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Office of Assessment of Teaching and Learning Capstone Resources

Capstone Resources


Assessing Capstone Experiences

Good Practices

  • Map curriculum to ensure that the critical courses introduce and reinforce the essential skills. Significant new skills or content should not be introduced in a capstone.
  • Capstone experience doesn’t need to be one course necessarily; it could span two courses, or a course and an internship, etc. 
  • Capstone should be designed and facilitated by a full-time faculty.

Good Practice Guides

Using a Capstone Course to Assess Learning. (Weimer, 2012).
This article summarizes a more extensive article which describes and adaptable model for a capstone course “designed to assess goals at the programmatic and institutional levels” (p.523). Several assignments are designed to accomplish their goals including 1) simulated academic conference where students pick a paper they’ve written for another class in the major to present, 2) a course mapping exercise in which students rate major courses in the program on how well they met program learning outcomes, 3) open-ended exit survey, and 4) learning-through-teaching activity. The article (both this summary and the original) shows how capstone courses allow for straightforward collection of assessment data that can be used to benefit students, faculty, and the program as a whole.

Guidebook for Programmatic Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. (Jonson, 2006).
Section C (p. 32-37) of this guidebook provides clear and simple descriptions of the advantages and disadvantages of different forms of assessment within a capstone course. It also gives recommendations for programs in using each form of capstone assessment. Specifically, the guide includes standardized tests, locally developed exams, capstone experiences, internships and professional applications, portfolios, assessment center methods, and case or longitudinal studies.

Effective Grading. (Walvoord & Johnson Anderson, 2010).
This book is a general guide for evaluating student work and make connections between learning and assessment in college. On page 143, the authors provide an example of how to set-up grading within a capstone course to assess students’ progress toward program-level learning outcomes.

Assessment Clear and Simple. (Walvoord, 2010).
This book provides straight-forward guidance for assessment at the institutional, departmental, and classroom levels. On pages 67-68, the authors present an organization of assessment data that matches student performance in a capstone course and other assessment data with the learning goals of the program. On page 76-77, the authors provide an example of a table that connects measures (such as those in a capstone course) with learning goals and how the assessment information is used to inform program decisions.

Faculty Evaluation of Student Work: Simple, Powerful, and Overlooked. (Shupe, 2007).
This chapter lays out how, with planning, faculty evaluation of student work in courses such as a capstone course can provide a meaningful and powerful tool for assessing student achievement of program learning outcomes. Find more information in T. Banta, Assessing Student Learning in the Disciplines. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Capstone Design Courses and Assessment: A National Study. (McKenzie, Trevisan, Davis & Beyerlein, 2004).
This paper describes findings from a nationwide survey that connected ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) assessment with capstone course design and assessment. This is a great resource for engineering capstone courses and understanding how to connect capstone assessment with professional accreditation.

Questions for Programs to Consider

Critical Questions for Programs to Consider in Regard to Capstone Experience Courses (from handout by Stephen Hundley presentation at IUPUI Assessment Institute, 2012)

  1. For what types of post degree roles and experiences are we preparing graduates in this discipline and from this institution?
  2. What discipline-specific or program-level learning should we expect graduates to demonstrate (know and be able to do) at the time of graduation?
  3. What broader institutional and societal values should we expect graduates to demonstrate and/or embrace at the time of graduation?
  4. Who are program stakeholders? How and to what extent has stakeholder input helped shape the programs curriculum?
  5. How can we design and implement experiences to assess and document learning while preparing students for post-degree roles?
  6. What types of assignments and experiences make sense in capstones? What types of assignments and experiences will be necessary to prepare students for capstones?
  7. How will results of student performance in the capstone be used to improve the pathway leading to the capstone? What mechanisms exist to facilitate this feedback loop?
  8. What are the specific resources needed to maximize the program’s ongoing effectiveness?

Useful Websites

University of Washington’s Capstone Courses

University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Capstone How-To

Washington State University