Today was the last day of class. Though I'd planned out the semester reasonably well, we were a little tight on time as the last few students gave in-class presentations.
Still, we did have some time at the end, for — something.
Just as conclusions often prove more difficult than introductions, I usually find the last day of class much more difficult than the first (in part because I've got an established approach for day one that I'm largely satisfied with). I see basically three possibilities:
1. Summarizing the course. This seems natural, given that there's nothing more to the course.
2. A day just like any other day. Summarizing the entire semester is a big job, so end the period like any other, which is to say, asking for outstanding questions, clarifying assignments, smiling, etc.
3. Send them off on a new trajectory. Look mainly forward via a few major questions that remain open.
I've tried (1) in the past with limited success,* and I think (2) doesn't encourage students to appreciate the entire course as an event itself, as a whole. I went, therefore, with (3).
Freshman year is mainly (implicitly) about joining a discourse community, a particular cultural institution. And Freshman seem (implicitly) to get this, at least if the very recent survey by Damico & Quay (2009)** holds up to scrutiny. The trajectory I aimed to set my freshman off on, then, was primarily a skill-based on. I reminded them of the kind of thing we did over the semester, which is to say, a certain kind of explanatory project defined by a certain set of tools. And further, that though most disciplines and their courses have an explanatory project at their center, their tools can differ widely. Just knowing that can, I think, obviate some disasters.
I also hoped to make a plug for the general utility of the philosophical stance — namely, the willingness to be puzzled by almost anything, to give pride of place to questions over answers. As O.K. Bouwsma puts it in his essay "The Blue Book":
Philosophers are people who investigate what sorts of things there are in the universe. They are, of course, scrupulous in these investigations beyond the scrupulosity of any other investigator. They stand at the gate and wait, fearing to tread where angels rush in.
I don't know whether any of this registered — let alone resonated — with them. But regardless of how much content they absorb in their years here (and beyond), I hope they see the back of at least one angel.
Then I encouraged them to have a nice life, or whatever.
*Mainly because it's too big of a job to pull off.
**Amy M. Damico, & Sara E. Quay. (2009). Learning to Learn: What Matters to First-Year College Students. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 20(1), 101-120.