The final year of a student’s course is a critical period, representing the achievement of a major life goal and heralding the beginning of a new chapter as they transition to a post-graduation identity (Bailey et al, 2012; Gardner & van der Veer, 1998; Lee, 2014). Capstones are typically seen as an opportunity for students to bring together, apply and extend their prior learning in ways that reflect and enhance their capacity to act purposefully, whatever their individual futures (Lee & Loton, 2016; Rowles et al, 2004). Capstones are one of what Kuh (2008) describes as ‘high-impact educational practices’.
Although the term ‘capstone’ has only relatively recently been in use in Australia, most disciplines are familiar with the concept of such a culminating and transitional event in the student experience, often as a final year project, thesis, placement or simulation. Each of these approaches brings particular challenges, but are bound by common principles that drive complex, multi-dimensional, authentic experiences and require a wide range of mature personal and professional capabilities, such as self-efficacy and self-awareness, judgement, curiosity, creativity and resilience (Healey et al, 2013; Magolda, 2004).
Regardless of the role of capstones, in recent years, the Australian Higher Education sector has shown significant interest in transition as related to employability. Indeed, the 2012 Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) results provide impetus to the debate on the role of higher education in employability, with only one quarter of later year students reporting that they felt their courses developed their collaborative and real world problem-solving skills. Only slightly more believed their experiences had contributed very much to their development of work-related knowledge and skills (ACER 2012).
These statistics have provided some of the impetus for the current debate on the role of higher education in employability, and how best to provide students with opportunities to connect their academic experiences to their future capability needs.
As such, the 2016 capstone special interest group meeting will provide an opportunity for those involved or interested in capstone design and delivery to share questions, ideas and resources, and to explore the notion of education for employability through the final year of the student experience, and particularly as embedded in capstone experiences. The focus of this year’s session will therefore be on contemporary practices and challenges around:
- Using capstones in the assessment of program level learning outcomes
- How capstones can be leveraged for employability skills development
- Using capstones to propel students successfully into post graduate life
Professor Nicolette Lee
Australian National Senior Teaching Fellow (OLT);
Executive Director (Learning and Teaching), Victoria University
Nicolette Lee has worked in the higher education sector for 20 years, and is currently the Exectuive Director (Learning and Teaching) at Victoria University, Melbourne. In 2013, she was awarded an Office for Learning and Teaching National Senior Teaching Fellowship for a two year program of national and international work on Capstones Across Disciplines. By 2015, the Fellowship network included over 300 academic staff from across the world, over 700 staff from 90 institutions had taken part in one or more activities, and the website resources had received over 40,000 visits. The Fellowship and research reports are currently available from the OLT website and the Capstone Network website (www.capstonecurriculum.com.au).
Alongside a number of national grants, Nicolette has held a number of senior academic positions and been responsible for major curriculum renewal programs at two institutions. Over the past decade, she has taught a number of discipline-based and interdisciplinary capstones and transitional programs, and been involved in the development of many more across disciplines as diverse as health and social sciences, philosophy, business and IT. Drawing on her experience as a student and a teacher in diverse discipline and institutional contexts, her research is driven from a philosophy of students as partners and producers of the educational experience. As a result, it is primarily focused on the practical needs of educators and covers a range of educational topics, particularly assessment, pedagogy, curriculum structures and learning environments.
ACER, Australian Council for Educational Research. (2012). Australasian Survey of Student Engagement: Respondent Characteristic Report December 2012. Camberwell: ACER. Available at:http://www.acer.edu.au/files/AUSSE_2012_Institution_Report.pdf.
Bailey, J., van Acker, E., & Fyffe, J. (2012). Capstone subjects in undergraduate business degrees: A good practice guide. Brisbane: Griffith University.
Baxter-Magolda, M. (2004). Making their own way: Narratives for transforming higher education to promote self-development. Sterling: Stylus Publishing.
Gardner, John N, & van der Veer, Gretchen (Eds.). (1998). The senior year experience: Facilitating integration, reflection, closure and transition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Healey, M., Lannin, L., Stibbe, A., & Derounian, J. (2013). Developing and enhancing undergraduate final-year projects and dissertations. York: The Higher Education Academy.
Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington: American Association of Colleges & Universities.
Lee, N. (2014, 29 January). How can we prepare university students for the real world? The Conversation. Available from http://theconversation.com/how-can-we-prepare-university-students-for-the-real-world-22117.
Lee, N. & Loton, D. (2016). Capstones across disciplines: Synthesising theory, practice and policy to provide practical tools for curriculum design, Final report. DISSRTE, Office for Learning and Teaching.
Rowles, C. J., Koch, D. C., Hundley, S. P., & Hamilton, S. J. (2004). Toward a model for capstone experiences: Mountaintops, magnets and mandates. Assessment Update, 16(1), 1-2, 13-15. doi: 10.1002/au.161.