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Capstone Experiences

  • 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.

    About this Journal Article:

    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.

    About this Journal Article:

    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 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.

    About this Journal Article:

    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 findingsthat students’ participation in a problem-based learning environment impacts students’ sense of capability, especially looking forward to career prospects and their sense of professional identityoffer 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.

    About this Journal Article:

    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:

    • Independent Research Experiences: Apply what students have learned to   Real world experiences allow the student to expand their knowledge even more.
    • Internships: Allows students to go beyond curriculum and apply what they have learned to the workforce.
    • Service Learning: Apply classroom information to community problems.
    • Preprofessional Capstones: Allow students to apply academic content in real-world contexts attentive to disciplinary or professional standards.

    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.

    About this Journal Article:

    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.

    About this Journal Article:

    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. 

First-Year Experiences

  • Barefoot, Betsy O. 2000. "The First-Year Experience: Are We Making It Any Better?" About Campus 4 (6): 12-18.

    About this Journal Article:

    Barefoot writes that high-quality FYE have small class size to increase student-to-faculty interactions; integration of curricular and co-curricular experiences; increased investment of time on campus; and high academic expectations. Barefoot emphasizes that these are the areas that FYE should be focused on in order to obtain the desired outcomes in first-year students. These outcomes are most commonly student retention after the first year and higher grade point averages. The best practices that Barefoot identifies for FYE are similar to the characteristics of HIPs identified by Kuh, O’Donnell, and Schneider in 2017.


  • Ash, Sarah L., and Patti H. Clayton. 2004. "The Articulated Learning: An approach to Guided Reflection and Assessment." Innovative Higher Education 29 (2): 137-154.

    About this Journal Article:

    Reflection is an integral aspect of service-learning, but it does not simply happen by telling students to reflect. This paper describes the risks involved in poor quality reflection and explains the results of rigorous reflection. A rigorous reflection framework is introduced that involves objectively describing an experience, analyzing the experience, and then articulating learning outcomes according to guiding questions.

  • Bharath, Del. 2020. "Using eService-learning to practice technical writing skills for emerging nonprofit professionals." Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership 10 (1): 62-81.

    About this Journal Article:

    Bharath uses an e-service learning project as an educational tool that helps students develop technical writing skills and meet their partner organization’s needs in an online nonprofit course. Furthermore, this paper provides a discussion on the benefits and challenges facing e-service learning projects.

  • Bourelle, Tiffany. 2014. "Adapting service-learning into the online technical communication classroom: A framework and model." Technical Communication Quarterly 23 (4): 247-264.

    About this Journal Article:

    Bourelle implements an e-service learning project in a distance communication course. The researcher specifically examined students’ sense of civic responsibility, application of skills, peer learning, and their use of technology.

  • Branker, Kadra, Jacqueline Corbett, Jane Webster, and Joshua M. Pearce. 2010. "Hybrid Virtual- and Field Work-Based Service Learning with Green Information Technology and Systems Projects." Informational Journal for Service Learning in Engineering 5 (2): 44-59.

    About this Journal Article:

    In this study, the authors take a hybrid-approach to create a service-learning project with Engineering students. Using a two-prong approach, the authors had students completed the first half of the project virtually and second half in the field. Additionally, the authors reflected on the use of virtual versus traditional methods of service-learning.

  • Celio, Christine I., Joseph Durlak, and Allison Dymnicki. 2011. "A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Service-Learning on Students." Journal of Experiential Education 34 (2): 164-181.

    About this Journal Article:

    For those seeking empirical data regarding the value of service-learning, this meta-analysis provides considerable evidence. Representing data from 11,837 students, this meta-analysis of 62 studies identified five areas of gain for students who took service-learning courses as compared to control groups who did not. The students in service-learning courses demonstrated significant gains in their self-esteem and self-efficacy, educational engagement, altruism, cultural proficiency, and academic achievement. Studies of service-learning courses that implemented best practices (e.g., supporting students in connecting curriculum with the service, incorporating the voice of students in the service-learning project, welcoming community involvement in the project, and requiring reflection) had higher effect sizes.

  • Cress, Christine M., Peter J. Collier, Vicki L. Reitenauer, and Associates, eds. 2013. Learning through Service: A Student Guidebook for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement across Academic Disciplines and Cultural Communities, 2nd ed. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

    About this Edited Book:

    Although written for students to promote an understanding of their community service through reflection and their personal development as citizens who share expertise with compassion, this text is also useful for faculty. Among the many topics addressed, it provides descriptions of service-learning and civic engagement, explains how to establish and deepen community partnerships, and challenges students to navigate difference in ways that unpack privilege and analyze power dynamics that often surface in service-learning and civic engagement. Written in an accessible style, it is good first text for learning about service-learning and civic engagement.

  • Dailey-Hebert, Ashley, Emily Donnelli-Sallee, and Laurie N. DiPadvoa-Stocks, eds. 2008. Service-eLearning: Educating for Citizenship. Information Age Publishing, Inc..

    About this Edited Book:

    Grounded in the theory-to-practice of service-learning, this edited book proposes a new model that blends existing service-learning methods with eLearning pedagogy. The book also recognizes how emerging technology can shape how students participate in eService-learning projects.

  • Dailey-Herber, Amber, and Emily Donnelli. 2010. "Service-eLearning: Educating Today’s Learners for an Unscripted Future." International Journal of Organizational Analysis 18 (2): 216-227.

    About this Journal Article:

    This paper examines how educators can use eLearning pedagogies in service-learning courses through theoretical frameworks and practical considerations. Though authors intended to use their findings to help create innovative pedagogical approaches to respond to emerging technology and educational preferences of Millennials, the results can be adapted to fit Gen-Z students as well.

  • Delano-Oriaran, Omobolade, Marguerite W Penick-Parks, and Suzanne Fondrie, eds. 2015. The SAGE Sourcebook of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

    About this Edited Book:

    This tome contains 58 chapters on a variety of aspects related to service-learning and civic engagement. The intended audience is faculty in higher education and faculty in P-12 schools, as well as directors of service-learning or civic engagement centers in universities or school districts. The SAGE Sourcebook of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement outlines several theoretical models on the themes of service-learning and civic engagement, provides guides that faculty can employ when developing service-learning projects, shares ideas for program development, and offers numerous resources that faculty can use. Parts I – IV of the sourcebook are directed toward general information about service-learning and civic engagement, including aspects of implementation; parts V – VIII describe programs and issues related to the use of service-learning or civic engagement within disciplines or divisions; part IX addresses international service-learning; and part X discusses sustainability.

  • Felten, Peter, and Patti H. Clayton. 2011. "Service-Learning." New Directions for Teaching and Learning 128: 75-84.

    About this Journal Article:

    Felten and Clayton define service-learning, describe its essential aspects, and review the empirical evidence supporting this pedagogy. Both affective and cognitive aspects of growth are examined in their review. The authors conclude that effectively designed service-learning has considerable potential to promote transformation for all involved, including those who mentor students during the service-learning experience.