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Case Study Competition Poster On Change

Introduction

An academic conference should be a symposium where academics can report, share, discuss their work, and exchange ideas through a variety of different communication methods. A typical academic conference may consist of several oral presentations, including those from keynote or plenary speakers, in addition to a number of workshops, which offer a more interactive method of delivery. There is also the research poster, a somewhat maligned and misunderstood entity that in some instances feels like an afterthought. However, it could be argued that if knowledge exchange is the fundamental purpose of a conference, which it is, then posters and workshops are far more valuable than oral presentations (Rowe & Ilic, 2009); in which case, are posters being unfairly discredited?

The “all eyes on one” style of oral presentations is extremely limiting in terms of opportunities for the speaker to interact personally with members of the audience. Even in the post-talk questions, time constraints mean that not all questions can be asked, whilst some participants may be unable to comfortably relay their points to the author in that particular environment. Aside from this, the less intimidating nature of poster sessions may be preferable to a larger percentage of researchers, which might explain why the poster presentation saw large increases in the 1990s (Moule et al., 1998).

A poster session is an extended period of academic knowledge exchange. Exhibitors normally stand by their poster and explain their research and findings to passing delegates, inspiring some form of discussion as a dialogue or perhaps in a group. Therefore, it makes sense poster sessions should provide more frequent opportunities for academics to exchange knowledge and create networks. The format of a poster session should theoretically allow for open, informal, and comfortable academic discussion regarding the work presented. Many researchers will have experienced instances of such academic exchanges taking place; yet it is not a form of communication that has been formally investigated in any great detail, but for contributions from Dubois Betty (1985) and Shalom (1993), who independently suggest that the poster presentation was a genre struggling for definition some 20 years ago; the feeling is unfortunately similar within scientific disciplines today. However, it has also been shown that students presenting posters on sensitive topics found that the format of the poster session put them more at ease (Rush et al., 1995). Such an observation would suggest that the poster acts as a message board and focal point for presenters, with sensitive topics such as sexuality made easier to discuss by using posters as a facilitator. This facilitatory role can be extended to other less taboo-orientated subjects and, in principle, the poster could help to facilitate learning amongst researchers, especially those in the early stages of their careers who may be less confident when presenting their research, compared to other, more experienced colleagues.

Despite many efforts by academics to report good poster guidelines (see e.g. Erren & Bourne, 2007; Hess et al., 2009; Moore et al., 2001; Shelledy, 2004; Taggart & Arslanian, 2000), the ideal poster presentation is often absent from poster sessions. Many posters are either poorly designed, or simply pinned to boards and left to stagnate, leaving any observant or enthusiastic researchers with unanswered questions. Even if a poster manages to attract a delegate, the content must be written in a concise, clear, and jargon-free manner to inspire intrigue. Poor written communication can be as detrimental to the message as the oral communication blunders brought about by an ill-prepared delivery.

It therefore comes as no surprise that some organisations have attempted to reimagine the poster. One specific example of this comes from the European Geosciences Union (EGU), who use a concept called PICO (Presenting Interactive COntent) to diversify the knowledge exchange process. The general idea of PICO is for researchers to orally advertise their work in a two-minute flash presentation, in order to encourage the audience to later join them at interactive touchscreen slides, where they can engage with the author personally, in a format similar to the traditional poster session (European Geosciences Union, 2015). Such a form of engagement will no doubt enhance the learning and knowledge exchange experience for the researcher.

With any conference, there are always academics wishing to participate, but who are unable to because of travel and funding restrictions. For some researchers, these restrictions can be detrimental for the dissemination of their research, and can ultimately have a negative effect on their career progression. To combat this, some organisations, like the American Geophysical Union (AGU), have piloted a virtual poster showcase, encouraging researchers to participate at conferences virtually through a digital link. This obviates the requirement for travel, and therefore extra funding for travel purposes. Furthermore, posters are becoming an ever more acceptable route into publication, via academic journals such as in F1000Research, which publishes posters and slides alongside more traditional articles, as a means of reference-worthy academic literature.

Another potential alternative is the use of social media to encourage poster engagement, and this route will form the focus of this paper. The ubiquity of social media is responsible for many of the social behaviours and patterns that have emerged as a result of online communication, and given the power of social media, it could potentially be harnessed to help ensure posters are more greatly discussed, thereby helping to improve ideas and knowledge exchange between academics. This paper presents findings from the world’s first Twitter poster conference, organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry, and discusses the potential impact of social media upon the academic poster.

Materials and methods

Conference organisation

The Analytical Science Twitter Poster Conference (ASTPC) was organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) journals Analyst, Analytical Methods and Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectroscopy (JAAS). The ASTPC took place from 9am on 5th February 2015 to 9am on the 6th February 2015, giving researchers a period of 24 hours to tweet pictures of their poster using the hashtag #RSCAnalyticalPoster. The aim of the ASTPC was to create an opportunity for participants to showcase their research, meet new people, share ideas and learn about some of the latest developments in different areas of analytical science. The conference was open to anyone working in any area of analytical science whose research topic was within the scope of Analyst, Analytical Methods, or JAAS.

Data production

Participants were encouraged to tweet their work, and to be available to answer any questions that interested academics (or indeed members of the general public) might have about their research. There were also prizes for the best Twitter poster, as judged by the scientific committee, with remuneration in the form of an iPod and RSC book vouchers. Furthermore, unlike a regular conference that charges fees to participate, this event was entirely free, and had no registration process other than an email to the journal to verify identity. A scientific committee consisting of 12 academics associated with the RSC were heavily involved in asking questions, generating discussions, and judging posters. Further information regarding the event can be found on the journal’s official blog (http://blogs.rsc.org/an/2014/12/19/rscanalyticalposter/).

This study was carried out according to the British Educational Research Association’s (BERA) ethical guidelines for educational research, with all of the data in this study fully anonymised. All work was also carried out according to the terms of use as indicated by Twitter's policies.

Measurement of Twitter activity

The participants that took part in the ASTPC are now assessed in terms of the number of tweets, area of the world from which the tweet was sent, total number of followers, and potential viewing audience for the tweets. All data is sourced from an online data collection program, available at http://www.followthehashtag.com. The data sample was taken over a period of 63 days, from 9am on 19th December 2014 to 9am on 20th February 2015. The data was collected from such an early date because this is when the initial announcement of the hashtag was made and promotion of the event began, however the vast majority of tweets were sent during the 24-hour window of the competition itself. Data collection stopped shortly after the prize winners were announced. Only tweets with the hashtag #RSCAnalyticalPoster were considered for the analysis, and so any figures reported here are most likely an underestimate, precluding any tweets for which the hashtag was absent. All reported times are in Greenwich Meantime.

Results and discussion

Dataset 1.Raw data for 'Twittering About Research: A Case Study of the World's First Twitter Poster Competition'.

Data have been de-identified.

Figure 1 depicts a world map with the locations of persons that contributed to the ASTPC. Over 80 posters were submitted from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Mauritius, the UK, and the USA, with the highest number of contributors coming from European countries. From the diversity shown in Figure 1, it can be inferred that social media can be used to improve the accessibility of the poster by making it freely accessible across the world in a matter of minutes. This further presents opportunities for researchers to exchange comments in the form of tweets, a format that is designed to be both clear and concise. Such communiqués encourage researchers to think more directly about their research, as they must communicate their point in 140 characters or less. This concise form of communication could help both students and academics to communicate more effectively, particularly students who sometimes struggle to differentiate between description and analysis (Chanock, 2000).

Figure 1. World map depicting the locations of participants in the ASTPC.

Yellow points indicate multiple contributions, whilst blue data points indicate singular or near-singular contributions. Reproduced from data reports obtained from the website http://www.followthehashtag.com.

Table 1 presents the statistics that were published following the ASTPC. During the designated time period, over 1700 tweets were sent with the hashtag #RSCAnalyticalPoster, originating from 378 different contributors. Each participant contributed 4.59 tweets on average to the discussion, with the total number of followers for each person that tweeted amounting to over 380,000. On average, every poster potentially received in excess of 4500 views from several areas across the world (see Figure 1).

Table 1. Data obtained from the ASTPC.

Total tweets1,734
Total audience (sum of followers)381.233
Contributors (no. of unique Twitter users)378
Measured time63 days (19/12/15 to 20/02/15)
Total impressions1,594,269
Impressions per audience4.18
Tweets per contributor4.59
Tweets per day27.5

Figure 2 displays a tweet and reach timeline that illustrates the frequency of activity across the 63 days of data collection. It is evident that there are two major zones of activity, as one would largely expect: the first when the conference was officially held, and the second when the prize winners were announced. The biggest reach and number of tweets was observed during the main event, followed by the prize announcements. Figure 2 also demonstrates that the majority of the tweets took place during the ASTPC itself, relating to the scientific posters rather than to advertising and promotion of the conference.

Given the nature of a Twitter discussion, it is perhaps more useful to present data relating to the number of contributions that users made as a whole, rather than as an average. Figure 3 depicts the individual contributions by author, and it is apparent that over half of the tweeters made only one contribution to the competition (200 users). More encouragingly, over 20% of contributors tweeted five or more times, and almost 10% of the contributors tweeted more than ten times. Indeed, the latter statistic infers that at least some useful exchanges were being made, even if it is difficult to gauge from such data how successful the exchanges may have been. The overall reach of each individual is difficult to estimate from such a dataset. One contributor may have contributed ten tweets to the discussion that has 300 people contributing, for example, yet only have ten followers, giving an overall reach value of around 310 people. Conversely, one person may have 1000 followers yet only contribute one tweet, yet their reach would be around 1300 people for one tweet alone. Therefore, it is fair to assume that Twitter can have a larger impact if the user has more followers, regardless of the number of contributions.

Figure 3. Illustration of the number of tweets sent by individuals; blue = 1 tweet; red = 10+ tweets.

Reproduced from data reports obtained from the website http://www.followthehashtag.com.

Another important piece of information relates to the gender distribution at the Twitter conference. According to the RSC membership department, 27.7% of their members are female and 72.3% male, representing an uneven distribution of members by gender. Figure 4 displays the contributions of the ASTPC by gender, with 25.6% of contributions made by females and 74.4% by males. The fact that there is no significant difference between the RSC’s overall membership and the contributors at this event shows that the social media format is not conducive to stimulation of more or less average contributions based upon the gender of the participant. The level of participation in terms of registrants was different to this, however, as 59.6% of the registrants were female. Therefore, whilst a large proportion of females were willing to engage with the competition (a significantly higher proportion than would be expected based on the RSC membership), the discussions appeared to be dominated by male contributors.

The ASTPC was organised as a free event to encourage the sharing and exchange of knowledge through the use of social media. This pilot scheme saw a potential Twitter audience of over a quarter of a million people, demonstrating that posters can quite easily be shared using Twitter, to potentially reach thousands of times more people than they could at even the largest of international scientific conferences. Every day millions of people across the world access Twitter, new Twitter connections are being made, and opinion and discussion is stimulated as a result, while the introduction of hashtags has only served to group discussions together and augment the potential reach of a niche discussion. Even without an organised hashtag or event, a poster can have a larger potential audience than it would at a conference, where the audience will, at the very most, be a few hundred people. The number of useful exchanges between participants is less easy to enumerate, as one cannot quantify the level of interaction between academics in a given poster session and compare it to the number of tweets. A face-to-face conversation about a poster that is in front of two researchers will no doubt be more fulfilling in terms of knowledge exchange, because the conversation is not limited to a few characters. In the Twitter conference, there was an average of 4.5 tweets per person, suggesting that the level of academic discussion was somewhat limited. However, this is not to say that knowledge was not exchanged, but simply that the discussion part of the ASTPC may have been shorter than that of a standard poster session at a conference. This does not account for exchanges that may have been made in private, via emails or direct messaging facilities on Twitter.

As a concept, the Twitter poster conference has some definite advantages over a more traditional poster format, with the data analysed in this study supporting the notion that it is an extremely useful way of broadening the reach and potential audience of a poster. Another advantage is the ease of knowledge exchange for those who lack the confidence or interpersonal skills required for efficient face-to-face communications. It is also apparent that Twitter can decrease the cost of the poster to the researcher because it does not need to be carried as supplementary luggage during air travel; it also avoids potentially exorbitant printing fees at conferences for those who have lost or previously been unable to print their poster. Furthermore, the carbon footprint of a Twitter-only conference is extremely low (unquantified), whereas an international conference will exhibit a substantial carbon footprint, mainly due to air travel. Research by MMU (unpublished report, Jonathan Davies and Professor Callum Thomas) has recently found that an international conference of 178 delegates resulted in the equivalent of 177 tonnes of CO2 being produced, the majority of which came from the 1.25 million kilometres of air travel required for delegates to travel to the conference.

The nature of Twitter means that more in-depth forms of communication are limited through online exchanges, which could be seen as a disadvantage of the format. However, after the initial exchanges the delegate has the opportunity to extend any interactions further. This can be achieved by the exchange of emails, phone numbers, and Skype IDs for example, or in private messaging facilities over Twitter, meaning that more in-depth chats about the research in question can still be facilitated. The lack of interpersonal communication is disadvantageous, but should not detract researchers from a Twitter conference. It could be used alongside the traditional poster session, or as a separate entity of its own if a researcher is unable, or prefers not, to travel. Given Twitter’s recent foray into video streaming, the concept could also be adapted to include oral communications, in which researchers could tweet short video vignettes of their work, or even use Periscope to live-stream the entire presentation. The Twitter format could also potentially be used as a hybrid with the PICO concept discussed in the introduction.

In specific relation to the RSC, the results presented here indicate that whilst Twitter could be used as a tool to address the gender inequality, more needs to be done to encourage female participants to participate in the active Twitter discussions.

Conclusions

The world’s first Twitter conference could be considered a success in terms of potential audience, ease of knowledge exchange, lack of travel requirement, and reduction in carbon footprint. The conference reached out to many researchers across the world, and created an opportunity for participants to share their work not only with academics, but also with other interested parties such as writers, industries, friends and family, and even policy makers. Over 80 posters were tweeted with the hashtag #RSCAnalyticalPoster, reaching an audience potentially as large as 375,000 people, and the format of a Twitter poster conference has the potential to allow for research to be shared more quickly and cheaply, and in a more environmentally friendly manner. Despite some potential issues relating to prolonged exchanges, there is no doubt that the hybridisation of the academic conference and social media is something that could and should be seen more regularly in the future. We expect the use of social media to significantly expand scientific conferences due to the advantages identified above, and also to be utilised alongside conferences where physical participation occurs. The benefits of social media can help researchers organise their poster viewings at large conferences, for example future ACS conferences, helping to potentially improve the poster session experience for all participating researchers. Such an improvement in engagement will enhance scientific communication and knowledge exchange, ultimately leading to more successful conferences.

Data availability

F1000Research: Dataset 1. Raw data for ‘Twittering About Research: A Case Study of the World’s First Twitter Poster Competition’., 10.5256/f1000research.6992.d101516 (Randviir et al., 2015).

All data is also available publically by searching for the hashtag “#RSCAnalyticalPoster” on FollowtheHashtag.

Author contributions

All authors have contributed to this article equally.

Competing interests

The authors declare that there are no competing interests, either financial or otherwise.

Grant information

The author(s) declared that no grants were involved in supporting this work.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Royal Society of Chemistry for access to member information and hosting the event.

F1000 recommended

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The theme of this year’s Earth Days Week celebration is “State of Nature: Past, Present – and Future?” Once again, as part of the celebration, the university will sponsor a poster competition that features students’ research on a wide range of environmental topics on Monday, April 9, 2018, 11am - 12:15pm. Deadline for poster registration is April 2, 2018.

The Earth Day Student Poster Competition is the only judged poster competition on campus. Any class at 200-level or higher is able to submit posters on the Earth Days Week theme.

Instructors please consider integrating the poster competition into your Spring 2018 course assignments. Issues may include (but are certainly not limited to) such topics as:

  • What are the pressures on nature?
  • What is nature today, and what factors have contributed to its current state?
  • What is the impact of climate change on nature?
  • What is the relationship among agribusiness, food production and climate change?
  • What is the impact of population growth on nature?
  • What is the impact of desertification on nature?
  • What is the impact of ocean acidification on nature?
  • What is the impact of capitalism on nature?
  • What changes have these pressures on nature caused?
  • How have deforestation, desertification, habitat loss, species loss, and/or ocean acidification worsened and what is the likely future scenario for these?
  • Climate costs: what are the financial, environmental and human costs of climate change?   What are the future costs of inaction now?
  • What are some examples of carbon footprint analyses?
  • Climate casualties:  who will be the most impacted with rising seas, more extreme weather, and ever-rising temperatures? What are some examples of case studies?
  • What is the impact of climate change and habitat loss on biodiversity?
  • Climate justice:  what are the moral and philosophical dimensions of climate change?  Will climate change bring about cooperation or conflict?
  • How does climate change affect war and conflict?
  • What is the impact of fracking on the environment and the economy? 
  • What are the public health impacts of climate change and other forms of environmental degradation?
  • What is happening at the global, national, state and local level inside and outside of government to worsen or address the pressures on nature?
  • How have Trump Administration appointments and executive actions impacted climate change and environmental issues in general?
  • What actions has the 115th Congress taken on environmental issues, and what is the impact on the natural world?
  • What does social science research say about why misinformation and disinformation is believed so readily and persistently?
  • How have attitudes toward nature changed over time?
  • What is the impact of the “post-truth era” on environmental policy?
  • What are the implications of the executive and legislative branch actions on fossil fuels for sea level rise?
  • What was the role of the fossil fuel industries and other anti-environment interest groups in Election 2016 and subsequent legislative activity?
  • What happened on state level environmental ballot measures in Election 2016?
  • How are states responding to federal actions on the environment?
  • What’s next for cities and towns in their efforts to promote energy efficiency and fight climate change?
  • What are the potential economics of carbon taxes on consumer goods and services?
  • What are methods of carbon sequestration?
  • What role can green chemistry and industrial ecology play in reducing carbon pollution and other pollutants?
  • What are the economic and environmental impacts of recycling and conservation?
  • How does climate change affect the oceans and marine fisheries?
  • What are the ethical and moral dimensions of climate change?  or sea level rise?
  • In what ways are the executive and legislative branches seeking to weaken the Endangered Species Act? Marine Mammal Protection Act? Clean Air Act? Clean Water Act?
  • Can economic exploitation and environmental stewardship be reconciled?
  • What is the role of forests in international climate change treaties?
  • How should climate change be presented to skeptics? How should skepticism about climate change be handled?
  • How can capitalism be leveraged to address climate change? Can capitalism be reconciled with climate change?
  • What is the public response to the new attacks on the environment and environmental policies?

We can easily imagine relevant environmental topics emerging from any major discipline at the university.

Posters are not required to follow this year’s theme as long as the topic of the poster relates to the environment and/or environmental protection.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED in (1) having your students submit posters for the competition, AND/OR (2) acting as a poster judge, please contact poster event coordinator Dr. Severin Kitanov as soon as possible for information about the competition itself.

Please observe the following poster submission rules:

  • Posters must be primarily the work of students and not faculty; please no faculty co-authors
  • Posters must be tied to a class, or to a professor if someone does one as a directed study
  • Poster size is limited to the size of 3’ x 4’ and must be mounted on free-standing, tri-fold poster board; NOTE that undersized posters will not receive a score from the judges - with no exceptions; oversized posters are also not allowed, since there is NO wall space for posters to be mounted during the competition

  • Students may not re-enter posters that have been used in previous Earth Day poster competitions, unless there has been significant or substantial addition or revision

During the celebration posters will be on display in Veterans Hall, Ellison Campus Center, on Monday, April 9, from 11:00 am until 12:20 pm, for students, faculty, staff and members of the local community to review. Students who design a poster must stand by their poster during this time period for judging. Winning posters will be on display during the Earth Day Awards Ceremony on April 12, 2018.

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