CEL facilitates multi-institutional research on engaged learning topics. Participants from institutions around the world collaborate over three years, producing scholarship that shapes research and practice globally.
CEL is home to two book series. In addition, CEL research seminars and other initiatives have produced 100+ publications (to date).
CEL’s concise guides offer research-informed practices for engaged learning.
CEL’s concise guides offer practical strategies for studying engaged learning.
CEL brings together international leaders in higher education to develop, synthesize, and share rigorous research on central questions about student learning.
The CEL Scholar role and CEL Student Scholars program enable Elon faculty and students to deepen their understanding of and professional development in scholarly activity on engaged learning.
Butler, Des, Sandra Coe, Rachael Field, Judith McNamara, Sally Kift, and Catherine Brown. 2017. "Embodying Life-Long Learning: Transition and Capstone Experiences." Oxford Review of Education 43 (2): 194-208. https://doi.org/10.1080/03054985.2016.1270199.
This case study describes the first of six principles, which informed the development of a capstone design for Australian legal education, and according to the authors, should inform the development of any capstone. The authors focus on Transition–the first of their selected principles–as a theoretical framework for the pedagogical design they develop. They extend Kift’s Transition Pedagogy, an adaptation of Schlossberg that focuses on first year students, to inform final year practices—viewing final year students as students in transition, too. The authors identify three areas in which the incorporation of transition pedagogy can enhance a capstone experience and help students manage uncertainty, complexity, and change; develop a professional identity; and career plan. While the case study doesn’t cover the implementation of the capstone design, the study can offer a useful model for capstone development. Additionally, the transition framework does a helpful job of linking student development theory (and Schlossberg’s theory of transition) with pedagogy and ends with qualitative data from students as evidence of the necessity of the framework.
Des, Butler , Sandra Coe, Rachael Field, Judith McNamara, Sally Kift, and Catherine Brown. 2017. "Embodying life-long learning." Transition and capstone experiences, Oxford Review of Education 43 (2): 194-208.
Collier, Peter J. 2000. "The Effects of Completing a Capstone Course on Student Identity." Sociology of Education 73 (4): 285-299. https://doi.org/10.2307/2673235.
Collier’s article studies the effect of participation in a capstone experience on undergraduate students’ identification as a college student. He proposes that the increased identification with this role by capstone students over time indicate capstones’ effectiveness in socialization. Using different identity theories around role identities and role-identity acquisition as theoretical frameworks, Collier developed a longitudinal study of 26 senior capstone students (multidisciplinary and across the university) of one year’s capstone at a university, with a nonequivalent control group (n=26). Using pre- and post-measurements, Collier found that the nature of the capstone as a grounded and experiential course contributed to its transformative impact on students. Students connecting with the community in a capstone context were pushed to work more collaboratively, and this social aspect of their learning and work helped them to associate more strongly with the role of a college student. The development of identity as a student is a potential strength of capstones. However, Collier fails to discuss why developing a student identity–especially in the senior year–is a worthwhile or positive practice, nor does he discuss how that student identity intersects with other social identities a student may hold. Collier does offer several practical implications for curriculum and specifically capstone development.
Collier, Peter J. 2000. "The effects of completing a capstone course on student identity." Sociology of Education 73 (4): 285-299.
Dunlap, Joanna C. 2005. "Problem-Based Learning and Self-Efficacy: How a Capstone Course Prepares Students for a Profession." Educational Technology Research and Development 53 (1): 65-83. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf02504858.
Dunlap employed a mixed methods approach to study the self-efficacy of 31 students in a required undergraduate capstone course. She analyzed guided journal submissions and triangulated those responses with student responses to a survey tool called the General Perceived Self-Efficacy Scale, a 10-item scale that “assesses optimistic self-beliefs to cope with a variety of difficult demands in life” (73). Her findings—that students’ participation in a problem-based learning environment impacts students’ sense of capability, especially looking forward to career prospects and their sense of professional identity—offer data to support why capstones serve as a powerful facilitator of transition for students. While her findings are most specific to problem-based learning, a related high impact practice, their basis in a capstone context may help support the development of positively impactful capstone experiences.
Dunlap, Joanna C, and . 2005. " Problem-based learning and self-efficacy: How a capstone course prepares students for a profession." Educational Technology Research & Development 53 (1): 65-85.
Henscheid, Jean M., Tracy L. Skipper, and Dallin George Young. 2019. "Reflection, Integration, Application: Intentional Design Strategies for Senior Capstone Experiences." New Directions for Higher Education 2019 (188): 91-100. https://doi.org/10.1002/he.20349.
Henscheid, Skipper, and Young identify the importance of reflection, integration, and application in their piece about Intentional Design Strategies for Senior Capstone Experiences. They suggest that these three elements can aid in developing advanced “analytical and critical thinking, communication skills, employment skills, problem-solving competencies, and team-building.” In addition, in order to foster an environment in which reflection, integration, and application are used to their fullest potential there must be a meaningful educational experience for the student. Something unique and quite important is the acknowledgment that a meaningful educational experience can be different for each individual. Overall, the piece unfolds how to build experiences that “provide structured opportunities for applied learning.”
The authors describe four capstone experiences that promote application of learning:
These experiences, not only are reflective in nature but also suggest that the student take time to reflect on their own interests, needs, and desires, as they move forward in integrating and applying what they have learned.
This piece expands on different ways in which students can engage in learning experiences that support reflection, integration, and application. Breaking down examples of these types of learning experiences can help us to better understand what elements of those experiences really lend themselves to cycles of reflection, integration, and application.
Annotation contributed by Sophie Miller, 2021-2024 CEL Student Scholar
Julien, Brianna L, Louise Lexis, Johannes Schuijers, Tom Samiric, and Stuart McDonald. 2012. "Using Capstones to Develop Research Skills and Graduate Capabilities: A Case Study from Physiology." Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice 9 (3): 58-73. https://doi.org/10.53761/184.108.40.206.
This case study describes two physiology capstones that culminate the Bachelor of Health Science at La Trobe University. The authors describe the student assessments involved in the capstones and evaluate the program itself based on student performance, student feedback, and faculty perceptions of the course. The authors found that final grades for students were significantly higher in 2011, following the implementation of the capstone course than final grades in the previous two years. Students reported positive skill development and satisfaction, and instructors noticed a higher degree of student-centered learning along with a “vastly increased workload” and “greater need for infrastructure services” (11). The value of this case study is not only the model it provides for capstone development, but also the consideration of staffing and resource needs to support strong capstone experiences. Other institutions looking to launch or revise capstone experiences would do well to recognize this resource challenge.
Julien, B. L., L. Lexis, J. Schuijers, T. Samiric, and S. McDonald. 2012. "Using capstones to develop research skills and graduate capabilities: A case study from physiology." Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice 9 (3): 1-15.
Kilgo, Cindy A, Jessica K Ezell Sheets, and Ernest T Pascarella. 2014. "The Link between High-Impact Practices and Student Learning: Some Longitudinal Evidence." Higher Education 69 (4): 509-525. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-014-9788-z.
This study used pre- and post-tests to estimate the efficacy of the 10 high impact practices supported by AAC&U and found that overall, the high impact practices do, in fact, support student learning. They found that active, collaborative learning and undergraduate research were especially effective in promoting critical thinking, cognition, and intercultural effectiveness, while capstones (among other HIPs) had more mixed effects. For capstones in particular, the authors found a negative link to critical thinking, “but positive net association with four-year gains in need for cognition” (519). The authors highlight several other specific positive gains in student learning as a result of capstones, and this data can be especially helpful in advocating not only for the value of capstones themselves, but in the value of intentionally designed capstones. The multi-institutional results help generalize the benefits, and even more importantly point to areas where negative links occurred, suggesting that administration and facilitation are key in capstones actually having high (positive) impact.
Kilgo, Cindy A., Ezell Sheets, Jessica K. , and Pascarella T. Ernest. 2015. "The link between high-impact practices and student learning: Some longitudinal evidence." Higher Education 69 (4): 509-525.
Kirkscey, Russell, Julie Vale, James M. Weiss, and Jennifer Hill. 2021. "Capstone Experience Purposes: An International, Multidisciplinary Study." Teaching & Learning Inquiry 9 (2). http://dx.doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.9.2.19.
Laye, Matthew J., Caroline Boswell, Morgan Gresham, Dawn Smith-Sherwood, and Olivia S. Anderson. 2020. "Multi-Institutional Survey of Faculty Experiences Teaching Capstones." College Teaching 68 (4): 201-213. https://doi.org/10.1080/87567555.2020.1786663.
Lee, Nicolette, and Daniel Loton. 2017. "Capstone Purposes across Disciplines." Studies in Higher Education 44 (1): 134-50. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2017.1347155.
This literature review analyzes the purposes of capstones as presented by faculty involved in capstone design and instruction. This review is valuable in offering a broad overview of capstone literature and present understandings—for example, capstones are frequently linked to development of employability skills and personal student attributes. In addition to a review of the literature, Lee and Loton conducted an online survey of 216 capstone educators internationally (with just over three–quarters originating from Australia, the authors’ base). Here, they found the 20 most highly rated purposes for capstones were similarly rated across disciplinary groups—implying they serve a common purpose regardless of discipline. The survey responses echoed what has been focused on broadly in the literature and adds some nuance that will be useful to readers seeking to understand capstones at an introductory level. Finally, the purposes raised may help designers of capstones identify shared purposes from which to backward design the capstone experience.
Lee, Nicolette, and Daniel Loton. 2017. "Capstone purposes across disciplines." Studies in Higher Education: 1-17.
Paris, David, and Ann Ferren. 2013. "How Students, Faculty, and Institutions Can Fulfill the Promise of Capstones." Peer Review 15 (4). https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/how-students-faculty-and-institutions-can-fulfill-promise.
This article offers a useful analysis of the capstone experience broadly, offering some recent historical context for capstones as well as recommendations for where they are headed today based on practice examples found across the United States. For American readers in particular, this analysis will offer some helpful comparisons to programs in a more familiar context. Unlike some of the heavier and formal research-centered pieces, another benefit of this article is its accessibility, due in large part because it serves to introduce a whole issue of Peer Review focused on capstone experiences. Paris and Ferren’s focus on the faculty-student relationship within capstones may be especially useful to readers, as it’s a lens of capstones not frequently seen in other literature and may be a key element in what makes capstones a high impact practice.
Paris, David, and Ann Ferren. 2013. "How students, faculty, and institutions can fulfill the promise of capstones." Peer Review, 15 (4).
Rash, Agnes, and Kathryn Weld. 2013. "The Capstone Course: Origins, Goals, Methods, and Issues." PRIMUS 23 (4): 291-96. https://doi.org/10.1080/10511970.2013.775203.
This is an introduction to a special issue on capstone courses, which describes a range of models, common goals across capstones, popular teaching methods used in capstones, the value of capstones as a way to assess a curricular program, and issues related to faculty development. The curricular focus, mathematics, is somewhat unique and so may be especially useful for instructors who come with a strong disciplinary connection and are unsure of how capstones may fit into or enhance the content they hope to impart on students. An interesting and also unique aspect of this piece is the acknowledgement of capstones’ value in program assessment. For administrators in particular, this may be a helpful argument for an added benefit of capstones beyond student learning directly associated with the course. This article, as with several others, is explicit in framing the teaching of capstones as more of a mentorship relationship–an idea that would be worth following up on in future research.
Rash, Agnes, and Kathryn Weld. 2013. "The capstone course: Origins, goals, methods, and issues." PRIMUS 23 (4): 291-296.
Redman, Peggy. 2013. "Going beyond the Requirement: The Capstone Experience." Peer Review 15 (4). https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/going-beyond-requirement-capstone-experience.
This case study describes capstones across the curriculum and educational levels (bachelors, master’s, and doctoral) at the University of La Verne in southern California. By looking at the 127 capstone projects that students produced (41 undergraduate), Redman analyzed student writing and learning. As a result of the findings associated with this analysis, the university adapted a more integrated and reflective process across all four years to prepare students for their final capstone. This piece serves as a valuable model for thoughtfully embedding and scaffolding the capstone experience not only in the final year, but from a student’s first experience on campus. Additionally, the piece offers innovative ideas for linking capstones to other high impact practices such as community partnerships (service-learning) and ePortfolios.
Redman, Peggy. 2013. "Going beyond the requirement: The capstone experience." Peer Review 15 (4).
Upson-Saia, Kristi. 2013. "The Capstone Experience for the Religious Studies Major." Teaching Theology & Religion 16 (1): 3-17. https://doi.org/10.1111/teth.12001.
This study examines capstone experiences for religious studies majors at 29 different U.S. institutions. Upson-Saia not only explores the strengths across these experiences, and the factors that set apart especially successful programs, but also takes an explicit focus on “the most frustrating aspects of the capstone” and “how some departments avoid such frustrations” (4). Unlike Lee and Loton (2017), who found strong consensus among the top purposes of capstones, Upson-Saia found little consensus among religious studies capstones beyond “culmination” in their educational objectives. This may be a difference in scale–on a smaller scale, more variation is visible–or in context. Perhaps authors have similar ideas about what should be talked about in published articles, but in practice, there may be more variation in purpose. Interestingly, Upson-Saia discusses one of the themes Lee and Loton raised about the pressures put on the capstone: suggesting that frustrations about the capstone as not going well, or doing as much as it could, stem from those pressures for capstone to be doing everything. She takes a historical lens in her response to this, exploring the evolution of capstones and their purposes through history to think through how capstones may be positioned today. Her resulting list of best practices for religious studies capstones may be adapted across disciplinary contexts and offer a useful starting point for people designing and developing capstones.
Upson-Saia, Kristi. 2013. "The capstone experience for the religious studies major." Teaching Theology & Religion 16 (1): 3-17.
Vale, Julie, Karen Gordon, Russell Kirkscey, and Jennifer Hill. 2020. "Student and Faculty Perceptions of Capstone Purposes: What Can Engineering Learn From Other Disciplines?" Proceedings of the Canadian Engineering Education Association (CEEA) Conference 2020: 1-8. https://doi.org/10.24908/pceea.vi0.14149.
Young, Dallin George, Jasmin K Chung, Dory E Hoffman, and Ryan Bronkema. 2017. 2016 National Survey of Senior Capstone Experiences: Expanding our Understanding of Culminating Experiences. Columbia, SC: National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.
This publication reports on the 2016 National Survey of Senior Capstone Experiences conducted by the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition. The survey previously was administered in 1999 and 2011. It reports on capstones in curricular and co-curricular higher education programs, including objectives for the capstone experiences, types of capstone by field of study, and percentage of seniors participating in capstones.