Too often our students consider their work in the classroom as required assignments—not work that has anything to do with what they will be doing in the real world. Oh, maybe they are picking up some skills they might use in their future employment, but that’s about it. As teachers, how do we get students to understand that the work they do in our classes—such as team projects, community service, technical papers, and even research—is relevant to what they will be doing after they graduate? How do we encourage them to keep their materials and use them to validate their work as students? I think I have an answer. Teaching an e-portfolio capstone course for several years has given me a perspective that I believe should be the framework for validating student learning outcomes across all institutions of higher education.
Capstone courses are now a requirement in many departments, programs, and college curricula. They vary across different dimensions, indicating that although their value is universally recognized, they share few common features. For starters, they are offered at various levels; at the department level for students in a particular major, at the college level, say, for students in engineering, and at the university level as a general education integrative experience.
High-impact learning practices—first-year seminars, learning communities, service-learning, undergraduate research, and capstone experiences—can provide intensive learning for students and improve retention, persistence to degree, and postgraduate attainment. However, to be effective, institutions need high-level support and cross-divisional collaboration, says Lynn E. Swaner, a higher education consultant and coauthor (with Jayne E. Brownell) of Five High-Impact Practices: Research on Learning Outcomes, Completion, and Quality (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2010). In an interview with Academic Leader, Swaner talked about her research and offered suggestions on successfully implementing these practices.
“In this article, we describe an easily adoptable and adaptable model for a one-credit capstone course that we designed to assess goals at the programmatic and institutional levels.” (p. 523) That’s what the authors claim in the article referenced below, and that’s what they deliver. The capstone course they write about is the culmination of a degree in political science at a public university.
The Association of American Colleges and Universities released findings last month from a survey of its members that revealed trends in undergraduate education and documenting the widespread use of a variety of approaches to assessing learning outcomes. The survey shows that campus leaders are focused both on providing students a broad set of learning outcomes and assessing students’ achievement of these outcomes across the curriculum.
Should Senior Faculty Teach More Introductory Courses? Boomers and Millennials Have More in Common Than You Might Think
After years of service and moving up through the faculty ranks, senior faculty members often feel they have earned the privilege of concentrating their teaching efforts on upper-division courses, leaving the introductory courses to younger faculty members. It seems fair enough: If you stick around long enough, you will be able to teach the courses you enjoy most. But is it the best arrangement for students?
The lofty goals that capstone courses can accomplish make them worth the effort. We know how important first experiences in college are. We need a greater appreciation of how equally important a final summarizing experience can be.