My department likes to use projects in its courses, and while I’ve assigned them in lower-level courses, I’ve never had upper-level students do a research project before. I was nervous about turning my class loose on a project without a lot of structure, but they really impressed me.
I got the idea for a poster session from my colleague, Gwyneth Whieldon, who in turn adapted her project from Jen-Mei Chang at California State University, Long Beach. Each group had to come up with an idea for a research project in an area of application of linear algebra, and then produce a poster on it. The last day of the course, we had a poster session and invited the whole department. The students graded each other, and their final project grade was based solely on those evaluations.
Some students came with their own ideas, and some got inspiration from applications in the textbook or from previous posters. I gave them an evaluation form in advance so they’d know how they’d be grading each other. My only other instructions were that it should involve more linear algebra than just solving a system of equations.
I’m used to directing freshmen, where I always give far more specific directions than this and still have things go wrong. But these students all did a really nice job overall with minimal supervision. That was a great lesson to me on the value of a hands-off approach with capable students.
For anyone worried about knowledge of Beamer as a barrier to entry for a session like this, PowerPoint also makes posters. Dr. Chang’s site has instructions for both methods. My department was kind enough to fund the poster printing.
The students seemed to enjoy doing the research, and they liked the session as well. As I walked around, I overheard students asking each other great questions and commenting on how interesting each others’ ideas were. They got a lot of exposure to different areas of applications in a more fun way than a long series of presentations.
They were obviously very generous with their peer evaluations, but I don’t think that was un-earned given the quality of their work. Also, I had no problem with the grade boost, since I think I made their final a bit too hard. When I do this again, and I definitely will, the only thing I plan to do differently is to invite more departments.
Good luck finishing your grading and other projects for the year, and I hope you all enjoy your break.