The last class

Posted by: Helen McLean, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Sunset over waterIt’s nearly the end of semester and you will be thinking about the last class with your students. How memorable do you want it to be? Will it involve a celebration or will it be a protestant lock down until the bell goes? Is there content still to be mopped up or revision needed for looming exams? Perhaps it will incorporate a flourishing submission of the final assignment or coverage of logistical details like exam timetables, collection of assignments and completion of course surveys. Will the spirit of the class be an ungainly scrabble for closure or will it be a time for considered reflection?

The last class of the course is an opportunity to acknowledge the passing of time spent together as a community of learners. There is a sense of relief in having conquered the learning schedule presented at the first class but there may possibly be a sense of regret that perhaps not all expectations in the room have been met. It is a surety that you won’t be coming together in this course any more to discuss, challenge, ponder and learn together and perhaps that is a little sad. But it is also a time to affirm what has been achieved in those hours spent in company and to give space for the sense of wonder about the meanings that each student has made of the subject area and how they have demonstrated what they have learnt.

Will your students be feeling that they have arrived and are ready to move on?

Will the last class be a time to celebrate the community that has come together for 12 weeks, and acknowledge their pride and achievements, both collectively and individually?

Will it allow students a safe space to express their disappointments, talk about their interpretations of events and share their frustrations?

The final class is a transition space where students are about to leave familiar territory and embark on another beginning, whether that be to progress to the next stage of their study or to graduate from university. Will the final time together be about what has happened and what’s ahead? The time they have spent together with you is not an isolated event in their study but a bridge in their journey of learning. Have they been able to make their own meaningful connections with course content and previous experiences to create new knowledge and understanding that will be relevant to the future possibilities before them?

Is the final assessment a part of that experience of moving forwards? Is it a recap or an opening? What sort of feedback will you give them? Perhaps you could ask what they would specifically like to receive feedback on for their last assignment? They should now be in a better position to know what they need for their next steps of learning.

In the last class I will have with my students, I want them to celebrate the time together both as learners and as a community and to reflect on how they have learned as well as what they have learned to strengthen what has happened during the semester. I want them to revisit the objectives and expectations they stated at the beginning of the course and consider how well these were met and whether they feel more prepared for whatever is next in the their learning. I want them to own the experience of the semester and feel that the effort they put in as learners and a community was worthwhile and relevant for what’s ahead.

The types of questions I will consider asking them to ‘Think, Pair and Share’ include:

  • What did I expect to learn in this course? Did I learn it?
  • How have my opinions and views changed as a result of this course?
  • One thing I will take from this course is… because…
  • I would like to learn more about…

(See Humboldt State University’s page: The Last Day of Class: Beginning at the End for further suggestions).

Activities like these can shift the focus from marks and grades by getting students to think about their learning and celebrate and own their achievements, to find closure for the time and effort they committed to your course and to consider where this experience can lead them next.

Share your thoughts about finishing a course and final activities in the comments below!

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