Capstone Experiences: Cultivating the Positive in Undergraduate Scholarship

Capstone Experiences: Cultivating the Positive in Undergraduate Scholarship

David Starr-Glass (University of New York in Prague, Czech Republic & SUNY Empire State College – Prague, Czech Republic)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5667-1.ch002
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Abstract

Capstone experiences were originally incorporated into the curriculum to provide students with an opportunity for reviewing, consolidating, and integrating their undergraduate learning and to serve as a cap for the degree program or a bridge to future graduate and professional work. Capstone experiences are recognized as high impact educational experiences and provide a significant opportunity for promoting a positive disposition towards future scholarship and disciplinary research. This chapter traces the evolution of capstones, stresses their bridging role between undergraduate and graduate life, and suggests ways in which faculty can use them to stimulate professional development, continuing personal growth, and lifelong learning among their senior students. In particular, this chapter considers the merits of capstones from the perspectives of positive scholarship and appreciative inquiry.
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Background

At the beginning of the 1990s, U.S. higher education was concerned with significant problems in the quality, structure, and design of its undergraduate degree programs. It was widely acknowledged that many programs—if not all—consisted of an aggregation of quite disparate courses that reflected the diversity and complexity of the disciplinary major and the competing specialties and preferences of faculty members, academic departments, and individual institutions. It was also generally recognized that this situation inhibited comprehensive disciplinary learning, failed to provide a clear trajectory for student knowledge growth, and significantly hindered student inter-institutional transfer.

The Association of American Colleges’ (1991)Challenge of Connecting Learning, without being overly prescriptive, recommended that degree programs should be radically restructured to provide a graduated sequence of learning exposures that followed a logical progression of subject-matter difficulty, integrated learner experiences, and allowed for deeper and inter-connected explorations of the discipline. In particular, the Association considered that the overall narrative expressed in the curriculum should possess three clear and simple characteristics—a recognized beginning, a developmental elaboration, and a convincing conclusion. The capstone experience was proposed as a significant integrative conclusion for the undergraduate degree program, providing students with the opportunity to bring the various strands of the disciplinary narrative to a satisfactory resolution.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Scholarship: Possession of a comprehensive understanding and deep appreciation of the subject matter and culture of an academic discipline, coupled with the ability to articulate disciplinary knowledge in ways that are recognized as considered and innovative by other scholarly peers.

High-Impact Educational Practices: These practices involve creating active learning contexts, which can take a number of different forms depending on individual students and institutional resources. They usually require learners to invest a considerable amount of time and energy over an extended time, but have unusually positive impacts on student engagement, persistence, and educational outcomes. Examples include first-year seminars and experiences, guided internships, service and community-based learning, supported undergraduate research, and writing-intensive courses or projects.

Internship: A short-term negotiated arrangement that provides learners with the opportunity to study, experience, and reflect on their engagement in a work environment, community organization, or communities of practice, under the supervision of an academic mentor. The main purpose and value of the internship for the intern is not to perform work, but to come to a greater appreciation of the task-setting and organizational contexts within which the work has been performed.

Cognitive Apprenticeship: A learning process in which a more experienced person works with novices to guide them in cognitive and metacognitive tasks, rather than to demonstrate physical skills and processes. As in other apprenticeship relationships, learners are initially recognized as legitimate peripheral participants in the enterprise and asked to perform cognitive tasks slightly beyond their capabilities. With guidance and encouragement, they move from observation to practice, from the periphery to full participation.

Capstone Experience: A terminal experience in the undergraduate degree program that allows the learner to integrate, consolidate, reformulate, and reflect on the content and structure of the knowledge presented in the program. Capstone experiences can either cap the process (representing a rite of passage and affirming what has been learned) or can act as bridges (allowing the learner to move from learning and understanding to application and practice).

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