Evaluation of Higher-Order Skills Development in an Asynchronous Online Poster Session for Final Year Science Undergraduates

  • Jennifer Duckworth The Open University, United Kingdom
  • Catherine Halliwell The Open University, United Kingdom
Keywords: online poster session, asynchronous, student perceptions, higher-order skills


Preparing a scientific poster and presenting it at a conference supports the development of a range of skills in undergraduates that are relevant to further study and the workplace. This investigation focused on an asynchronous online poster session in a final year undergraduate science module at a UK university to assess evidence of higher-order skills development and determine student perceptions of the benefits and challenges of participating in the session.

The study analysed 100 randomly selected posters from the 2020 session for evidence of scientific understanding, application, and critical evaluation, together with the feedback received on them. While 73% of the posters demonstrated understanding and 70% application, a lower proportion (42%) demonstrated critical evaluation skills. Seventy-eight percent of posters were considered to have received feedback from peers that gave an effective or partially effective evaluation of scientific content.

Focus group discussions involving nine students led to the identification of themes relating to constraints, academic challenges, skills and experience, and personal development. Students recognized the value of the conference for skills development and the experience it gave of “real” science, while acknowledging the challenges involved in producing posters, giving feedback to peers, and managing their time.

The asynchronous online poster session enabled students to develop higher-order cognitive and communication skills that are valued by employers. This format provides a pragmatic and easy to implement alternative to synchronous online conferences, which is relevant to the shift toward online learning in higher education, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and increase in distance learning and international students.

Author Biographies

Jennifer Duckworth, The Open University, United Kingdom

Associate Lecturer and Honorary Associate, School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, Faculty of STEM

Catherine Halliwell, The Open University, United Kingdom

Associate Lecturer and Honorary Associate, School of Life, Health and Chemical Sciences, Faculty of STEM


Al Tawil, R. (2019). Nonverbal communication in text-based, asynchronous online education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v20i1.3705

Basaran, B., & Yalman, M. (2020). Examining university students’ attitudes towards web-conferencing systems in distance learning courses: a study on scale development and application. Knowledge Management and E-Learning: An International Journal, 12(2), 209-–230. https://doi.org/10.34105/j.kmel.2020.12.011

Bloom, B. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals, by a committee of college and university examiners. In B. Bloom (Ed.), Handbook 1: Cognitive domain. Longmans

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Freeze, J. G., Martin, J. A., Fitzgerald, P. Jakiela, D. J., & Reinhardt, C. R. (2020). Orchestrating a highly interactive virtual student research symposium. Journal of Chemical Education, 97, 2773–2778. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.0c00676

Gasper, B. J., & Gardner, S. M. (2013). Engaging students in authentic microbiology research in an introductory biology laboratory course is correlated with gains in student understanding of the nature of authentic research and critical thinking. Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education, 14(1), 25–34. https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.460

Gillett-Swan, J. (2017). The challenges of online learning: Supporting and engaging the isolated learner. Journal of Learning Design, 10(1), 20–30. http://dx.doi.org/10.5204/jld.v9i3.293

Gosselin, D. C., & Golick, D. (2020). Posters as an effective assessment tool for a capstone course. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 10, 426–437. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-020-00612-x

Halligan, P. (2008). Poster presentations: valuing all forms of evidence. Nurse Education in Practice, 8, 41–45. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nepr.2007.02.005

Hawkins, P., & Shohet, R. (2012). Supervising in the helping professions. McGraw-Hill Education.

Holt, E. A., Heim, A. B., Tessens, E., & Walker, R. (2020). Thanks for inviting me to the party: Virtual poster sessions as a way to connect in a time of disconnection. Ecology and Evolution, 10(22), 12423–12430. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.6756

Jewell, P., Reading, J., Clarke, M., & Kippist, L. (2020). Information skills for business acumen and employability: A competitive advantage for graduates in Western Sydney. Journal of Education for Business, 95(2), 88–105. https://doi.org/10.1080/08832323.2019.1610346

Jones, D., Lotz, N., & Holden, G. (2017). Lurking and learning: making learning visible in a Virtual Design Studio. In: G. Pritchard & N. Lambert (Eds.), Proceedings of the LearnX Design London 2017 Conference (pp. 176–183). http://oro.open.ac.uk/52977/

Kear, K., Chetwynd, F., Williams, J., & Donelan, H. (2012). Web conferencing for synchronous online tutorials: Perspectives of tutors using a new medium. Computers & Education, 58(3), 953–963. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2011.10.015

Kinikin, J. & Hench, K. (2012). Poster presentations as an assessment tool in a third/college-level information literacy course: An effective method of measuring student understanding of library research skills. Journal of Information Literacy, 6(2), 86–96. https://doi.org/10.11645/6.2.1698

Kneale, P., Edwards-Jones, A., Walkington, H., & Hill, J. (2016). Evaluating undergraduate research conferences as vehicles for novice researcher development. International Journal for Researcher Development, 7(2), 159–177. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJRD-10-2015-0026

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.

Little, C. (2020). Undergraduate research as a student engagement springboard: Exploring the longer-term reported benefits of participation in a research conference. Educational Research, 62(2), 229–245. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131881.2020.1747360

Liu, N. -F., & Carless, D. (2007). Peer feedback: The learning element of peer assessment. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(3), 279–290. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562510600680582

Lockee, B. B. (2021). Online education in the post-COVID era. Nature Electronics, 4, 5–6. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41928-020-00534-0

Lotz, N., Jones, D., & Holden, G. (2018). Engaging qualities: Factors affecting learner attention in online design studios. In Proceedings of DRS2018, pp. 2746–2764. Design Research Society.

Mabrouk, P. A. (2009). Survey study investigating the significance of conference participation to undergraduate research students. Journal of Chemical Education, 86(11), 1335. https://doi.org/10.1021/ed086p1335

Mathieson, S. (2014). Student Learning. In H. Fry, S. Ketteridge & S. Marshall (Eds.), A handbook for teaching and learning in higher education: Enhancing academic practice (4th ed., pp. 63–79). Taylor & Francis.

McMahon, T. (2010). Peer feedback in an undergraduate programme: Using action research to overcome students’ reluctance to criticise. Educational Action Research, 18(2), 273–287. https://doi.org/10.1080/09650791003741814

Open University. (2021). Facts and figures. http://www.open.ac.uk/about/main/strategy-and-policies/facts-and-figures

Saribipour, S., Khan, A., Fen, Y., Seah, S., Mwakilili, A.D., Mumoki, F. N., Sáez, F. J., Schwessinger, B. J., Debat, H. J., & Mestrovic, T. (2021). Changing scientific meetings for the better. Nature Human Behaviour, 5, 296–300. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01067-y

Scully, G., & Kerr, R. (2014). Student workload and assessment: Strategies to manage expectations and inform curriculum development. Accounting Education, 23(5), 443–466. https://doi.org/10.1080/09639284.2014.947094

Spronken-Smith, R., Brodeur, J., Kajacs, T., Luck, M., Myatt, P., Verburgh, A., Walkington, H., & Wuetherick, B. (2013). Completing the research cycle: a framework for promoting dissemination of undergraduate research and inquiry. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(2), 105–118. http://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.1.2.105

Stanny, C. J. (2016). Reevaluating Bloom’s taxonomy: What measurable verbs can and cannot say about student learning. Education Sciences, 6(4), 37. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci6040037

Terras, K., Leggio, J., & Phillips, A. (2015). Disability accommodations in online courses: The graduate student experience. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 28(3), 329–340. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1083812.pdf

Van Popta, E., Kral, M., Camp, G., Martens, R. L., & Simons, P. R. (2017). Exploring the value of peer feedback in online learning for the provider. Educational Research Review, 20, 24-34. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2016.10.003

Walkington, H., Hill, J., & Kneale, P. E. (2017). Reciprocal elucidation: A student-led pedagogy in multidisciplinary undergraduate research conferences. Higher Education Research & Development, 36(2), 416–429. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2016.1208155

Wang, J., & Wang, Y. (2021). Compare synchronous and asynchronous online instruction for science teacher preparation. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 32(3), 265–285. https://doi.org/10.1080/1046560X.2020.1817652

Yucel, R., Bird, F. L., Young, J., & Blanksby, T. (2014). The road to self-assessment: Exemplar marking before peer review develops first-year students’ capacity to judge the quality of a scientific report. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39(8), 971–986. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2014.880400

Zheng, A. Y., Lawhorn, J. K., Lumley, T., & Freeman, S. (2008). Application of Bloom’s taxonomy debunks the “MCAT myth.” Science, 319 (5862), 414–415. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1147852

How to Cite
Duckworth, J., & Halliwell, C. (2022). Evaluation of Higher-Order Skills Development in an Asynchronous Online Poster Session for Final Year Science Undergraduates. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 23(3), 259-273. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v23i3.6238
Research Articles