Creating Alternatives to a Final
Paper and Envelope

Creating Alternatives to a Final

By Karen Swanson, Director of Faculty Learning Groups and Scholarship

In the blog post Moving Your Final Exams Online, I shared some insights about adapting final exams to the online environment. That post included some links and suggestions for other creative alternatives to a final. In this post, I’d like to highlight a specific approach for an alternate final experience from a favorite author of mine.

If you are considering a creative alternative to a final exam, consider having your students write a letter to their successors. Spring quarter has been a unique experience for both faculty and students and no one knows what the fall quarter may hold. Students will give the next class of students some tips for learning and you will garner some ideas to make the online experience better as well.

In Stephen Brookfield’s 2017 book Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher he suggests having students write a letter to their successors. This letter is meant for the students who will take the same course next quarter or next year. The purpose is to provide incoming students with strategies to be successful in the course. Here are the directions:

“In this exercise I want you to write a letter to the new students who will be in this course next year. I want you to tell them – in as helpful and specific a way as possible – what you think they should know about how to survive and flourish in the class. Some themes you might consider writing about are as follows:

  • What I know now about this course that I wish I’d known when I came in…
  • The most important things you need to do to keep your sanity in this course are…
  • The most common and avoidable mistakes that I and other made in this course were…
  • The words that should be on your [smart phone wallpaper] telling you how to make it through this course are…
  • Feel free to write whatever comes into your head around the survival theme”. (p. 112-113)

He suggests using these comments as an opening when you teach the course again. This can be done in a humorous, reflective way. These comments will also help you re-design your course when you take into consideration the era of COVID and designing a course to be hyflex.


Brookfield, S. (2017) Becoming a critically reflective teacher.  Jossey Bass.