Wrapping Up the Fall Semester

Preparing now to wrap up your courses successfully will streamline the process for both you and your students. While the Duke community has gained more experience with flexible teaching models over the last 18 months — particularly in terms of student, faculty and staff well-being — challenges remain. However, there are strategies you can employ to preemptively reduce confusion and 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. Coordinate your and your TAs’ office hours to provide the maximum availability of teaching staff to students.
  • Be clear about your email 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.”), and specify what other communications methods students could use to reach you. Guidelines not only help set student expectations but also help them plan ahead.
  • If the nature of your course’s final project allows for students to receive feedback from you or their peers in advance, using some class time for students to talk about their concerns in small groups allows them to answer each other’s questions.

Be Aware of Common Technology Pitfalls

  • In general, do not use a technology you or your students are unfamiliar with for the first time during the end-of-term or final exam period.
  • When you are using an assessment tool for the first time, use an ungraded practice assessment to work out any technical issues before a graded assessment.
  • In addition to sharing clear instructions about the assessment set up and how it will work, help students navigate technology by warning them of common pitfalls.
  • Students may have their own technological challenges (e.g., low bandwidth), so be prepared to work with students if something goes wrong.
  • And finally, not a “pitfall” but a suggestion: for more equitable grading practices, consider using blind (anonymous) grading (both Sakai and Gradescope allow this, but you can also grade anonymously in non-digital assignments as well).

If you are delivering assessments using Sakai, here are a few Sakai-specific strategies you can employ to prevent student errors:

  • Use one window in one browser for taking tests and quizzes, and when you and your TAs are grading, to avoid losing work.
  • Remind students to save their work frequently. Break a long test into parts, which will force students to save frequently.
  • When using the assignments tool in Sakai, be sure to remind students to choose “Submit” when their project is complete, rather than “Save Draft.”

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.

Need Help?

For one-on-one help with questions as you conclude your Spring courses, you can visit Learning Innovation online office hours Monday 1 – 3 p.m. or Thursday 10 a.m – 12 p.m. EST at duke.zoom.us/my/dukelearninginnovation, or email us at learninginnovation@duke.edu.