Logistics of Teaching Large Courses: Part 9. end-of-term wrap-up and closure

You're almost done with the term. Let's wrap up!

Final lecture

In my final lecture of the term, I like to recap the course material to show students, look how far we've come in these few weeks! I also like to point students to what they can do next after this course, including suggestions for follow-up courses, research or internship opportunities, or other extracurricular activities related to what they've learned this term. I think this provides good closure for students and also charts an inspiring path forward.

I also encourage my entire TA staff to attend the final lecture if possible, and I spend the last few minutes publicly thanking them in front of the class. This also provides a cheerful wrap-up as students will usually give a round of applause for the staff.

Course evaluations

I encourage all students to fill out course evaluations so that their voices can be heard, but I don't offer any rewards or incentives for doing so. To get higher response rates, I send a few reminder announcements to the course forum, usually paired with a friendly “congrats on finishing this course!” message. Some instructors reserve time in lecture for students to fill them out, but lecture attendance can be pretty low at the end of the term.

After evaluation results get posted, my main advice is: don't read your evaluations until the next time you teach this course. No matter how well your course ran, with hundreds of students there are bound to be some harshly negative comments. I don't think it's worthwhile to start your post-term break in a bad mood. Also, you can't do anything with this feedback until the next time you teach, so it's healthier to wait until you're preparing for next time to read these comments.

(Note: course evaluations suffer from tons of known biases, so if you'd like to get alternate evaluation metrics or feedback about your teaching, I suggest you reach out to your university's teaching support center.)

End-of-term staff meeting

I like to hold a longer final staff meeting at the end of the term, usually lasting 2 to 3 hours. At this meeting, we go over the grade spreadsheet to make sure there aren't any data entry errors. My TAs also bring up which students stood out in exceptional ways (either positively or negatively), and whether any extenuating circumstances still need resolving. I sometimes make a note to contact the exceptionally good students to recruit as TAs in the future, or to recommend to my colleagues for research or TA jobs.

Postmortem discussion: At the end of this final staff meeting, I let my TAs candidly share what parts of the course they thought didn't go so well and offer suggestions for improving those parts. I encourage my TAs to be as critical as they want now, since they're more attuned to students' firsthand experiences than I am. Note that I've been constantly updating my postmortem document throughout the term as issues come up on the forum or during my interactions with students. During this meeting I add all of the end-of-term feedback from my TAs to the postmortem. (I find this to be especially useful the first time I teach a course.)

Final grades, wrap-up, and closure

After the final staff meeting, I have one TA (the one in charge of the grade spreadsheet) work with me to submit final grades to the university. This usually involves some spreadsheet and scripting contortions to play nicely with the university's grading website. It's good to have two people so we can double-check the results.

During the first few days after posting final grades, I always get a few grade dispute emails. I usually don't respond unless there was a data entry error, in which case I remedy it right away.

Finally, I package up all course materials—the course website, syllabus, lecture slides, assignments, exams, and private staff notes—into a folder to archive it. That way, the next time I teach this course, I'll have a self-contained archive to reference.

All done! Let's now zoom back out ...

Next part: Logistics of Teaching Large Courses: Part 10. zooming back out - parting thoughts

(see all parts)

Appendix: Example end-of-term checklist

You should make your own checklist specific to your course. Here's an example to help you get started with end-of-term tasks:

  • Shut down your course disussion forum so that no more posts can be made to it.
  • Finish writing your postmortem document for this term.
  • Archive and back up all your course materials (e.g., in a zip file) so you can have a permanent record of it.
  • Enter in grades, double check, and submit them. Get a TA to do this together with you to avoid data entry errors.
  • Remember to enter in grades for all students who have enrolled through alternate enrollment mechanisms (e.g., extension students, exchange students, those on academic probation, etc.) since they may not show up on the official course roster and you may need to enter their grades using different forms.