7.0 Capstone units

Capstone units A capstone unit provides students with an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills learned throughout their degree.

Placed at the end of a degree, a capstone unit involves assessments that emulate professional practice by combining disciplinary knowledge and generic skills.

Capstone subjects often require more active participation than other subjects.

A capstone unit may address:

  • Relating discipline - or program-specific outcomes with ‘real world’ work
  • Allowing students to demonstrate what they have learned during their degree
  • Connecting program outcomes with curriculum
  • Bridging formal study with lifelong learning
  • Linking students with employers
  • Providing opportunities for students to reflect on their degree and generic skills development

Why

  • To enhance graduate employability
  • To meet the standards required for international accreditation
  • To comply with requirements of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA)
  • To improve the student experience and external assessment of it
  • To enhance students' learning

Capstone units are designed to provide an opportunity to synthesise and apply the range of skills and disciplinary knowledge students learn throughout a degree. A capstone unit can seldom occur earlier in a degree as it usually requires students to have experience the bulk of the program curriculum. Formative or summative assessments in a capstone determine whether students have learned the goals and outcomes defined by the degree program.

Because capstone units complete a degree, it is necessary to ensure that students have had opportunities to be introduced to the goals and outcomes during previous units of study. It is good practice to ensure that program-level outcomes are introduced and practiced throughout a degree so that students can give their best performance during a capstone unit.

Effective capstones are often based on student-centred approaches to teaching and learning, as opposed to teacher-centred approaches of transmitting information in a lecture format.

Planning a Capstone subject

It can be useful to understand the context of the Capstone subject by taking the following into consideration:

  • Characteristics of the students
  • Students' existing knowledge and skills
  • The skills required of professional in the industry
  • Resources and constraints
  • Balancing looking backwards and looking forwards
  • Integration in practice
  • Generic skills

Assessment

Assessments should focus more on real-life examples and problem-solving, rather than concentrating on theory and essay writing. (Alumnus response)

Assessments should:

  • Be constructively aligned
  • Be organised holistically
  • Involve students
  • Be sustainable
  • Include clear and helpful feedback
  • Provide evidence of overall achievement of learning outcomes

A wide range of assessments are possible in capstone subjects.

  • Problem or Project based learning gives students the opportunity to treat a problem or project as they would in the 'real world'. It may be possible for students to work on problems or projects that are real, rather than hypothetical.
  • Case studies allow students to utilise problem-solving, analysis and reflection on theoretical or real scenarios relevant to the program.
  • Work placements or internships give students the opportunity to exercise the skills and knowledge learned in their degree in the 'real world'.
  • Volunteer or service learning gives students opportunities to add civic and life skills and responsibilities to the suite of skills and knowledge gained in a degree.

TIPS

Persevere, even when students resist

Prepare, prepare and prepare early

Capstones are without the borders and parameters that we lock around other courses. Understand how it all fits together. That's what you want for students.

It's about giving them the confidence that they can tackle things, which is really important for their transition.

Adapted from: Bailey, van Acker and Fyffe (2012) Capstone Subjects in undergraduate Business Degrees, A good Practice Guide, Griffith University, Brisbane.