With less than three weeks left in the fall semester, the final push is upon us. And though we’ve known about many of these final assignments since the first day of classes, these last papers, exams and projects never fail to induce panic, culminating in December’s all-too-familiar—and almost always over- caffeinated—frenzied final sprint. What we produce in these last three weeks represents, in theory, a demonstration of a semester’s worth of lectures, readings and assignments—a synthesis of all we’ve learned. Yet we tend to dispatch these completed assignments into a void, abandoning them as we pack our bags for our long-awaited break.
Currently, there is no official policy for professors handing back graded finals and papers. And though some do offer students the option of turning in final work along with a self-addressed envelope, or encourage them to collect assignments at the start of the following semester, this is far from the norm. More often than not, the quality of our final work is reflected in the course grade alone; students rarely ask for—and thus miss out on—constructive feedback.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that grades are irrelevant, or that the hard work we do throughout the semester is reflective of pure intellectual zeal. Grades are powerful external motivators. But this reality does not negate the fact that learning for learning’s sake is folded into our work as well. We benefit from working on these assignments, and we owe it to ourselves to bring the process full circle.
This kind of feedback should not be limited to professors; our peers have valuable insights to offer as well. We are rarely exposed to what others work on for these final—and often self-driven—projects, save for the occasional 10-minute presentation or one-sentence explanation in casual conversation. We invest significant time and effort in these culminating assignments. Our liberal arts education is predicated on collaboration and peer-to-peer communication as well as lectures and readings and professor-led discussions. We benefit from end-of-semester class time dedicated to sharing our work in class and to learning from each other’s research and efforts.
We hold ourselves to high standards when we know our audience is larger than the professors who read and grade our work; presenting our work more broadly to our classmates will inevitably improve its quality. Moreover, seeing how our peers have synthesized material affects our own thinking in new ways.
It’s easy to power through these final weeks with winter break tunnel vision, but even for the most holiday-party hearty among us, our final academic assignments demand a significant investment of time and energy. Why not make it fully worth it?