By Jason Schreiner and Julie Mueller
A powerful way to end a course is to provide students an opportunity to reflect on the knowledge they’ve gained, the skills they’ve developed, and the learning processes they have experienced, including a possible transformation in how they understand the world or perceive themselves as learners or agents of change.
An ending moment of reflection also can help students see the silver lining of learning in a remote context that is often exhausting and stressful. That is, such a moment can help students recognize a variety of additional useful skills–and resiliency–they’ve developed while managing their remote learning, including skills that translate to their work lives and careers beyond the university. There are a variety of ways to build a powerful ending through reflection in your course: some that bring together threads woven through your entire course plan, some that you can try as additions to your existing plans.
Reflection and Metacognition
A key purpose for designing moments of reflection in a course is to help students develop their metacognition and capacity for self-directed learning. Metacognition refers to the ability to “understand and monitor one’s own thoughts and the assumptions and implication of one’s activities” (Lin 2001, 23). Research summarized by Nilson (2013) indicates that students who engage in metacognition improve their performance on exams, written and designed products, and problem-solving ability. Moreover, metacognition helps students improve their sense of self-efficacy, independent agency, and motivation, which in turn allows them to become more self-directed and resilient in their learning. According to Ambrose and colleagues (2010, 191) self-directed learners have more capacity to:
- asses the demands of a task,
- evaluate their own knowledge and skills,
- plan their approach,
- monitor their progress, and
- adjust their strategies as needed.
Such processes provide a variety of avenues for instructors to include moments of reflection for students–not just at the end of a class but throughout the term. A bevy of possible strategies for including metacognition at various moments in your course is outlined on this TEP handout on metacognitive techniques, and in this article on promoting metacognition by Kimberly D. Tanner.
Reflection at the end of a class can take a variety of forms that promote student metacognition and bring students’ learning experiences to a powerful conclusion. Here we indicate a few ideas, including summaries of approaches shared by faculty at our Powerful Endings workshop.
A focus on experience and future applications
This approach engages students in reflecting on the depth of their learning experience and taking a long view, including how they will use what they learned in the future. Too often students get caught up in a big push to complete course requirements and do not pause to consider what stood out most for them in their learning or how they might use it moving forward. Yet taking a moment for such reflection can help students clarify the value of the class and affirm their growth as learners. Possible activities include:
- Identify the most significant idea or moment. Students can be asked to write short statements in response to the following prompts, perhaps even representing their most significant moment with an image or poster they create:
- What was the most significant idea you learned in this class, or what was the most significant moment of your learning? Why?
- How has your perspective or understanding of [class subject] been changed, challenged, reinforced or deepened as a result of this idea or moment?
- What is one way you intend to use or apply your learning in your future endeavors?
- What have you learned about yourself as a result of having to learn remotely this term?
- Represent the big picture. Have students represent visually, and in writing, the overarching movement of ideas and their process of learning in the course. The following prompts might be used:
- What was the overall movement or journey of ideas in this class?
- What was the most significant idea or moment of learning for you along the way? Why?
- How do you intend to continue this movement or journey moving forward? That is, what is something you intend to use or apply in the future?
- How did you experience the process of learning during this class? Include one high point and one challenging moment (which might be the same).
A focus on content and skills
In this strategy, students take a more close-up view, summing up the content and skills they have learned over the course of the term and identifying themes running through multiple topics. This kind of stock-taking, especially recognizing the skills they are developing, is challenging for students to do when they are caught in the weeds of learning the details of the course. It can also help students identify weak areas that might need more attention before a final exam. Some possible exercises include:
- Identify the five big ideas of the course. [Adapted from O’Hare, 2018] Students often get caught up in the details of the course and miss the unifying elements; this activity asks them to pick out those themes.
- Before class, have each student write down “the five big ideas of this course”.
- Have small groups work together to come up with a consensus version of the five ideas. Use breakout rooms in Zoom for a synchronous class or the groups function in Canvas for an asynchronous one. Each group should post their list of ideas to a Canvas discussion board.
- Have the class read the discussion posts and have a brief discussion of things that they find particularly interesting or surprising. This could be done in Zoom or as comments to the Canvas discussion.
- Have an add-on discussion about skills they have developed, including ones not directly related to course content.
- Create concept maps. Ask students to construct concept maps that represent the full range of the course material. In doing this, they will have to make choices about what is important enough to include and think about how to organize the material to facilitate making connections between different topics. You might ask students to make separate maps for factual knowledge and skills developed in the course. Students could draw concept maps by hand, then scan or photograph them for submission or sharing in class, or they could make use of the many online concept map construction tools.
Four faculty panelists joined us to share how they are engaging students in reflection about their learning, especially during the challenges of remote learning amidst a pandemic. Below is a summary of key ideas they shared; you can get their full accounts in the video of the session.
Alison Gash, Political Science
- Self-reflection helps address how abnormal and uncertain remote learning is in the context of a pandemic. At the start of the term, my students identified three things we have discovered about themselves in the current situation that they didn’t know previously; three things they wish they could change about themselves; and three things they are doing for comfort and coping. They will do this same exercise at the end of the term and also note what they learned, where they are now, and what has been helpful for their learning in the remote environment.
- One coping mechanism many students are using is baking and cooking. This has helped them make connections with others, including sharing their creations with those in need in the community. We are compiling a recipe book with our favorite recipes and including short stories and self-reflections, along with art work, and all students will have a copy to commemorate this strange time, to remember how they adjusted, and to serve as source of strength as they move forward.
- I have also been hosting weekly check in meetings for students and former students, allowing them to connect and share, with occasional guests I bring to offer insights. I will continue to offer these weekly connection times beyond this term, providing a forum for ongoing reflection and connection.
Tom Hahn, Architecture
- My students are completing their degree and will be entering the professional world after this term; they have much uncertainty about their prospects. We therefore have engaged often on how the current context is informing how design happens and gets communicated. At the beginning, students reflected on who they think they are, what they have learned thus far about professional design work, and what they are looking to learn during the last term. I will have them answer these same questions at the end of the term, including reflection on how they have changed and are different as a result of adapting their learning and professional preparation to a remote environment.
- Another strategy I’ve used is to note previous economic downturns I have experienced and to model how I adapted and shifted my practice. We have then reflected on how development of remote work skills contributes positively to professional development, given that our field is increasingly global and involves remote connections. Students have reflected on the technology tools they are learning, their approaches to telling their stories and making their work convincing, and the ways they are learning to work with grace and competence while under fire.
- In addition to weekly check in times during the term, we will end with a round table reflection session and use a white board to capture our learning experience and have some fun, too. I also began the term with a scavenger hunt – retrieving various architectural work virtually – and we’ll include a similar exercise in which students retrieve key moments of their learning this term and during their entire time at UO.
Nicola Barber, Biology
- The last time I taught my Science, Policy, and Biology class, I started incorporating more self-evaluation and metacognition as a means to increase self-efficacy for my students and to really empower their own agency in the course. I started asking them to reflect and use the rubrics that I provide and that we grade with to incorporate their own grading of everything they submit. I also incorporated a weekly reflection. At the end of every week, once all the weekly assignments are due, I ask them to reflect on their performance on all the pieces, including the learning objectives, which include both skills and content. I also ask them to reflect on what things have gone well this week, what they were proud of learning this week, and what challenges they were facing and how they are planning to overcome them.
- The weekly reflections build up to self-evaluative and self-reflective pieces on the final exam. Some of the prompts in the reflective pieces include: What are the things you learned? What did you learn about how you learn this quarter? What are you going to take from the course going forward? These parts of the exam are graded using rubrics that emphasize elements of writing, such as inclusion of a thesis statement, introduction and conclusion rather than the content, which allows students to write honestly.
- One of the things I’m bringing in this quarter is a prompt asking students to reflect on how they met the challenges of learning remotely, but also in a pandemic. What will they take forward with them as students or in their careers and what have they gained from this crazy quarter?
Damian Radcliffe, Journalism and Communications
- I am teaching three classes this term. In the Audio Storytelling and Podcasting course, students do weekly reflections and will finish the term by producing a three to four minute audio diary telling me about what they have learned during the course.
- The second class is Journalism in New York/New York Experience, which normally culminates in a trip to New York to visit and talk with journalism professionals. This term New York has been coming to us via Zoom, and students will sum up the experience by putting together a tip sheet based around either a speaker or a particular organization or a thematic area we have explored. The idea is to bring together all of the threads from class in terms of online reading, learning, guest speakers and so forth, with the goal being a publishable piece of work. We’re trying to get them placed in the trade press to show that these students have been thinking really deeply about their craft during the course of this term.
- In my Reporting class we do a lot of work on speedwriting, as the transition from writing a piece every two or three weeks to producing three or four pieces a day as a professional reporter is a massive adjustment. At the end of the term I’m going to get them to write a reflection – against the clock – of what they have learned this term but also about how their profession is changing and how the two overlap.
- Here is a link to Damian’s blog on Lessons learned: 9 takeaways from teaching online during COVID-19
View even more ideas from faculty at this Spotlight on Creative Instruction: Preparing Powerful Endings to Remote Courses
The National Association of Colleges and Employers has developed a list of eight competencies that employers are seeking – and the UO education helps students develop each of them. Obviously, courses each help students build certain competencies, but it seems to me that this Spring term, by virtue of being remote, helped students develop some of them in very powerful ways; I’m going to focus on three competencies in particular.
As I work with students preparing for interviews or who are working on graduate school applications, I coach them to reflect on examples that will illustrate for prospective employers or graduate schools how they adapted and utilized the competencies they will need in the future. Three key competency areas include:
- Digital Technology –
- Used Zoom, Microsoft Teams. What other tools did your students use? They will be using these tools on the job.
- Some reflective questions that might help students think of examples: How did you use technology to improve the work that you did? What new etiquette or skills did you develop during the spring term? What barriers did the technology present, and how did you overcome them?
- Teamwork/collaboration –
- All work was done remote, and much communication was asynchronous
- Reflective questions: How did you build strong working relationships with students and faculty remotely? What conflicts arose and how did you deal with them? What successes did you achieve?
- Professionalism/Work Ethic –
- This was an unprecedented event for all of us and required new habits in order to work productively with others.
- Reflective questions: How did you need to adjust your time management skills to succeed this term? How did you demonstrate accountability to your classmates and professor in ways that were different than a normal “in-person” course? In what ways did you adjust your work this term with the interests of the larger community in mind?
Students are going to be asked interview questions about the spring term, and about the summer for a long time. I want students to have an answer: How did they use the time? What did they learn?
Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovette, M.C., and Norman, M.K. (2011). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. (San Francisco: Jossey Bass).
O’Hare, M. (2018, January 2). What To Do On the Last Day of Class. Retrieved from https://teaching.berkeley.edu/news/what-do-last-day-class.
Lin, X. (2001). “Designing metacognitive activities.” Educational Technology Research and Development, 49(2): 23-39.
Nilson, L. B. (2013). Creating Self-Regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Self-Awareness and Learning Skills. (Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing).
Tanner, K. B. (2012). Promoting Student Metacognition. CBE Life Sciences Education 11: 113-120.