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December 5, 2009

E-Coaching Tip 72 (#3 Fall 2009)

Course Closures  — Making a Difference Years Later

The closing of a course is a good time for reflection for both faculty and learners. However, December usually feels like “crunch” time.

However, even a short time dedicated to planned reflection is well worth it.  This tip focuses on just one key reflection action that can help your teaching and your students’ learning.

Reflection Action Question

Here it is: Answer this question for yourself and ask it of your students: 

  • What are learners taking away from this course that will be with them years later?

Or you might like to segment this question into two parts:

  • What key information (e.g., facts, terms, formulae, concepts, principles, relationships, etc.) is/are important for students to understand and remember in the future?
  • What key ideas (or perspectives) are important for students to understand in this course?

What is an example of key information? The key information for a physics or calculus course might be a law or formula.  The key information on a course in managing people might be familiarity with the concept of systems thinking as the “Fifth Discipline” from Peter Senge. Key information can be defined as those concepts, people, or ideas that a person working in a discipline simply assumes are common knowledge.

What is an example of a key idea or perspective?  The key idea for a course on managing people might be as simple and profound as the idea that managers can best develop their people through stretch jobs, coaching and mentoring.  Or that effective leaders adapt their leadership styles and practices to culture and that this requires tools, such as systems thinking and listening. 

Times and Places for this Reflection

You may wonder how and when would be a good time to discuss and reflect on the course with these questions. Here are two possibilities to consider.  Do give the idea some thought and you will probably come up with many other great ways to do it with your class and have some fun with it.

  • Set up a closing forum for this question.  Ask students to reflect and answer one or more of these questions.
  • Hold a synchronous classroom session or just a phone conference and have an informal gathering and farewell session.   Ask students to come with an answer to one of the questions.

One outcome that can make a difference for many years for your students is to share your own respect, enthusiasm, curiosity and wonder at the key ideas in a course, leaving the student hungry for learning more and applying the ideas ever more broadly. A frank and open discussion of what has been learned can excite learners and help them consolidate their learning.  You can also incorporate informal feedback on the course by asking the students which activities or readings were most meaningful to them.

Two More Reflection Questions You Might Find Useful

Another question that helps to personalize the course for your learners is to ask this question:

  • What specific insight or learning from the course are you taking away that you didn’t know at the start of the course and that changes you in some way?

An insight experience can often be a physical buoyant feeling as disparate or preexisting ideas suddenly come together into a meaningful whole, sometimes providing a new way of looking at an idea, providing more dimensions or context to an idea, or even discovering the vocabulary to express ideas.  See if your learners can share some of these experiences.

 Another question that encourages reflection is this:

  • What is one unanswered question you have going forward about what we have been learning this semester?” 

By asking this question you are helping learners to focus their curiosity.   Asking this question also sends the message that while all learning answers some questions, that generally speaking, those answers raise other questions.  The purpose is to seed their agenda for further learning – thus promoting lifelong learning.

Source of Reflection Suggestion

The suggestion to focus on key information and key ideas while wrapping up a course is from Dee Fink, the author of Creating significant learning experiences: An Integrated approach to designing college courses (2003). This suggestion will help you wrap up your current course with meaning and also help with your planning of your course for next term.  

A companion suggestion that emerged from discussions during our companion webinar was to use Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning (Figure 1 in the Self-Directed Guide referenced below) to evaluate your course and plan forward.  Briefly, the topics in the taxonomy are:

  • FOUNDATIONAL KNOWLEDGE  Understanding and remembering: Information Ideas
  • APPLICATION Skills Thinking: Critical, creative, & practical thinking Managing projects
  • INTEGRATION Connecting: • Ideas • People • Realms of life
  • HUMAN DIMENSION Learning about: • Oneself • Others
  • CARING Developing new • Feelings • Interests • Values
  • LEARNING HOW TO LEARN • Becoming a better student • Inquiring about a subject • Self-directing learners


Joyous and blessed holidays to everyone.


Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An Integrated approach to designing college courses. Jossey-Bass.

Fink, L. D.  (2005) A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. Retrieved on December 2, 2009 from http://www.deefinkandassociates.com/resources.html

Course Closures — Making a Difference Years Later



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Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 1997-2013