Poster Project for an Introductory Physical Geology Course

Eileen Herrstrom
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Author Profile
Initial Publication Date: July 1, 2019 | Reviewed: December 2, 2020


This page details a term project that replaced the comprehensive final exam in an introductory physical geology course. For the project, each student prepares a poster showing analysis of geological data using a spreadsheet.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This undergraduate course on physical geology is intended for students who are not planning to major in science, although some geology majors have come out of the class. The course also satisfies two general education requirements – one for physical science and one for quantitative reasoning.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Must know how to form a hypothesis, find data online, and use Microsoft Excel to handle large datasets and make graphs

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a term-long project that culminates in a poster session held during the scheduled final exam time.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Find an Earth science-related dataset online, download/import/copy at least 50 data points into Excel, and create a graph using the data

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Format the graph appropriately, write a 1-page summary that describes the data and interprets the graph and its significance, select at least one map and one image to illustrate the topic, and compile at least three references

Other skills goals for this activity

Organize the elements logically and attractively on the poster, develop an informative title, and evaluate five posters created by classmates

Description of the activity/assignment

This project is modeled after scientific meetings where scientists exchange information via poster presentations. The challenge is to present varied and interesting data accurately, concisely, and attractively in a limited format. For the project, each student prepares a poster showing an analysis of geological data using a spreadsheet. Topics must be approved by the instructor. Students find a data set online, graph some aspect of the data, and summarize the results on a standard poster board (56 x 71 cm or 22 x 28 in). No oral presentation is involved. Posters are graded on their geological content, use of a spreadsheet, use of graphics, and organization.

Every poster must incorporate the following elements: an informative title; a table with at least 50 data points, formatted and printed using Microsoft Excel; a graph of the data, created using Microsoft Excel; a 1-page summary of the overall project; at least one picture; at least one map; and three or more references.

There are intermediate deadlines during the semester for parts of the poster: the topic and data source; the table and graph; the summary; and the references cited. The poster itself is due at the scheduled final exam time, a three-hour period used as the Poster Review Session where students display their posters for the rest of the class to read.

During the Poster Review Session, students read five posters of their choice and answer a series of questions about each one, including a subjective evaluation of Excellent, Good, Fair, or Poor. Reviews affect the grade of the student filling them out but do not affect the grades assigned to the posters themselves; all posters are graded by the instructor.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Grades for the Poster Project are based on the ten Project Sample quizzes (administered online through the course website and worth 20% of the Project grade), the four Project Elements due during the semester (20% of the Project grade), the Poster itself (40%), and the five Poster Reviews (20%). The overall grade for the Poster Project accounts for 20-25% of the course grade, while examinations have been reduced to 30-35% of the course grade.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Penn State University, 2005, Designing Communications for a Poster Fair: Online resource – Accessed 17 June 2019

Excel for Windows video training: Online resource – Accessed 17 June 2019

Watson, K., 2015, Tackling the poster hall, Eos, 96, doi:10.1o29/2015EO040863. Online resource – Accessed 17 June 2019

Herrstrom, E.A., 2016, Poster Project Final: Student Perceptions and Performance: Online resource – Accessed 17 June 2019