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End of Semester Checklist

Its that time of year – the end of the semester and the holiday season is upon us – when all we can think about is surviving 2 or 3 more days of the grading apocalypse, and then kicking back with a large glass of our favorite adult beverage, cranking Bing Crosby’s White Christmas up to 11 on the old gramophone, and doing our damnedest to forget the previous 4 months (at least for a little while). 

Despite this, however, the end of the semester (and over the break) is the absolute best time to do one or two little things that will have a big impact down the line (either in the long term or the short term).  So, here are a few things that are on my end of the semester checklist.

Backup my Course Websites

I run all of my course websites on WordPress (or WordPress MU).  And, as you know, WordPress stores all of data in mySQL.  All user data (logins, passwords, account info, etc.), posts, pages – everything.  A couple of years back, the server (siting in the basement of the college) upon which my WP install lived had a nervous breakdown, exploded, and took all of my WP sites with it.  The kicker is that the automatic backups on the server had failed – which meant that I couldn’t just roll the site back to one of the previous backups.  I lost about 4 semester’s worth of course material, and I’m still feeling the loss to this day.  Since then, I’ve been very religious about backing up the database for each of my course websites.  I use the WP DB Backup plugin, and its easy as pie.

Update my CV

When things are (relatively) fresh in your mid, the end of the semester is a great time to update your CV.  Trust me, as soon as you switch gears and hit the egg nogg, the details of your accomplishments that semester will be a lot harder to dig out of your brain.  By doing this, you are also going to make preparing your annual review materials a heck of a lot easier.  All you need to do it open your CV, copy & pastes, and you are golden.

Write an “End of the Semester Roundup” Post on your Blog

If you maintain your own website, and blog regularly (or even semi-regularly), you should write up an end of semester roundup.  This is a great time to publicly broadcast your accomplishments for that semester.  The “End of Semester Roundup” post is a second cousin to updating your CV.  The good thing about this kind of post is you can also talk about things that, for one reason or another, aren’t appropriate for a CV.  So, you could talk in a lot more detail about your classes – things you tried, what worked, what didn’t work, interesting pedagogical issues that arose, and things you are going to try the next time you teach the class.  You could talk about grant projects you started or proposals you started working on.  Think about this is your Director’s Commentary Track to your semester.  The good thing about doing a roundup post is that it also keeps colleagues (both virtual and physical) in the loop as to what you are doing.  It also can be a platform for collaboration.  A potential collaborator – someone who you might never have crossed paths with -  visits your site, reads what a project you are starting (or thinking about starting), and gets in touch with you.  The other thing I like about the semester roundup post is that in many ways it opens up the process of academic thought (in much the same that open courseware opens up pedagogical though and open access journals open up scholarly research)

Shred Exams/Papers from X Number of Semesters Ago

Mos universities have a policy that requires you to hold onto physical copies of assignments & exams for a specific amount of time (for my institution, it is two semesters) before disposing of it.  With a fresh stack of papers, exams, quizzes, and other assorted whatnot from this semester, now is a great time to find those assignments that have exceeded the “hold onto” statute of limitations, and dispose of them.  By doing this, you aren’t going to end up with an office filled with stacks of paper that threaten to bury you with even the slightest little jostle.  Here is a pro tip – during the semester, as you are grading student assignments, make a pile of those you want to keep, and those you want to throw away.  That way, when you go do dispose of that semester’s work, you know immediately which things you though highly enough of to hold onto.  Remember to follow your university’s policy on disposing of student work.  Throwing them in an “unsecure” trash can sitting out in the hallway is going to quickly get you in trouble with the FERPA police (and well it should).

Backup my Class Materials

If you don’t regularly backup your class materials (lecture notes, slides, exams, handouts and whatnot), now it the perfect time to do that.  Give each class its own directory on an external hard drive or in your cloud based storage service of choice so as to make finding stuff easier in the long term.  I stick a copy of all of my course material on an external hard drive specifically for this purpose.  I also dump a copy of these directories on my personal server – you can never be too careful.  Also, now is a good time to clean up the file names (try a consistent naming system for all of your files) and remove any duplicate files, drafts, and other garbage files.  For an extra bit of super duper organization and findability, try tagging your files.  I use Tags (by Gravity Apps), a very cool little (mac only) application that lets you tag (and find) files the same way you do in Delicious.

Unplug

The last thing on my checklist before I abandon campus in favor of the warm embrace of my home and family is to make sure everything in my office is not only turned off, but also unplugged.  This is not only ecologically responsible, but might save you if there is a power surge of some sort (unlikely to happen in, but stranger things have happened) that might fry your computers if they are plugged in.

What’s on your end of semester checklist?

[Image by Flickr user Ivan Walsh.  Licensed under Creative Commons.]

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