Capstones at a Research University
The Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University (2001) gives five recommendations for capstone courses at research universities:
- Senior seminars or other capstone courses appropriate to the discipline need to be part of every undergraduate program. Ideally the capstone course should bring together faculty member, graduate students, and senior undergraduates in shared or mutually reinforcing projects.
- The capstone course should prepare undergraduates for the expectations and standards of graduate work and the professional workplace.
- The course should be the culmination of the inquiry-based learning of earlier course work, broadening, deepening, and integrating the total experience of the major.
- The major project may well develop from a previous research experience or internship.
- Whenever possible, capstone courses need to allow for collaborative efforts among the baccalaureate students.
Types of Capstone Experiences & Courses
Toward a Model for Capstone Experiences: Mountaintops, Magnets, and Mandates. (Rowles et al., 2004).
This article describes capstone courses as typically organized around either development or assessment. “When assessment is emphasized, capstones are used in assessing program-level student learning outcomes. Essentially, capstones seek to answer the central questions: What does the student know? What can the student do? What evidence suggests what students know and can do? Results from capstones are aimed at improving instructional practices, and capstones are frequently used to provide accountability and documentation for a variety of audiences.” The article also describes three organizing models for capstone courses: Magnets, Mandates, or Mountaintops (or Mosaics).
- Magnets: Pull together essential student learning outcomes in the major; “discipline-specific and … like a magnet attracting precious metal, pull together the richness of content from the discipline in a summative manner”
- Mandates: Typically satisfy proscribed professional accreditation standards and demonstrating competence; “organized around meeting the needs of an external constituency, typically when licensure, certification, or other circumstances require that competences be mastered and demonstrated in a summative manner”
- Mountaintops: Are often interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary projects to intentionally draw upon the learning, experiences, and perspectives of two or more disciplines.
“… students from two (or more) disparate majors ascend to the capstone experience from different, unique disciplinary perspectives, coming together at the summit”
- Mosaics (subsequent design, 2012): Reinforce general education purposes and institutional values
Capstone Courses Vary in Terms of Goals, Objectives, Structures and Assignments. (Weimer, 2013).
This article provides a review of the diversity of capstone course designs. “Understanding how the various courses in a major fit together to build a coherent knowledge base should be a learning outcome of every major. Capstone courses are a way of ensuring that students have the opportunity to do that integration.”
A Multi-Institutional Study of Student’s Perceptions and Experiences in the Research-based Capstone Course in Sociology. (McKinney & Day, 2013).
This article describes student perceptions of and experiences in research-focused capstone courses. It also provides insight into how the effectiveness of such a course could be assessed using questionnaires, focus groups, and learning reflection essays.
Internships, Integrative Learning and the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP). (Grose, 2017).
This paper draws upon the framework of the DQP to sketch three different curricular pathways that the learning from internships might follow. This allows for mapping the specific learning outcomes expected in internships, as well as the identification of appropriate forms of evidence for documenting their achievement — including evidence from intentionally designed assignments. Drawing on the DQP, and the VALUE Rubrics from the Association of American Colleges & Universities, the paper explores Integrative Learning as a framework for evaluating the learning associated with different internship learning pathways. It concludes with suggestions for collaboration on- and off-campus that can help facilitate meaningful learning though internship experiences.
Designing and Teaching Undergraduate Capstone Courses. (Hauhart & Grahe, 2015).
This book covers the design, administration, and teaching of capstone courses throughout the undergraduate curriculum, guiding departments seeking to add a capstone course, and allowing those who have one to compare it to others in the discipline. The ideas presented in the book are supported by regional and national surveys that help the reader understand what’s common, what’s exceptional, what works, and what doesn’t within capstone courses. The authors also provide additional information specific to different departments across the curriculum, including STEM, social sciences, humanities, fine arts, education, and professional programs.
Capstone Curriculum Website
A website with information from an Australian study of capstone curriculum across disciplines.
University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Capstone How-To
A website with information about designing capstone experiences, as well as using capstones for program assessment.