Communicating the Goals of Capstones
by Tony Weaver and Caroline J. Ketcham
George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Over the next year, as 2018-2020 CEL research seminar participants continue to contemplate the future of the capstone experience, we cannot help but think of this quote and how appropriate it may be to the success or failure of the capstone experience.
As we look back on our early years of teaching, we were not entirely familiar with the role of the capstone within the university or department curriculum. We had heard the word “capstone” and we informally talked to others about the departmental or university capstones, but we never intentionally thought about the purpose of the capstone experience or their variety.
Now as department chairs, we know this experience is common for faculty. Higher education has struggled with defining the capstone, understanding the purpose or the desired outcomes of the experience, and agreeing on how to assess characteristics of a successful experience. Often this lack of understanding can create confusion and frustration for all of those involved. Research has rightfully focused on the outcomes from the student perspective, and course development from the faculty perspective, but perhaps greater attention needs to be given to the role higher education administration plays in creating and articulating a vision for creating a successful capstone (Davies, Hides, Casey, 2001).
Budwig & Low (2018) discuss the role of administration in providing faculty and staff the necessary professional development opportunities to lead a capstone experience. The authors also highlight the need for administration to move beyond the conversation of the role of teacher-as-mentor and explore the institutional resources and structures needed to implement and support culminating work. A first step in any institutional readiness plan needs to be the creation of an effective communication strategy for all constituencies. Budwig & Lee suggest that campuses should use “common vocabulary” and consistent feedback when addressing questions about capstone experiences and as appropriate distinguish the different types of capstones students might encounter. Examples can be found at Thomas Edison State University or at Portland State University.
Carol Geary Schneider warned against the problem of miscommunication almost 20 years ago when discussing the importance of articulating the value of the liberal arts education to the market. At the time, she applauded campuses for their creativity in reinventing the pedagogy of the liberal arts education, but raised concerns about the ability to connect to the audience, most importantly, students. Geary Schneider writes, “The academy is reinventing the practice of liberal education–but seems bent on ensuring that no one knows.” Are we currently falling victim to the same mistakes when discussing high impact practices such as capstones? Has higher education lingo gotten in the way of communicating the goals and outcomes foundational to the capstone experience and maybe more importantly why they matter to students’ education or long-term goals?
Having a supportive infrastructure that prioritizes a communication strategy that teaches administrators and faculty how best to articulate the purpose and values of the capstone experience to various audiences is crucial. Without a clear understanding of the role of capstones in an institutional context, the culminating experiences of a capstone will fall short.
- Budwig, N. & Low, K. (2018). Institutional readiness for signature work, Peer Review, 20(2)
- Budwig, N & Jessen-Marshall, A. (2018). Making the case for capstones and signature work, Peer Review, 20(2)
- Cucuzzello, D. (22 May 2014). What is a capstone project? And why do I have to take it? Retrieved from https://blog.tesu.edu/whats-a-capstone-project-and-why-do-i-have-to-take-it
- Davies, J., Hides, M.T. and Casey, S. (2001) Leadership in higher education, Total Quality Management 12(7–8): 1025–30.
- Geary Schneider, C. (2001). Liberal education: A for creativity; D- for communication….AAC&U Liberal Education, 87(3).
- Portland State University (2018). University studies senior capstone. Frequently asked questions about senior capstones. Retrieved from https://capstone.unst.pdx.edu/frequently-asked-questions-about-senior-capstones
- Tinsley McGill, P. (2012). Understanding the capstone experience through the voices of students. The Journal of General Education, 61(4), 488-504.
Tony Weaver is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sport Management at Elon University. He serves as a seminar leader for the Center’s 2018-2020 research seminar on Capstone Experiences.
Caroline J. Ketcham, Professor and Chair, Department of Exercise Science, Elon University, is a seminar leader for the 2018-2020 research seminar on Capstone Experiences.