In this section, Dr. Bahr describes the final project for 21L.460 Medieval Literature: Legends of Arthur Fall 2013.
As part of this class, students completed a substantial final project on Malory’s massive Morte Darthur. Students initially proposed several options for their final project, with ideas ranging from tracing a character or cluster of characters across the Morte’s nearly thousand-page span to comparing Caxton’s printed edition of 1485 with the sole surviving manuscript copy to mapping or visualizing the text’s extraordinarily complex structures.
Students celebrated their work with a poster session during which they presented and responded to questions about their final projects. Faculty and others students were invited as guests. The event was a great opportunity to demonstrate—in a form that scientists and engineers understood well—that literary study thrives at MIT.
As an educator, I’ve long wanted to develop ways of assessing students’ learning that offer creative alternatives to writing the standard six-to-seven page essay. I got the idea for poster presentations when my friend, a geneticist, explained how professionals in her field shared their work with colleagues at conferences using posters. What a great model! Although creating a poster did not allow a student to develop an argument over the course of a seven-page essay, the formal spatial constraints of the poster spurred the imagination. In fact, I framed the poster as an opportunity to think creatively about form and space. Students had to carefully consider how to guide their readers through the space allotted to them. Importantly, I presented the opportunity to create a poster as an option. Students also had the option of completing a traditional paper. Almost all of the students were interested in demonstrating what they had learned through a poster, or similar project-based medium.
I gave students a lot of freedom in regards to their final project. About two-thirds of the way through the semester, students submitted three possible proposals for their work. I discussed each of their proposals with them, providing feedback. We talked about their ideas and what they would need to do to make their project successful. Students had the option of meeting with me to discuss their projects on another occasion as well.
Logistics and Advice for Educators
In addition to making yourself available to provide feedback to students about their posters, I would advise educators interested in doing something similar with their students to start early. When I taught the course, I didn’t have a good understanding of the production process involved in designing and printing a conference-quality poster. Although the project-based nature of the work still came through, only a few students actually created printed posters due to the logistical constraints. Educators should allow adequate time for production in their curricular plans.