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Capstone Experiences

  • Bean, Janet, Christina Beaudoin, Tania von der Heidt, David I Lewis, and Carol Van Zile-Tamsen. 2023. "Frames Definitions and Drivers: A Multidimensional Study of Institutionally Required Undergraduate Capstones." In Cultivating Capstones: Designing High-Quality Culminating Experiences for Student Learning, edited by Caroline J Ketcham, Anthony G Weaver and Jessie L Moore, 27-40. Elon, NC: Elon University Center for Engaged Learning.

    About this Book Chapter:

    This chapter examines the language colleges and universities use to represent required undergraduate capstone experiences. How do institutions frame capstones, and what do these frames tell us about the goals of culminating experiences and the drivers of institutional change?

    In “Making the Case for Capstones and Signature Work,” Nancy Budwig and Amy Jessen-Marshall lay out various theoretical frameworks for culminating experiences, from workplace preparation to effective citizenship to student learning. But how do institutions make use of these frames in practice? More specifically, how do institutions that are fully committed to capstones—those that require them of all undergraduate students—represent this high-impact experience?

    To answer these questions, the chapter authors conducted a systematic review of 481 colleges and universities in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Based on their public-facing documents (e.g., programs of study, course catalogs, and undergraduate bulletins), fifty-five of these institutions require a capstone for all baccalaureate degrees, representing 4% of UK, 5% of Australian, and 15% of US institutions.

    For these 55 institutions, the authors analyzed descriptions of required capstones to identify prominent themes—integration, communication, critical thinking, connection to future goals, application, etc. These themes provide insight into how institutions define capstones, what they hope students learn from them, and the complex forces that motivate institutions to embrace this labor-intensive practice.

  • Bell , Sandra, Frederick T. Evers, Shannon Murray, and Margaret Anne Smith. 2023. "Adapting A Capstone: Projects and Portfolios Across Four Courses and Three Institutions." In Cultivating Capstones: Designing High-Quality Culminating Experiences for Student Learning, edited by Caroline J Ketcham, Anthony G Weaver and Jessie L Moore, 113-124. Elon, NC: Elon University Center for Engaged Learning.

    About this Book Chapter:

    This chapter tells the story of how a capstone course for fourth-year students was adopted and adapted into four courses across three institutions and various disciplines, with plans now to bring it to a fourth university. Each course leader highlights adaptations made based on discipline and institution, and offers lessons learned about encouraging enrollment, bringing colleagues on board, connecting to the broader community, and making sure each course outlives its initial champions.

    Founded on the work of the Senior Year Experience work at National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, the courses varied in their readings and focus but all had as their goals the integration of students’ degree learning and an intentional transition from university to the rest of life. An Action Project and Skills Portfolio are major components of the course and were adapted to fit the discipline of English Literature and expanded as a capstone requirement for the Applied Communication, Leadership, and Culture program. It was further adapted to the University of New Brunswick Saint John context, where faculty highlights aspects of reflection and transitioning, included an ePortfolio, and invited a range of alumni to talk about their learning and employment experiences.

    With each iteration, instructors have shifted the readings and focus depending on the discipline but have adhered to the connection between that discipline and the world beyond campus walls. The Skills Portfolio has been adapted to changes in job search expectations, moving from mainly paper to mainly online portfolios. But two basic principles persist: students look back at their degrees by using the tools those degrees have taught them; and they look forward to their post-degree lives with an adaptable portfolio that helps them articulate their skills, knowledge, and attributes.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • Eady, Michelle J, and Simon Bedford. 2023. "Peer Reviewing to Support Quality Assurance of Capstone Experiences: A view from Australia." In Cultivating Capstones: Designing High-Quality Culminating Experiences for Student Learning, edited by Caroline J Ketcham, Anthony G Weaver and Jessie L Moore, 191-203. Elon, NC: Elon University Center for Engaged Learning.

    About this Book Chapter:

    This chapter describes a quality assurance system of collaborative sharing across multiple institutions in Australia and explores, through participant reflections, how such practice can help promote staff confidence and improve facilitation of capstone tasks in the tertiary setting resulting in benefits that derive from a multi-institution approach. A project team consisting of peers from similar disciplines across several institutions in Australia worked together on the project funded by the Australian Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT). Their work verified student attainment standards in the revised national Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) (2015) using capstone tasks in coursework at their given institutions. The External Referencing of Standards (ERoS) project was a collaboration between four universities each located in different States: University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Victoria, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Queensland and Curtin University in Western Australia. This chapter describes the ERoS project, the objectives, and outputs so that other institutions can adapt and employ similar models to ensure quality assessment in their capstone tasks and beyond.

  • Gresham , Morgan, Caroline Boswell, Olivia S Anderson, Matthew J Laye, and Dawn Smith-Sherwood. 2023. "Understanding Faculty Needs in Capstone Experiences." In Cultivating Capstones: Designing High-Quality Culminating Experiences for Student Learning, edited by Caroline J Ketcham, Anthony G Weaver and Jessie L Moore, 167-178. Elon, NC: Elon University Center for Engaged Learning.

    About this Book Chapter:

    This chapter shares results from a mixed-method, multi-institutional study gauging the type of faculty who teach capstone experiences, their intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and the type of support they receive at their institutions. Henscheid (2000) found that almost half of 707 regionally accredited colleges and universities use capstones as part of their institution’s assessment program and the 2010-2011 HERI Faculty Survey indicated that 35.8% of respondents had taught a Capstone course. The 2016–2017 HERI Faculty Survey indicated that just half of undergraduate teaching faculty participated in teaching-related professional development opportunities and that a majority of faculty surveyed (69.2%) agree that there is adequate support for faculty development. The results shared in this chapter paint a different picture of faculty desire for resources and support in teaching capstone experiences. In a survey of 138 faculty, less than half found the availability of resources “good” or “excellent,” with 14% of those surveyed saying that resources were not even available to them. It is vital that faculty members preparing to develop and teach capstone experiences have access to the resources they need to help them be successful. To that end, this chapter provides a common support needs checklist; a set of heuristics that help faculty identify what resources may be most helpful for them at the particular moment and guided by the tensions/pressures/motivations they experience in their particular context; and a how to guide to structure a significant conversation.

  • 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.

  • Ketcham , Caroline J, Anthony G Weaver, and Jessie L Moore. 2023. Cultivating Capstones: Designing High-Quality Culminating Experiences for Student Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

    About this Book:

    Cultivating Capstones introduces higher education faculty and administrators to the landscape of capstone experiences, offers research-informed models that institutions could adapt for their own contextual goals, and suggests faculty development strategies to support implementation of high-quality student learning experiences. The edited collection draws primarily from multi-year, multi-institutional, and mixed-methods studies conducted by participants in the 2018-2020 Center for Engaged Learning research seminar on Capstone Experiences; this work is complemented by chapters by additional scholars focused on culminating experiences.

    The collection is divided into three sections. Part one offers typographies of capstones, illustrating the diversity of experiences included in this high-impact practice while also identifying essential characteristics that contribute to high-quality culminating experiences for students. Part two shares specific culminating experiences (e.g., seminar courses in general education curricula, capstone experiences in the major, capstone research projects in a multi-campus early college program, capstone ePortfolios, etc.), with examples from multiple institutions and strategies for adapting them for readers’ own campus contexts. Part three offers research-informed strategies for professional development to support implementation of high-quality student learning experiences across a variety of campus contexts.

    Learn more at Cultivating Capstones – Center for Engaged Learning

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.