“Start strong, stay strong, and finish strong by always remembering why you’re doing it in the first place.”
– Ralph Marston
Liz and I don’t force our kids to play any specific sports. We want them to choose their own path. But, once they start something, they don’t get to quit on their team in the middle of a season.
The same goes for your online courses. Learning is a team sport, and your students need their “coach” to show up until the buzzer sounds.
You have just spent 5, 10, or 15 weeks developing a relationship with your online students. It only makes sense that you would want to say good-bye in a memorable way. Let’s take a deep dive (including example emails) into some powerful ways you can help prepare your students for the last week of class and beyond. By doing so, you can:
- Motivate your students to go the extra mile during the final week of your course
- Let your students know that their hard work is noticed and appreciated
- Show your students that you value their opinion about your online course
- Remind your students why your online course is a valuable stop on their learning journey
But first, a word of caution.
- You will see that I have very specific touchpoints that I build into the last two weeks of my online courses. These will seem super odd if they come out of nowhere. My approach works best as part of a student engagement plan that began before the semester even started.
- You will need to decide if you want these activities to be optional or required. I have found that making activities like this worth as few as two points doubles the number of students that participate
- You will notice that I do not create any videos for my “farewell sequence.” This is a conscious choice. I make a LOT of videos for my students, so I feel like these written messages are a nice change of pace. If a farewell video makes more sense for you, go for it!
(Start here if you are still worried about making videos for your online courses)
Step 1: Start by Helping Them Survive the Week:
The first thing I do to set the stage for the end of the course is to remind them to take care of themselves. Students appreciate the fact that I care, whether they take my advice or not.
Here is a sample of the kind of email I will send out 7-10 days before the end of the course:
I know that you have a hectic few days ahead of you. I wanted to offer some simple advice to help you get the most out of these days without wrecking yourselves. These tips will keep all of your brain cells pointing in the right direction as you end the semester:
- Get as much good sleep as you can: I know you are going to want to cram and work into the night. You may even need to do that to some extent. But promise me that you will go to bed as soon as the time you are spending doesn’t feel productive. Is it worth losing an hour of sleep to get 15 minutes of work done? Work smarter, not harder.
- Stay hydrated: There are very few things you can do that will impact every brain cell in a positive way. A dehydrated brain is a foggy one, and the solution is as easy as it gets.
- Get the blood pumping: Move! Exercise, take a walk, park in the back row. Do anything you can to get up and get going. You might be surprised how much a 5-minute walk between assignments can help. Your brain will definitely thank you.
- Focus on healthy foods: I completely understand why the end of the semester seems like a perfect time for vending machines and microwave meals. But throw some nourishing food in a slow cooker (crock-pot), get some healthy snacks, and feed your brain what it needs to thrive. Have you ever really felt like you were firing on all cylinders after a Big Mac and a Coke???
- Get your mind right: never forget that millions (or billions) of people would love to be in your shoes. You get the chance to get an education and build the life of your dreams. You don’t have to take your final exams. You GET to!
And I will be sure to take my own advice. This week is a busy one for me as well. We can crush this week together!
PS: Here is a link to my talk on sleep, stress, and exercise in case you need any more motivation to take care of your brains this week:
What can you do to show your students that you care about them as more than a name in the gradebook?
Step 2: Show Your Students How Far They Have Come:
Ask your students to reflect on how your online course has impacted them in some way. A lot of online teachers will ask their students to focus on the impact on their future careers, but I like to make things a bit more personal whenever possible.
This is how I ask my nutrition students to reflect on their semester:
“I want you to think about your experience in the course as steps on a journey towards better health for you, your family, and your future patients. How has this class changed your life in that regards?
Has it transformed your views on what you should eat? Has it only had a small impact? Has it not changed your views at all? Are there choices you make on a day-to-day basis that are different than they were at the beginning of this class?”
I have seen some amazing responses from questions like this. Here are just a few of the messages that I have received from this exercise:
- A student that credited the class with changing his life by helping him to get his diabetes under control
- A student that gave up sugar and lost 30 pounds
- Several students started their own backyard gardens after learning about the benefits of local food
- I even had a student that says they actually got their 3-year-old to like brussel sprouts. Miracles do happen!
An exercise like this can help your students to see that your class is much more than just another grade on their transcript. There is another added benefit as well. It totally jazzes me up to know that I am leaving a real mark on my students’ lives. I keep these kinds of messages in my “back pocket” for when I start to question whether or not it is worth going the extra mile for my students.
What can you do to help your students see that your online course was a valuable use of their time?
Step 3: Capture Valuable Feedback from Your Students:
There are lots of ways to collect student feedback. I have found that what works best in my online courses is to have students write a letter to a future student. This can be a potent tool for three reasons:
- It helps current students reflect on the course
- It helps future students know what to expect
- It gives you great advice about what students like, and don’t like, about your online course
Here is a great example of what a student submitted. I now share this with every online microbiology student on the first day of the semester:
Dear Future Student,
Get ready to learn! Your life will not be the same after taking this Microbiology class. You will view yourself and the world around you differently.
If you are wondering if you can make it through this course, you can! I was very skeptical about taking an online biology course. Dr. O makes it SO easy to learn. He gives you all the resources you need to be successful, and he does in a positive, fun way. I promise that it is a really fun course!
There is a lot to do in this class, and at first, it is overwhelming, but by breaking it down, it is very doable. Don’t be discouraged!
A few tips to make the class manageable:
- There is a lot of cool stuff to learn, so don’t wait, dive right on in and get after it!
- Get your lab kit ASAP and start your labs. Look ahead at your lab assignments as some need to sit for two weeks. Again, very manageable.
- All your labs are in baggies marked with the name of the lab on them. Keep them organized!
- This class is set up to help you succeed. You have to be willing to do the work. Do a little bit every day. It helps break it up, and instead of memorizing, you can retain and learn the material.
- Grab some popcorn and watch the lecture videos for each of the chapters. It will help you tremendously by giving you a visual and mimicking a live lecture.
What do you do to collect feedback from your online students? Have you ever tried this exercise? If not, you are missing out on a golden opportunity to get a priceless “students-eye view” of your online course.
Step 4: Remind Your Students to Keep in Touch:
I like to make it clear that I will continue to help my students on their journey for as long as they need a mentor or a guide. I give my students my personal email address (in case I ever quit working for their school), and I invite them to a social media channel for former students where I share exciting science news and motivational quotes.
What can you do to show your online students that you will still be a part of their team?
Step 5: Send Your Students off on a High Note:
I would hope that if you have spent any time on this blog that you can see how seriously I take my role as an online teacher. I go out of my way to inspire, empower, and engage my students in as many creative ways as I can. By this point in the course, I have tried to personally connect with each student a minimum of three times. I want my last message to my students to be a powerful one.
Here is the email that I recently sent to a group of my students to give you some ideas:
This time of the semester always makes me pause to reflect on a few things. This is one of my favorite times of the year. It is super busy, and stressful, but I get to see so many of you take another step toward your ultimate goals. That is the best part of my job. My job is to help you make your dreams come true. How cool is that!
I hope you see that all of your hard work was worth it. This class has laid the foundation for your program level courses. You should also feel much more confident in your ability to think critically and analyze scientific studies. These skills will help you long after graduation.
I want to respond to a few things that I have read in your reflections about the course this week.
I have heard a lot of praise about the class and me as its teacher. Thank you! I will never get tired of hearing it, but it doesn’t come from a place of pride. I am just so glad that I get to pour some of my heart and soul into you.
Here is why I feel like I am a good fit for my job:
1). I try to connect with you as an actual person, not a name in the gradebook. I let you into my world, and I love it when you let me into yours. I focus more on teaching YOU than I do the material.
2). I believe in the power of YOUR dreams. The textbook can teach you everything you need to know. I try to make you trust in the fact that you are capable of learning anything. I hope you leave this class more confident in yourselves than when we started.
My favorite praise has nothing to do with what I teach you about science. I have really done my job if I teach you something about life, parenting, the power of hard work, etc. I hope that each and every one of you can say that I have :).
I do hope you believe me when I tell you to be blessed,
I hope that this 5-step plan helps keep your online courses from fizzling out before the finish line. I know that they have a huge impact on my students.
Your students will appreciate the engagement and encouragement. You will feel more satisfied as an online teacher. And your courses will improve based on the feedback your students provide.
Now it’s your turn. What works for you? How do you like to end your courses?