How You Approach the Last Day of Class is More Important Now Than Ever

Photo: A class gathering remotely via laptop

We’ve never had a term quite like this, and how we close our classes this semester matters. For some students, their classes may have been their most consistent and stable community during this time of rapid change and abrupt isolation. This article offers tips and techniques for approaching the last day of class in ways that provide both closure and connection. 

I was chatting – well, zooming actually – with a colleague who felt inclined to skip the final class session, given that students seemed so exhausted. I absolutely understand this inclination, but I suggested otherwise. I was not promoting intentional course closure due to policy or typical good practice, but because this semester is like no other we’ve experienced and students will likely be grateful for that closure.

A webinar on trauma-informed pedagogy confirmed my belief in the importance of closure this semester. Let’s consider why. Your class, while inconsistently “delivered,” might have been the only consistent and stable community for students this semester. Many students had to leave their college residences and support networks. For some, the only thing in their lives that stayed the same was your presence, and that of other students in your course. As a result, the termination of this semester, as well as a very uncertain future, may cause some students a discernible sense of grief and sadness (especially for those graduating).

We hope that our students will carry with them what they have learned about the course content but also about humanity during this traumatic time, and apply, integrate, and develop this knowledge well beyond the final assessment. The last day of class can offer you a chance to foresee the lasting impact of your teaching. And, more importantly this semester, it can offer the gift of gratitude to each other and create closure for the learning community.

So what does class closure look like in a remote environment? Here are some ideas that can be done either synchronously or asynchronously:

  • Co-construct a quilt of contributed images from students that capture a significant learning for them.
  • Have a virtual party and invite students to co-create the playlist for light background music.
    • It’s best to not have the party be food focused given Ramadan.
  • Invite students to give “gifts” of an image, quote, or poem to the class community and be sure you give one too.
  • Have students co-construct a letter to next semester’s/year’s class.
  • Hold a class discussion based on a few questions you pose prior to a final zoom meeting or a final online discussion. Examples follow:
    • What did you expect to learn in this course? Did you learn it? Why or why not?
    • What is the most important thing you will take away from this course?
    • Did your view of [topic/discipline] change as a result of this course? Why or why not?
    • What was one thing you were surprised to learn this semester (about the content, yourself, or others)?
    • If someone asked you, “what did you learn in [name of class],” how would you respond? How do you think you would respond in five years from now?

Additionally, you could ask the class if they would like to stay connected through some sort of social media, etc. Whatever you decide, such activities at the end of a course might suspend, even for a moment, students’ focus on the stress of their final grades and on the pandemic. It may help them see that there was some gain (e.g., in learning, in community) during a time of great loss. Such closure can help us honor that education is more than an end in and of itself, but rather a path to greater understanding of ourselves, others, and the world around us.

About the Author

Before moving to Boise State, Dr. Souza was the Faculty Associate for Inclusive Classrooms and CELT Coordinator for Humboldt State University and a Fulbright scholar at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. She is a consultant on communication and inclusive pedagogy, and she has published in such areas as difficult dialogues in the classroom, addressing microaggressions with microresistance, communication climate, instructional communication, and intercultural conflict. Her current research is on difficult dialogues, participation, and stereotype threat in the college classroom


Image credit: Photo by Gabriel Benois on Unsplash.

Resources: Online Teaching Effectiveness

  • Save Time by Creating Feedback Banks
  • Save Time by Creating Discussion Post Banks
  • Save Time by Creating Class Announcement Banks
  • Bringing “Learning by Doing” Online
  • Leverage Technology to Improve Your Assessment Strategy

Get access to dozens of short lessons like these, as well as webcasts, articles, and downloadable tools with an Academic Impressions membership. We know that moving classes online is not a straightforward process. So we’ve pulled together a host of resources to help you get it done.