1. Take Time to Remind Students of What’s Next and When Assignments and Readings are Due
This hint is similar to the recommendation of providing an overview of activities and requirements of individual course modules. An overview of this type provides a “To Do” list and schedule for the learners. And by implication this list provides a helpful “To Do” list and schedule for you!
As always, it is good to post such reminders in two or more places on the course site, and make references to it when you are present.
2. Plan the Ending of the Course Experience
We have talked about a course being composed of a series of structured learning experiences. After a series of experiences it is good to design the ending of the experience. 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) Content, (2) Interaction and Community, and (3) the full Course Experience.
2A. End-of-Course Content Experiences
Both faculty and learners 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 state somewhere, ” If you remember nothing else, remember “THIS” (Fill in your favorite mantra for your most long lasting concept.) Many faculty choose to prepare/use a summary that includes future trends, and encourage the development of new discipline habits. For example, an obvious goal for many graduates is to develop the habit of reading a specific discipline journal or publication or tracking a particular expert as a way of further integrating the course content.
For learners, the end of the course is a time to “tie up loose ends” and put the finishing touches on new perspectives. Recall that as we develop concepts, it is often necessary to identify and build relationships among ideas and 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 and useful 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.
It is also a time for possibly discussing what learners will be doing next. What courses are next on their schedule? Or what learning tasks they are going to focus on next?
2B. End-of-Course Interaction Experiences
Learners often create a very supportive learning community with the combination of peer-to-peer dialogue and shared collaborative learning over eight to thirteen weeks. Closing out such an experience can sometimes be wrenching; other times much easier. Providing a time and “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 Forum” where students share a closing comment, such as the end-of-course content 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 other courses they might be in together again. 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!”
2C. End-of-Course Full Course Experience
The end-of-course also brings the time for students to complete the ” Evaluation”. 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.
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 2-3 weeks of a course can be some of the most stimulating and creative learning time 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!
Notes and References
Allen, D. (2002). Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. New York, New York Penguin
Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 1997-2008