November 28 2006 (Refreshed September 26, 2012)
eCoaching Tip 29: Closing and Wrapping up a Course with Style
Everyone gets very busy as a course term enters its closing weeks. In such times lists are more helpful than ever in reducing stress and calming us. A favorite image of mine is from productivity guru David Allen, author of Getting Things Done (2002). Allen observes that making a list helps us to clear the “psychic ram” of our brains and we feel more relaxed and more in control. Once we have made our list and built a schedule, we don’t have to continually remind ourselves of what needs to be done and when.
Here are a few hints for closing out a course with style and panache.
1. Take Time to Remind Students of What’s Next and When Assignments and Readings are Due
This hint builds on the wisdom of building lists just mentioned. As a course comes to a close, it is an opportunity to remind learners of the final set of upcoming activities and the learning purposes of those activities. Learners can use this summary to create their own To Do lists and schedules for the final weeks. A useful byproduct is that this summary provides a helpful list and schedule for you!
A link to the summary can be in an announcement along with a note of encouragement. Another option is to put it in a discussion forum and students can add hints, thoughts or questions about the closing activities.
2. Plan the Ending of the Course Experience
Instructional designers envision a course as a series of structured learning experiences. After designing a series of experiences for the purpose of learners developing knowledge, skills and attitudes, we sometimes forget to plan for an energetic ending of the course. A well-designed ending of a course provides opportunities for reflection and integration of useful knowledge. It is also a time to wrap up positive social and cognitive experiences.
When we get together for family and holiday time, we often do a lot of hugging as we disperse and return to our usual daily responsibilities. The end of a course can be closed with cognitive “hugging” and concept pruning, reflecting very explicitly on the knowledge and skills we look forward to using in the future.
End-of-course experiences can focus on areas such as (1) course content, (2) community, and (3) the full course experience. Here are some ideas for each of these three areas.
Faculty and learners both enjoy and benefit from end-of-course content experiences. For faculty it is an opportunity to summarize and affirm the skills and knowledge and core concepts of a course. One way of doing this is to have your set of concept capsules ready and frequently used. A content capsule is a one-liner, such as, “If you remember nothing else, remember “THIS” (Fill in your favorite mantra for your most long lasting concept.)
Another faculty favorite is to close with a summary that includes future trends and challenges. Faculty often encourage identifying a discipline habit that learners may have started in the course and set goals around that discipline habit. For example, an obvious goal for many graduate students, in particular, is to develop the habit of reading a discipline journal or publication or tracking a particular expert or leader.
For learners, the end of the course is a time to “tie up loose ends” and put the finishing touches on new knowledge and skills. Recall that as we develop concepts, it is often necessary to identify patterns and relationships among the concepts within our existing body of knowledge. This also requires the “pruning” of what we have learned so that we can readily access and use essential concepts.
One strategy to promote end-of-course reflection is to ask the learners to identify and share one of their most meaningful insights from the course. Another strategy you might experiment with is to have the learners identify an object that symbolizes one of their meaningful learning experiences (Singham, 2006). Examples of these objects can range from photos to vegetables such as onions, or sculptures. This is an activity that might work well in a live classroom with learners sharing pictures of the object.
It is also a time for possibly discussing what learners will be doing next, such as what courses are next on their schedule or to discuss future learning wishes and opportunities.
Learners often create a lively learning community when using collaborative learning over eight to thirteen weeks. Closing out such a community experience can sometimes be wrenching; other times it goes without a whimper, of course. Providing a time and virtual place for saying good-bye, just as we provide a time and place for learners to introduce themselves at the beginning of a course is a good thing to do. How might you do this? A simple way to do it is to provide a Closing Forumwhere students share a closing comment, such as the end-of-course content or collaborative insight.
One of the most valuable parts of a successful learning experience is expanding our network of colleagues; so providing a way for students to stay in touch is also helpful. This can happen naturally in a cohort-based program. Another approach might be to encourage them to share where/when they might meet again, such as which future courses they might be in together. And with the use of Facebook pages during a course, the Facebook page is a natural. Other times, “until we meet again” works just fine. One faculty shared that one of the most heart-warming comments that he remembers is a student saying that he disliked “seeing the class come to an end!”
When is a good time to do this good-bye and staying in touch activity? Sometime in the last week is generally effective.
Full Course Experience
The end-of-course also brings the time for students to complete course evaluation forms. This is an important feedback mechanism for the college; but is often less useful for faculty. So, it is good to ask the learners for feedback about particular elements of the course experience while it is fresh in their minds and to do this in a final forum. Bonus points might encourage participation.
Some questions for learners in the area of course experience might include:
- What was the most useful resource/assignment for the course and why?
- What problems, if any, did they have with the use of the technology tools? Either “operator error” or “designer-error?”
- What did they notice about the course that you think might be changed in some way? You can add your own comment here to get them started, saying. Here is one thing I noticed….
- Were they ready for the course content? What might have helped if they were not?
- Open question — other suggestions or recommendations
This informal feedback can be in a separate place on the course site, and again be quite unstructured. The goal is for continual updating and quality improvement of course experiences for faculty and learners.
Designing the end of course experiences at this time can also bring into relief all the tasks that you have planned for your learners during these final weeks. If need be, you can choose to modify the requirements.
The last two-three weeks of a course can be some of the most stimulating and creative learning times as learners are putting it all together. So prepare a special coffee or other beverage and enjoy your students and their dialogue at this time.
Allen, D. (2002). Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.New York, New York. Penguin.
Singham, M. (2006) Ending the Semester. POD Listserv. Nov. 16 2006. Retrieved September 27 2012 from https://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0611&L=POD&T=0&O=D&P=73051
Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016 in the second edition of the book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by designingforlearning.org.