, said the professor, engendered even more student engagement and retention.

The students proudly displayed their projects on the main walk of campus during and after the lunch hour. Students, faculty, and staff browsed the posters while the poster-makers provided additional explanations of their work to onlookers. The students with the most outstanding projects were congratulated by the college president with prizes.

The Spring 2011 event received such positive feedback from students, faculty, and classified professionals that it has been repeated every spring thereafter. The event has grown from the initial 30 basic skills students to over 350 in some years. In addition to English, English Literature, and English as a Second Language, participating disciplines have included Math, Physics, Astronomy, Biology, Anthropology, Sociology, Communication Studies, Dental Hygiene, Health, Medical Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, Child Development, Computer Science, Aviation, Hospitality, and the West Language Academy. Students not only develop research skills, but thanks to the festive atmosphere of the annual poster fair, they have an opportunity to be in the spotlight for academic achievement and engage in cross-disciplinary conversations.

Student participants have reported feeling “proud,” "accomplished,” and “excited.” In follow-up surveys, 70% said they learned something new. Fifty-five percent explored what students learn in other classes. and 57% said they would like to participate in another such event. The existing data sample is currently too small to draw definitive conclusions. However, the initial input is encouraging. The poster contest proposal was made at the 2010 West Summer Think Tank, which sought innovative ideas to increase student success and was written into West’s Foundational Skills Plan. It has been aligned with institutional and program level Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs), and the Student Success Committee, the SLO Committee, and formal program review evaluate the Showcase's effects on student engagement, persistence, and success.