Tips to Help You Smoothly Wrap Up the Fall Semester

Masked Duke students attend class

While final examinations do not begin until November 20,  preparing now to wrap up your courses will streamline the process for both you and your students. While the Fall semester has been difficult, there are strategies you can employ to preemptively cut down on student stress and confusion. This blog covers communication strategies between instructors and students to help you successfully finish the semester, as well as resources for instructors.

Clearly Communicate Expectations and Policies

As the semester comes to a close, student questions on final projects, course grades and other topics of immediate concern are likely to arise. In the spring, students felt they either received insufficient information or were overwhelmed with communications. We have a few tips to help develop a clear line of communication between you and your students:

  • When conveying information that affects the entirety of the class, use a single method consistently. Sending emails through Sakai’s Announcements tool, for example, will archive your messages and will display recent announcements on the Sakai course’s overview page.
  • Be sure all members of the instructional staff are on the same page so that communications with students will be consistent.
  • Review with your students the course schedule and what they need to do to successfully complete the course.
  • Convey expectations for each assignment clearly, including whether or not students may collaborate and how, what resources they might use and what citational guidelines they should follow.
  • Explain to students in advance what they should do if they encounter technical problems that prevent them from completing an assignment.
  • Refer students to important policies such as receiving extensions or the acceptance of late work.
  • Remember to be flexible, as students deal with the pressures of the pandemic, their personal situations and external events on top of the pressures of their course work.

If you are delivering tests and quizzes using Sakai, Learning Innovation suggests a few strategies you can employ to prevent student errors:

Make Yourself Available

Hold consistent office hours, and be sure to publish changes prominently if necessary, such as if you decide to extend office hours before exams. If you are teaching alongside co-instructors or teaching assistants, coordinate your office hour schedules to increase teaching staff availability to students. Consider student timezones when you think about these schedules as well.

Similarly, if you plan to communicate with your students over email, provide them with your availability (e.g. “I will not answer weekend emails after 5 p.m. on Fridays;” “Please leave a twenty-four hour window for my response time.”). Guidelines not only help set student expectations but also help them plan ahead.

Reserving time at the start or end of class for students to ask questions allows you to cover common concerns at once. Assigning a teaching assistant or student to take class notes of these answers and posting them in a common place gives students the opportunity to revisit important information. Short classroom assessment techniques such as minute papers or the muddiest point help gauge what students have learned and what needs to be clarified for meeting final course learning objectives. These techniques work both in face-to-face classrooms and online, and you can collect answers over Zoom chat, Qualtrics or other digital tools. 

If the nature of your course’s final project allows for students to receive feedback from you or their peers in advance, using class time for students to talk about their concerns in small groups allows them to answer each other’s questions. Providing specific guidelines for breakout room discussions will structure how students use their time, and you can move between rooms to check-in with each group.

Looking Ahead

As you wrap up your Fall courses, reflect on the positive lessons that came from your teaching this semester, as well as the areas you would like to improve. Survey your students and implement their feedback when possible in your next courses.

For one-on-one help with Spring course design or questions as you conclude your Fall courses, you can visit Learning Innovation office hours every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 1-3 p.m. EDT at duke.zoom.us/my/dukelearninginnovation.

Learning Innovation is offering a series of workshops on “Sharing What Works” this winter to enable faculty to connect with one another to discuss what worked well in Fall 2020 courses, creating community and encouraging student engagement. The schedule for these events is as follows:

Wednesday, December 2, 2-3 p.m.: One Good Idea from Fall 2020 Courses
Bring one good idea that worked well in your hybrid or online class to share with other faculty, and hear other good ideas that may work in your course.

Thursday, January 7, 10-11 a.m.: Creating Community in your Course
We’ll discuss ways of creating community in your course, important for student learning. Bring your ideas and experiences from Fall and get ideas for the Spring.

Monday, January 11, 10-11 a.m.: Encouraging Student Engagement
This Fall, students appreciated teaching techniques that increased their engagement in their hybrid and fully online courses. We’ll discuss some methods that worked in the Fall and encourage you to bring ideas for ways of engaging students in your own courses this Spring

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