Wrapping Up the Spring Semester Successfully

Duke students wearing masks

While final examinations do not begin until April 27, preparing now to wrap up your courses will streamline the process for both you and your students. While it has been over a year since Duke transitioned to emergency remote learning and the community has gained more experience with flexible teaching models, challenges — particularly in terms of student, faculty and staff well-being — remain. However, there are strategies you can employ to preemptively ameliorate student confusion and reduce stress for all members of your course community. This blog covers communication and assessment best practices to guide the final days of your semester.

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. We have a few tips for you to implement to help students with their concerns:

  • 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.
  • Give students rubrics in advance, so they understand what is being asked of them. Rubrics help ensure you are grading students consistently. 
  • 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.
  • 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.

Make Yourself Available

Hold consistent office hours, and be sure to publish changes to these hours prominently; for example, you might 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.

Be Aware of Common Technology Pitfalls

As a general rule, do not use a technology you or your students are unfamiliar with for the first time during a high-stakes assessment. If you are using an assessment tool for the first time (Sakai tests and quizzes, Gradescope) in your course, provide a practice run that is not graded to work out any technical issues before a high-stakes assessment. Consistently using a few tools well better serves you and your students. In addition to sharing clear instructions with your students, one way you can help students navigate technology is warning them of common pitfalls.

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

  • Share the golden rule: one window, one browser.
  • Be sure to explain the test setup to the students.
  • Break a long test into parts, which will require students to save frequently.
  • Remind students to save their work frequently. 

For more details on these suggestions and other best practices, review the Sakai Guides and Documentation page, How can I help students avoid problems when taking online tests?, and share the student page with your students.

If you are having students turn in a project through the assignments tool in Sakai, be sure to remind students to choose “Submit” when their project is complete, rather than “Save Draft.”

Students may have their own technological challenges (e.g., low bandwidth), so be prepared to work with students if something goes wrong.

As you and your instructional staff grade in Sakai, keep in mind the golden rule of one window, one browser to make sure you do not lose your work!

Need Help?

For one-on-one help with questions as you conclude your Spring 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 or email us at learninginnovation@duke.edu.