Book cover of Cultivating Capstones: Designing High-Quality Culminating Experiences for Student Learning, edited by Caroline J. Ketcham, Anthony G. Weaver, and Jessie L. Moore
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ISBN: 9781642674170

January 2023

In chapter 14 of Cultivating Capstones, the authors discuss using reflection to transform instead of reproduce.

“To surface diversity among learners and instructors, faculty need to reckon with the ways that their own identities and experiences inform their teaching as well as how their own lived experiences are either overrepresented or underrepresented in the curriculum more broadly. While some of this reflection can be done alone, it is improved through dialogue” (208).

The following exercises provide opportunities for reflection and dialogue to support this work.

Exercise A: What do I bring with me to this teaching?  (Reflective writing)

This exercise is ideally completed at a stage of (re)design of a capstone course but could also be useful later in exploring what faculty bring to the teaching of a capstone. It invites faculty to reflect on their own experiences.

Find some space away from distractions and e-mails etc. and use the following questions as a prompt to explore your own memories and associations. You should write down your responses and be prepared to push yourself to broaden and deepen your account, through giving yourself the prompt “What else can I add?”

Where and when were you a student? What did it mean to you?

1. Did you undertake a capstone as part of your degree? If no, go to 2.

What spaces did you occupy as a capstone student and who did you interact with? What interactions and emotions do you remember mostly strongly? What do you think you were trying to achieve at the time? Do you think about it differently now? What did you find hard? In retrospect what do you think you learned?

2. What did it mean to graduate?

If you think back to the time you graduated, what was your overriding feeling (or feelings)? What did it mean to those around you? What felt comfortable to you at university? What was a struggle and what enabled you to address those things? During your time as a student were you successful? Why do you say that?

3. How do your own experiences impact your work now?

What in your own experiences of university is ‘alive’ to you now? What is it that you wish you had known about as a student? Write about experiences with students for whom you feel protective or nurturing. Write about experiences with students which you find challenging. What are your strategies and support mechanisms to do this work well?

Exercise B: Framing success (Structured conversation)

This exercise can be used to support a conversation between faculty who are (re)designing a capstone experience or who make up a teaching team. It can also be used to support a conversation between faculty and students, where it should be used to build understanding of both parties’ understandings and expectations rather than as a way to communicate the faculty’s view of success.

Individually, each person should take a piece of paper and write ‘Doing a successful capstone’ in a bubble in the center. (It might be useful to name the capstone.) They should then write all the things that contribute to this success in a spider diagram. They should attempt to break down the qualities or behaviors, adding additional layers to the spider diagram.

Those undertaking the exercise should then share what they have written:

  • What are the similarities and differences?
  • After discussion, are there things people disagree on?
  • Are there things that are surprising?

This discussion can be used as a springboard for redesigning the capstone (even when it is a course in progress) to support a more transparent and inclusive definition of success as well as resources needed to help students reach this benchmark.

Exercise C: Thinking through different lenses (Research)

We use Bernstein’s (2000) four curriculum lenses as an analytic framework. He states that we can think about our curriculum as: the intended curriculum; that which is actually delivered; what is received or understood by students; and finally the hidden or tacit curriculum, is a productive approach to uncovering taken-for-granted and hidden aspects. Bens (2013) boils it down to four key questions:

  • What do we say we will do?
  • What do we do in practice?
  • What do students get out of it?
  • What else are we doing?

Use these questions to structure short interviews or a short questionnaire for current or recent teaching faculty and recent graduates. Schedule a time for the teaching team to review responses. A set of coherent or diverse perspectives may emerge, and the findings can be used to refine the curriculum.

Exercise D: Decoupling the field and negotiating difference (Curriculum mapping)

Capstones tend to bring together pedagogical rationale and approaches into one high-impact practice. These rationales and approaches include requiring students to integrate learning from across their course; requiring them to apply this learning to a context external to the university, that is “real world” or authentic in a meaningful way, and asking students to engage with diversity and difference through engaging with people and context external to the university. Their integration and complexity no doubt contribute to this being a high impact practice. However, we find that this complexity can lead to slippage between different elements. This exercise asks you to map “the field” and “negotiating difference” though your curriculum, paying particular attention to how they interact.

  • What, if any, formal prerequisites that concern (a)the field and (b) negotiating difference does a student need to do this capstone?
  • What assumptions do you make about students’ knowledge and skills regarding (a) the field and (b) negotiating difference do you make at the start of the capstone?
  • Where do (a) the field and (b) negotiating difference appear in the curriculum? (They may, of course, be described differently. Documents might talk about a community or professional placement or practicum.)
  • How are (a) the field and (b) negotiating difference assessed in the capstone?

In answering these questions, to what extent are the field and negotiating difference being treated interchangeably? To what extent is there scope for a different sequencing of the curriculum possible, which might build student skills and understanding?

Exercise E: Encountering difference (Creating and integrating resources)

Our research emphasizes the value of surfacing and addressing students’ intercultural competencies. By this we mean a person’s ability to be agile when encountering cultural differences and to communicate across cultures; to build bridges and manage oneself in unfamiliar cultural contexts.

In creating resources, you should refer to peer networks and university support in order to build resources that make sense in your context and that you feel able to deliver.

You ask students to reflect on what kinds of people their capstone brings them into contact with – and how they feel similar to and different from these people.  If they are very similar to the people they encounter, ask students to brainstorm what they do to learn about how people with different vantage points view the issues that they’re working on. You could then use representations, such as literature or TV/film, as a focus of discussion. You might also use cultural competency audits and/or the creation of vignettes or role play as approaches to building skills. We share a few examples below as prompts for you.

Exercise E.1 – Finding intercultural interactions elsewhere

You could show films, TV shows, and/or literature which demonstrate either good or poor intercultural skills. This focus could enable exchanges to be ‘slowed down’ and discussed, with the option of writing alternative ways they could play out.

Exercise E.2 – Group intercultural competency audit and individual development plans

You could ask students to complete an individual intercultural competency audit. The anonymized group audit could be shared to provide students with a point of reflection as they compare theirs against the group. Students could be asked to write a development plan in response to their reflections.

Exercise E.3 – Role play to practice intercultural skills

You could create a series of scenarios to discuss as a group. These might include ‘everyday’ scenarios or common research scenarios (greeting potential collaborators, explaining project, leaving the setting, reporting on results).

Exercise 3.4 – Testing assumptions against academic literature and pop culture

Ask students who are going to undertake a capstone to write down the assumptions they have about the groups they may encounter. Ask them to then review scholarly literature and pop culture/mass media that includes this group. They should then reflect on similarities and differences among the representations and be prompted to think about things that they still don’t know.

In creating and employing these resources your aim is supporting students to think about how we manage encounters of difference – anticipated and not, noticed and unnoticed – and how being part of the capstone group/university affects this, with the aim of building respect for people and understanding social capital in different contexts.