CAPSTONE COURSES

Robert C. Moore

Executive Summary

The capstone course is an opportunity for students to demonstrate that they have achieved the goals for learning established by their educational institution and major department. The course should be designed to assess cognitive, affective and psychomotor learning and to do so in a student-centered and student-directed manner which requires the command, analysis and synthesis of knowledge and skills. The capstone course described in this chapter integrates learning from the courses in the major with the courses from the rest of the academic experience. It requires the application of that learning to a project which serves as an instrument of evaluation. The course fosters interdisciplinary partnerships among university departments and helps cultivate industry alliances and cooperation. The chapter outlines a rationale for the capstone course and a review of the course design.

 

Evaluation as a Tradition

In examining a basis for the existence of a capstone experience, the literature in the field of education, specifically curriculum and instruction, provides some direction. From a wide variety of definitions for curriculum, one definition, by Hilda Taba, seems particularly useful because it specifies the elements of curriculum.

"A curriculum usually contains a statement of aims and of specific objectives; it indicates some selection and organization of content; it either implies or manifests certain patterns of learning and teaching, whether because the objectives demand them or because the content organization requires them. Finally, it includes a program of evaluation of the outcomes" (Oliva, 1982, p.7).

These elements are not mutually exclusive. Their integration should result in a positive and successful learning experience. The critical last element, evaluation, not only validates the learning, but also enables faculty to revise and refine courses or curricula to attain desired outcomes. Just as curriculum development is a systematic process, curriculum evaluation is a systematic process by which the students’ total education is weighed.

Student achievement, traditionally, has been assessed by examination. While applicable as a tool of evaluation, the test usually measures one’s cognitive ability to recall and understand knowledge. Another important method of evaluation may be the student project which allows for the application of learning. Such projects are usually limited in scope and closely related to competency in a single course. The testing method of evaluation is normally formative. That is, it is assessment used during actual instruction designed to track progress and understanding. It is a measure of the teaching and learning process. The project is summative evaluation. That is, its role is to assess learning and skills generally mastered in a course; the achievement of course goals.

By its very nature, the capstone course is a method of summative evaluation. It not only assesses previous cognitive learning in the major, but also provides a forum that allows an instructor to assesses the student’s overall collegiate learning experience. Since, in addition to cognitive skills, learning can occur in two other domains (affective and psychomotor,) a capstone course allows for a mix of evaluative styles that assess the broad range of the students’ past experiences (Kemp & Smellie, p.20). This approach also allows a student, who perhaps excels in one area more than another, to demonstrate the strengths of his or her learning. Achievement in the cognitive domain is usually represented by an ability to recall, understand and apply knowledge. Evaluation of affective learning is characterized by expression of feelings, values and attitudes (especially regarding events, issues and topics related to, or impacting, the students’ field of study.) Finally, psychomotor learning is evaluated by the application and performance of skills. Ideally, a student’s competence will be demonstrated in all three learning modalities.

In a summative evaluation of the students’ experience in the university curriculum, a capstone course is an instrument used to measure the attainment of curricular outcomes. It is an in-depth opportunity for the student to demonstrate accomplishment of the full spectrum of that learning. It is, therefore, critical that the capstone course contain a wide and balanced variety of expectations. The student is given the opportunity to analyze and apply the accumulated learning and display creative products and solutions to requirements presented by the course. A useful model for such expectations is Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives as applied to the final course. These progressive levels of objectives are: recall of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. The last three levels are higher-order intellectual activity. They are concerned more with the how and why of learning rather than the what. By requiring students in the capstone course to reach objectives beyond application, they achieve more outcomes of learning.

Affective learning has been referred to by Bloom as the implicit curriculum (1971, p. 14). It is made up of attitudes, interests, values and feelings derived by the student through learning and by interaction with other learners and professors. The affective domain of learning advanced by David Krathwohl consists of five levels: receiving, responding, valuing, organization, and characterization of a value complex. This final level, the highest order, indicates that one’s beliefs, ideas, and attitudes have been integrated into a total philosophy (Kemp, p.17).

Psychomotor learning is an on-going refinement process. Such learning is assessed as units and as courses are completed. Often, new courses bring with them different and unusual forms of learning. For example, an oral performance course may develop voice delivery to a more refined stage while a course in interpretation may require a new application of that previously learned skill. A course in video production may require the development of an unfamiliar combination and synchronization of finely coordinated movements. Psychomotor learning encompasses: gross bodily movements, finely coordinated movements, non-verbal communication and speech behaviors (Kemp, p.17).

The capstone course expectations are a display of a mastery of learning and the ability to apply it to new, unusual and integrated project requirements. Table 1 specifies the progressive levels of achievement in each of the learning modalities and the expectations of student performance in a capstone course.

Table 1

Learning Expectations in a Capstone Course

Cognitive Learning Course Expectations
Recall of Knowledge
Comprehension
Application
Analysis
Synthesis
Evaluation
Students are presented with a problem and draw upon their knowledge and research to weigh and select various data leading to a solution of the problem which is workable and intellectually defensible.
Affective Learning  
Receiving
Responding
Valuing
Organization
Value Complex
The approach and decisions made reflect attitudes, values, feelings and beliefs characteristic of the discipline and the profession.
Psychomotor Learning  
Gross Bodily Movements
Finely Coordinated Movements
Non-verbal Communication
Speech Behaviors
The production of a project, solution to a problem and the oral and visual presentation of it , reflects a degree of skill competency as a communicator.

 

Learning theories have been advanced that are derivatives and elaborations of the three domains of learning. Gagn for example, noted that learning is a "cumulative process. Basic information or simple skills ... contribute to the learning of more complex knowledge and skills. Gagn identified five categories of learning: verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, motor skills, and attitudes ... These fall into three phases of learning advanced by Bell-Gredler: preparation for learning, acquisition and performance, and retrieval and transfer" (Kemp & Smellie, p.16). Merrill classifies outcomes of learning in two dimensions. First, content is drawn from advancing levels of facts, concepts, procedures, and principles. The second outcome of learning is performance characterized by remembering, using, and finding a generality (Kemp & Smellie, p.17).

Learning expectations of students should increase with their advancement through a curriculum. A capstone course might be designed that makes use of the increasing complexity of student learning when the end of the process of instruction is reached. The course uses cumulative learning, after all previous courses and objectives have been met, to relate to more than single concepts; the course draws upon the whole of the learning experience.

Outcomes Assessment and the Capstone Course

For too long, university curricula have seemed to be too specialized and fragmented. More often than not, students plodded from one course to another and often were provided little opportunity to link the relevant content and skills across the various courses. The role of the capstone course is to draw all of that learning together and to provide a single opportunity or experience during which a student demonstrates that he or she has accomplished or achieved the university and department's educational goals as represented by the various courses taken and the appropriate mission statements.

Unfortunately, faculty also often see few links between their courses and those of colleagues in other departments. The learning acquired by students in non-major courses was rarely applied to major courses in a meaningful manner. Curricula lacked integration to include the total college academic experience. It is no wonder, then, that parents, legislators and other publics are demanding accountability. They demand proof that the education being provided is both sound and has produced the desired learning in students.

The reality of higher education today is that students’ major programs cannot exist in isolation from the rest of their education. While knowledge and discipline specific skills are important, more universities’ educational goals are embracing those outlined by the Carnegie Report and the Association of American Colleges. Schools are recognizing that they "should be accountable not only for stating their expectations and standards, but for assessing the degree to which those ends have been met" ("The growth of a model college," p.31). As Blanchard and Christ (1993) state in Media Education and the Liberal Arts, "the outcomes method [of assessment] is the most tangible and rational measure [of learning]" (p.13). They cite the Michigan Professional Preparation Network Report and its listing of ten potential professional outcomes as a framework which can be used to ascertain if a student has satisfactorily met the goals of higher education. As an overall statement of the goals of learning, these outcomes provide a unifying strategy for the students’ entire curriculum. These outcomes also provide an excellent framework to be applied to examining learning in a major course of study.

The ten outcomes listed by the Michigan report are:

1. Communication competence is the ability to read, write, speak, and listen and to use these processes effectively to acquire, develop, and convey ideas and information.

2. Critical thinking is the ability to examine issues rationally, logically, and coherently.

3. Contextual competence is an understanding of the societal context or environment in which one is living and working.

4. Aesthetic sensibility is an enhanced aesthetic awareness of arts and human behavior for both personal enrichment and application in the enhancement of work.

5. Professional identity is a concern for improving the knowledge, skills, and values of the profession.

6. Professional ethics is an understanding of the ethics of a profession as standards that guide professional behavior.

7. Adaptive competence is anticipating, adapting to, and promoting changes important to a profession’s societal purpose and the professional’s role.

8. Leadership capacity is exhibiting the capacity to contribute as a productive member of the profession and assuming appropriate leadership roles.

9. Scholarly concern for inprovement is recognizing the need to increase knowledge and to advance the profession through both theoretical and applied research.

10. Motivation of continued learning is exploring and expanding personal, civic, and professional knowledge and skills through a lifetime. (Blanchard & Christ, 1993, p.15-16).

Using the outcomes specified in the Michigan report, it is possible to show (see table 2) how the intent of each of the expectations can be categorized into one or more of the modalities of learning previously discussed.

Table 2

Integrating Expected Outcomes With The Modalities of Learning

  Cognitive Learning Affective Learning Psychomotor
Learning

Communication Competence
Critical Thinking
Contextual Competence
Aesthetic Sensitivity
Professional Ethics
Adaptive Competence
Leadership Capacity
Scholarly Concern for Improvement
Motivation for Continued Learning

 

x
x
x

 


x
x

 


x
x
x
x
x

 

x

 


x

The Carnegie Foundation recommends three instruments for measuring such outcomes in a capstone course. These include: a senior thesis (which draws on the historical, social, and ethical perspectives of the major,) an oral presentation of the thesis with peer critique in a public forum, and preparation of a portfolio (Prologue and major recommendation," p.22).

Curriculum evaluation is not new; neither is testing and measuring students’ knowledge and demonstration of key skills new. However, the capstone course provides the opportunity for a faculty to assess student learning not only in relation to content or skill specific areas but also within the context of universally applied expectations of the educational experience. In short, the capstone course links or integrates the rational expectations of society for education with the mission of the university and the mission of a major program of study. "Even the most traditional colleges expect their graduates to move on to careers" (Boyer, 1987, p.109). But, a multi-faceted capstone course integrating expected outcomes can demonstrate that the student is prepared beyond day one and job one; that they are on the road to learning for life.

Mission Statements and the Capstone Course

The capstone course is designed to be a culminating educational experience for the undergraduate student. The class provides for learning, but not in the traditional sense as no new skills are taught. The capstone course can be a self-directed, integrated, learning opportunity. The course is the singular opportunity to determine if the student has assimilated the various goals of his/her total education. As has been previously discussed, these goals have been established on several levels. The first and most global in nature are the general goals of higher education which have been represented here as those articulated by the Michigan report. They tend to be written as societal goals for higher education. Based upon these broad statements of outcomes, the university and department design their mission statements using the philosophical approach to education most congruent with that campus’ culture and direction of that particular department. These statements of outcomes are the linchpin on which courses are taught. They provide the focus for expectations in the capstone course. A sample institutional mission statement for Elizabethtown College can be found in

Appendix A.

Each academic department, in successfully integrating itself into its institution at large, must embody the basic mission statement. Yet, given the varied focuses possible in any discipline, especially communications, the institution perspective is extended in a departmental mission statement. The mission statement of the Department of Communications at Elizabethiown College is in Appendix B. Articulation of goals at this level is vital. Here, the profile of the educated individual is specified. It is that profile, and the level of attainment of it, which is critical in an outcomes assessment, in particular, the capstone course.

Thomas W. Bohn of Ithaca College provides a justification for a capstone course by characterizing what the major curriculum ought to be (1988, p.18). He says:

... the core of the discipline of... communication is process... (it is) ... to ground students in the theory, history, criticism, economics, ethics, policy, and practice of communications; to prepare them to participate as people of both competence and conscience in their future communication careers. (A) school (or department) works to achieve this mission through a program both integrative and holistic -- one which introduces students to the intellectual traditions and disciplines of communication and linns these traditions and disciplines to the rest of higher education and to contemporary communications practice in society and the communication professions ... (A school or department of communications) anticipates [technological advancement and new economic realities] not simply to teach entry level job-related skills but to provide students with the ability to understand both the context and text of ... communication; to conduct coherent and probing inquiry, to propose, analyze, and evaluate strategy, and to express themselves in oral, written, and mediated language... Students will comprehend the unique interdisciplinary nature of communications. [They] will learn to recognize communication issues, concerns, and content within larger cultural, economic, artistic, ethical and social contexts.

This school or departmental mission statement makes an attempt to draw into its goals those of higher education and those of the educational institution. Each of the key areas are addressed in course goals and specify an action or expectation that will help the student reach the desired outcome.

Design of the Communications Capstone Course

Students of communications programs must not only have a broad foundation in the discipline’s literature, its theories and strategies, but also must apply that knowledge successfully. Schools and departments of communications should provide students with a broad education. The foundation for this learning is in the liberal arts: literature, language, art, music, history and the sciences. Building upon the liberal arts, the major is designed to educate the "compleat" communicator. A student must be able to write well, speak intelligently, communicate visually, develop a sense of aesthetics, and demonstrate creative expression. Skills development should go beyond nuts and bolts. Faculty expectations are that students will use their knowledge and the information gathered to plan, design and produce original projects that integrate the various types of expression. Such expectations provide a basis, indeed a mandate, for a capstone course that can adequately assess such learning. Blanchard and Christ call this approach "cross-training... a flexible, fundamental, integrated approach to media education..." (1993, p.32).

Learning, not teaching, is at the center of such experiences. Student expression is critical to demonstrating successful achievement of capstone course objectives. The professor is a mentor and guide, a consultant or counselor. Such courses are student-centered and seldom resemble those in traditional classrooms. The capstone course is driven by problem analysis, information sharing, creative solutions and projects.

The capstone course is based on applied communication. Students presented with a new problem must utilize their knowledge, experience, and abilities to plan and research various solutions to the problem and then correctly apply the chosen solution as an effective way to meet the purpose and goal of the problem. Multi-faceted problems present challenges to the student that require the use of knowledge gained in divergent courses. Focusing that knowledge in a single capstone course provides the opportunity for applied research to meet varied demands. Additionally, when "real world" problems are presented, then it is valuable that students will work with "real world" clients in developing solutions. This component of experiential learning presents the opportunity for the student to work outside the classroom and campus. It allows the student to begin to develop a sense of professionalism by working with individuals already in the field and jointly developing a meaningful project. This, in turn, begins a transition from school to a career as the students work closely with clients and actively draw upon past learning. The benefits of such an evolution include: the practice of adaptive competence, establishment of the beginnings of a professional identity, observation of professional ethics, and utilizing learning within the context of one’s living and working environment

The capstone course is the opportunity to evaluate student achievement in terms of the university and departmental mission statements and certainly to evaluate a student’s level in attaining those generally accepted outcomes put forth by Boyer, the ACC and the previously cited list of outcomes of the Michigan Professional Preparation Network Report

The Capstone Course Goal

The departmental and institutional mission statements, incorporating various elements and the spirit of the Carnegie report and others, provide a basis for the direction and development of curriculum at the institutional and departmental level. They also provide for a basis on which a capstone course goal might be formulated. One such goal statement for the course might be:


The capstone course integrates coursework, knowledge, skills and
experential learning to enable the student to demonstrate a
broadmastery of learning across the curriculum for a promise of initial
employability and further career advancement.

In order to achieve this goal, a wide variety of skills might be focused upon which will allow the student to demonstrate the level of achievement reached with regard to key areas of learning. Kings College lists these as "transferrable skills." They are the skills a student masters throughout his or her learning and through which he or she communicates attainment of the course goal. They are: "critical thinking, creative thinking and problem solving strategies, effective writing, effective oral communication, quantitative analysis, computer literacy, library competency,.. (and visual communication)" ("The growth of a model college," p.23). Portions of a communications capstone course syllabus, including goal and objective statements, course requirements and grading appear in Appendix C.

The Capstone Course Requirements

Based upon the recommendations of The Carnegie Foundation, a portfolio and a senior thesis are suggested as the key instruments to measure achievement of outcomes at the capstone level. The thesis examines the history, values, ethics and social perspectives of a discipline. The Foundation also suggests that the thesis be presented orally to peers and, perhaps, to the public. Students in professional and performance based curricula might have a project attached to the senior thesis which directly applies the research as a workable solution to a problem and then has the solution produced or performed demonstrating applied skills and abilities. A design for such capstone course requirements appears in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Communications Capstone Course Requirements

Introduction to course requirements Senior Project Proposal
(See guide.)
Thesis Research Plan (See research model & guide) Literature
Review
Project design strategies based on the research
Senior Theses
Graduation Project
Public mediated oral
   Presentation
    Project analysis & evaluation Project development & production
Portfolio        
Misc. Requirements:
Project treatments
Progress Reports
Oral presentation of literature      
   review with peer critique Resume
       

The senior thesis and accompanying project require the student to engage in intellectually productive research for a client. Typically referred to as applied communications research, the goal of the work is to solve problems and bring about change. O’Hair, Kreps and Frey listed the characteristics of applied research as adapted from Duncan. These are noted in the table below.

Table 3

Applied Research

Research Issues Characteristics of Applied Research
• Impetus

• Goals

• Criteria upon which issues are selected for examination

• Basis for accepting the validity of knowledge

• Methodology, design, and procedures

• Oversight

• Client, sponsor, imminent problem

• Solving practical problems, designed for end users

• Short-term, pragmatic solutions, improvement in real world communication

• Pragmatic utility of solution, ease of implementation

• Unrestricted, preference for fieldwork

• Clients, sponsors, government agencies

(O’Hair, Kreps & Frey, 1990, p.5)

The projects that are selected .... . follow three major guidelines. First, the student should believe that there is a substantial need for the project. Second, the project must be approachable through recognized communications knowledge and techniques. Third, the project must be feasible within the time limits of the course" (Wallace, p.36).

"Using projects as part of the content of such course" offers several advantages. First, this format provides for close contact with faculty... It provides practical career-related experiences... (and) offer(s) the student a sense of accomplishment as they serve ... in a quasi-professional, practical capacity" (Wallace, p.35). Specifically, a client project is a collaborative effort at problem solving; it develops interpersonal skills and uses evidence as a support for plans and decisions. Additionally, the concept of deadlines, persuasive argument and personal responsibility are developed. Certainly, the project assists in establishing better corporate/institutional relationships and possibly creates partnerships among a school’s various departments.

Table 4 lists the stages of applied research noted by O’Hair & Kreps and adapts them to a capstone course requirement that incorporates the senior thesis and an accompanying project.

 

Table 4

The Applied Research Model for the Senior Thesis and Project

Problem Identification Client interviews, project selection, research question & analysis.
Conceptualization Literature search: informal & institutional sources, library & data bases sources, interviews.
Operationalization Transform the research findings mto concrete approaches to solving the problem. Selecting project strategies based on evidence, credibility & audience.
Measurement Pre-production strategies, data gathering, observations, interviews relevant to the production of the project.
Analysis Project production. Analysis of techniques, approaches, results of the project.
Recommendations Discuss the ways in which the solution solved the problem: successes, weaknesses, suggested revisions.

(Adapted from O’Hair & Kreps, p.25).

The project demonstrates the level of achievement reached by the student in audio-visual communication and production skills. It also, as an experiential project, requires the student to interact on a close, personal and regular basis with a client. The integration of this internship type experience is a key element in helping the student learn contextual and adaptive competence and in developing a professional identity.

The oral presentation is based upon the applied communication research project not only allows for the summarization of key information found and utilized in the problem solving exercise, but also permits the student to exhibit achievement of various other aims of the course.

The portfolio is evidence, documentation, and samples of various types of creative expression and skiIls learning. It is exemplary of one’s professional identity.

Each of these course requirements, or measuring instruments, provide for differences in learning and demonstrated achievement. In Table 5, each instrument is related to the specific type of leaming modality applicable to it.

Table 5

Outcomes Instruments as Related to Learning Modalities

Instrument

Cognitive Learning

Affective Learning

Psychomotor Learning

Senior Theses

X

X

 
Senior Project

X

X

X

Oral Presentation

X

X

X

Portfolio

X

X

X

 

These possible course requirements enable the student to address and demonstrate achievement of the various outcomes statements, goal of the course, and skills expected of graduates of the curriculum by the institution. Drawn from the Michigan report, the Carnegie Foundation report, and various mission statements similar to those in Appendix A & B, Table 6 summarizes the various aims of education within applicable leaming styles and course requirement

Table 6

Aims Achieved by the Evaluation Instruments

  Thesis Project Presentation Portfolio
Cognitive Learning Scholarly concern for advancing the profession through research.

Improve one’s knowledge of the profession or discipline.

Ability to acquire,develop, convey,and integrate knowledge and information.

Critically examine issues.

Qurantitative/qualitative analysis.

Evaluation of data collected and conclusions related to issues of thesis.

Advancing the profession through applied research.

Adaptive competence in relating knowledge to a project.

Discrimination between concepts applying relevant approaches to the problem.

Creative thinking and design of solutions: organization, treatment, production.

Leadership capacity to initiate, manage and carry a project to conclusion.

Understanding of the  communication/presentation process:informative, narrative persuasion, etc.

Use of supporting strategies and information: non-verbal communication, imagery, visual support, ethos-pathos, questioning, presentation of proof or reinforcement.

Strategy for organization: comparison/contrast, problem solving, etc.

Understanding the, audience, shaping of ideas appropriately.

Works exhibit a broadrange of abilities.

Shows imagination, concept development.

Shows an understanding of the responsibilities and attributes of a communicator.

Affective Learning Understand the societal context of learning.

Convey proffessional values and ethics.

Show motivation for continued learning.

Applying knowledge, skills, values of profession or discipline to a new or unique problem. Assumption of a proper professional identity appropriate for delivery of the theses or project.

Display an attitude for  performance that indicates mastery of verbal techniques: clarity, relevance, effectiveness.

Creative planning and presentation of thesis and/or project.

Professional value & interest is evident in  preparation of the work.

Presentation of work represents a professional identity.

Creative approach to the display of work.

Psychomotor Learning Competence in reading, writing, research.

Computer Literacy.

Library Competency.

Mastering the skills of the profession and application of them to a project.

Design, writing, scripting, visual representation & production.

Performance Skills: Non-verbal communication; oral communication skills; mediated presentation.

Presentation skills & organization.

Production and use of supporting matrials.

Collection of mastered skills and abilities.

Technical acumen evident in displayed work.

 

Advantages and Characteristics of the Capstone Course

Jean Ward (1987, p.4) outlines the goals of curriculum reform at the University of Minnesota. With each somewhat applicable to the capstone course, one in particular seems to summarize the value of the course rather well. "[It] connect(s) the message-making work of mass communicators with the cultural and historic traditions we all share, helping students to synthesize their other liberal arts studies with their communications studies." The result is the creative applicability of knowledge and expertise to the profession to help serve and improve the human condition.

The following list of advantages and characteristics of a capstone course are a summary of the educative value of such an experience for students presented in this chapter.

The Capstone Course ...

enables the establishing of "a clear link between knowledge in ... communication and the rest of [a student’s) education" (Dennis & Defleur, p.78).

enables evaluators to determine if the departmental curricula is part of, or adjunct to, the university curricula.

allows the adaption and integration of institutional mission statements, departmental/school mission statements, and course objectives to the general goals of higher education.

allows conclusions to be drawn from student performance regarding the level of involvement in the liberal arts versus professional training. It also enables faculty to address perceived weaknesses in a curriculum. On going assessment in the capstone course allows for continual evaluation and development of the curriculum sothat students are demonstrating that they are leaming what faculty think they are teaching.

is a broad-based course drawing together disciplines across the university. This allows for unique partnerships to develop between departments resulting in a greater integration of them in the university fabric.

as a summative tool, provides the opportunity to evaluate students at the end of their major program of study.

as curricula and expections change, the course can address and incorporate new approaches and objectives.

capstone courses can be tailored to measure outcomes in any of the various divisions or configurations of the communications field. Research projects can be applied to a wide variety of interests, issues or professional settings.

is a multi-faceted instrument of assessment It goes beyond examinations and simple projects by integrating various assessment strategies. These particularly include a senior thesis, an applied project for the thesis, public oral performance and a portfolio.

places expectations on students so that they become independent learners. The course is student-centered and self-directed allowing each student to work at a pace with which he or she is most comfortable and in a direction suitable to career aspirations.

requires students to perform at higher level learning by forcing a student to engage in analysis, synthesis and evaluation of past learning and apply it to new expenences.

allows students to perform and excel in those leaming modalities most appropriate to him or her.

integrates skill demonstrations into objectives of an experiential nature providing a real opportunity for business and industry alliances.

Disadvantages of the Capstone Course

While one generally might not argue against the evaluation of learning or against the

summative evaluation of the entire learning experience, capstone course experiences do have several limitations. As such, the departmental faculty need to clearly be satisfied that this level and type of assessment is adequate from which to draw conclusions about student achievement and the curriculum.

The capstone course...

evaluates students’ knowledge, identity and skills subjectively. Generalities are assessed rather than specifics (as in individual course expectations.)

may allow less motivated and goal oriented students too much flexibility by focusing on independent and self-directed learning.

can be too unfocused unless faculty monitor departmental curricular expectations as they evolve and adjust the course.

requires faculty to depart from self-serving or specialized agenda and focus on an integrated experience where the "compleat" communicator is more important than the specialist.

places great demand on student time, learning and performance. Many students may not be up to the task.

may allow a student to excel in a certain learning modality but does not easily assist students who perform in an average way, or below, in other modalities. There is typically no course of remediation for problems and failures.

allows a student to approach the goal of curricular integration but does not specify to what level that occurs. It also does not specify how various levels of success can be quantified and translated into a summary of positive performance of attaining the curriculum’s mission.

Conclusion

Communications programs have evolved greatly in the last century. Having originated from programs like English, curriculums gradually became more specialized and moved further away from the core program of the university. In the more recent past, the field became fragmented and more vocational partly in response to the ever changing nature and growth of media and partly as a result of increasing demands for skills training by those in the profession (Rowland, 1992, p.1-3). Today, the debate has brought us back to our roots, to the liberal arts. The "new professionalism" positions the communications curriculum at the center of the university program. Driven by intellectual pursuit, the program espouses integration of learning, linkages between departments, and, perhaps most importantly, the elevation of the message to all important status.

The diverse fields that make up the discipline of communication are blending. Their convergence is not unlike that of the media and technology. Fields of study, delivery systems, and technology employed are changing the way people think about communicating. Yet, the one unchanging element in the mix is the message.

"Creation of the message, regardless of the medium, always has been at the core of communication education. This is a distinction that critics of the discipline have long failed to understand: What is most central to our curriculum in communication and mass communication alike is not the how of communicating messages--what buttons to push or writing style to affect-- but the what of message content" (‘)ease, p.9). The essential production skills utilized in communicating are secondary.

Such is the focus and the value of the capstone course. The capstone course is the curricular embodiment of convergence. The course is the single opportunity for all of the knowledge and skills to be drawn together. The course transcends the debate over professional and non-professional issues. It ties knowledge and experience together, from the totality of the student educational experience requiring a critical assessment and unique application of four years of leaming to the successful completion of course requirements. Drawn into the mix are the course expectations that university core courses, and those from any configuration of courses selected, will be drawn upon to demonstrate a command of knowledge and ability. The course defmes a basic education, a basic expectation; it outlines a level of academic and professional performance that fosters criticism and creativity. The capstone course draws together the expected outcomes of higher education, the institution and the department into one educational experience so that those who graduate from our programs have shown that they posscss more than a sheepskin.

They are: ... well-informed, inquisitive, open-minded young people who are both productive and reflective, seeking answers to life’s most important questions ... who not only pursue their own personal interests but are also prepared to fulfill their social and civic obligations"

("Prologue and major recommendations ...," p. 16).

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Appendix A
Elizabethtown College
Mission Statement

Founded by members of the Church of the Brethren in 1899, Elizabethtown College aims to develop sound intellectual judgement, keen moral sensitivity and an appreciation for beauty in the world. This educational process fosters the capacity for independent thought and commitment to personal integrity. In keeping with its historical and religious tradition, the College affirms the values of peace, justice and human dignity, striving to achieve a distinctive blend of the liberal arts and professional studies. This union of the world of spirit and the world of work is expressed in the College motto, "Educate for Service," and on its seal, Deus Lux et Veritas.

The College fulfills this mission by:

Striving to attain a diverse academic community.

Promoting cultural pluralism and international understanding in a collegial community.

Creating an environment that encourages the spirit of free inquiry, stimulates intellectual curiosity, and cultivates academic achievement.

Developing the skills for critical analysis and effective communication.

Designing programs that foster maturity, leadership, and responsible citizenship.

Providing campus-wide support services necessary for the development of mind, body, spirit.

Serving as a learning, resource, and cultural center for society at large.

The institutional goals for the academic program at Elizabethtown College, in outline, reflect this general statement of educational philosophy:

1. A threefold purpose in the education of students:

a. A general education (core) requirement, developing analytical and relational process of thought, clear and coherent means of self- expression, and a growing understanding of self and environment through distributional and integrative requirements in the liberal arts

b. A specific education requirement or major, preparing the student for advanced studies and/or career opportunities by adding the different experience of specialieed in-depth knowledge to the breadth of the general educational requirements.

c. A body of electives ensuring flexibility in each student’s program that will best suit individual needs and interests, whether in general or major areas of study.

2. Response to contemporary needs for greater international understanding, by providing general education in intercultural studies and languages.

3. Provision of support in both general education and major programs for cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary education.

4. For major disciplines of study, inclusion of opportunities in most of the liberal arts traditions of sciences, fine arts, humanities, and social sciences, and in the professional areas; while maintaining balance between professional and liberal arts programs of study for majors.

5. Provision for adult educational opportunities in a variety of traditional and non-traditional modes, integrated as far as possible with the regular educational program and faculty.

6. Fostering an environment supportive of faculty research and professional development.

7. Supporting as a part of its regular educational program quality experiential-leaming programs such as clinical experiences, supervised internships, field study and other off-campus courses, and similar activities.

8. Continuing to support or to develop as appropriate, strong cooperative programs with other institutions of high learning.

Appendix B
Elizabethtown College
Department of Communications
Mission Statement

The Department of Communications and its faculty strive to provide an educational environment wherein students analyze the theories and concepts of communication, consider its history and impact, and develop a level of expertise in production and performance. The Department ensures students the opportunity and educational foundation to consider societal implications and ethical considerations of communication practices, procedures, policies and issues. It is important that students acquire craft and skill in designing and developing messages from a variety of perspectives, gaining and exhibiting communicative and technological acumen. In addition, the Department seeks to foster aesthetic awareness and encourage creative expression from Communications students. Development of professional expertise, critical judgement, and individual creativity are all essential to the liberal education provided by the Department of Communications and Elizabethtown College.

Objectives

Developed in the context of the broader baccalaureate curriculum provided through the all college core, the department course of study is designed to:

encourage students to foster the liberal education programs of the College by advising students to explore a variety of disciplines, participate in and lead co-curricular activities, and to expand and broaden their interests.

create an atmosphere wherein students examine the importance of Communications in the study of the Humanities, Sciences, Arts, and Social Sciences, and to encourage the use of elective study in these areas.

build upon the clearly interdisciplinary nature of Communications by promoting the pursuit of complementary second majors and minors.

encourage Communications faculty to promote responsibility, leadership and service by encouraging students to participate in, and apply their specialized knowledge to problems and opportunities within the College and the broader community.

promote a balance among personal expectations of the student, theoretical and pragmatic expectations of the faculty, those of the communications profession, and the spirit and tradition of a liberal educational experience.

recognize and foster the value of Communications as a basis for further study in a variety of graduate programs. It is part of the mission of the department to encourage students to view the Communications program in the perspective of a lifelong learning process.

Appendix C
Elizabethtown College
Department of Communications
Com 485--Communications Seminar

Course Description

At Elizabethtown College, Com 485, Communications Seminar (3 semester credits) is the final or capstone course required of all majors. The course is intended to provice an opportunity for an integration of previous courses in and outside of the major. The student will be expected to analyze and synthesize past learning and relate it to issues and problems in Communications. Course requirements are able to be tailored to meet a student’s specific career plans or focus. The course is intended to not only permit the integration of oral, written and visual projects, but also to provide for the opportunity to research and plan a major study or produce a major project and make a public presentation to the campus community. Class meetings focus on assisting students in establishing a professional identity while individual conferences routinely discuss project planning, progress and problems.

Goal

The capstone course integrates course work, knowledge, skills, and experiential learning to demonstrate mastery of learning for initial employability and a promise for further career development.

Objectives

The capstone course is designed to help the student achieve the following outcomes:

enables students to work independently;

enhances students’ skills in written, spoken, and visual communication;

makes available a variety of quality experiential learning opportunities, on and off campus, which provide a basis for professional expertise and identity;

provide the means for student acquisition of management abilities and acuity pertaining to the communications professions;

enable students to evaluate and process learning: fmd similarities, draw distinctions, synthesize concepts, be flexible, and create new ideas;

enable students to develop an informed sense of design and production and to use a variety of forms of mediated communication effectively.

Course Requirements

Shortly after the beginning of the semester, each student selects an off-campus "client" with whom they will work, for the entire semester, on developing and producing a major project for use by the client. Contacts, selection of a client, as well as topic of the project, are the individual responsibility of the student. Possible client leads are maintained by the professor, but formal contact and interviewing is required in order for the student to be "hired" to produce the project. Final approval of the client and project rest with the instructor.

This project becomes the focus of the course for each individual student and provides the basic framework for a rather significant literature search to be done in advance of the project. This research paper is submitted at midterm.

Having developed a research based foundation for the project, the production process begins as the student develops, in parallel, a more significant research paper. The senior thesis demands that the student demonstrate a high level of communication competence especially in reading and writing.

The formal written document, submitted with the project, at the end of the semester, consists of six sections or chapters: 1) An introduction to, and description of, the client and the project. Here the student explores the problem presented by the client and articulates the goal of the project.

2) A rewrite of the midterm literature search perhaps addressing deficiencies in writing, the addition of material to fill in gaps in the research or to provide for new directions to the literature review.

3) A section of analysis and description of the actual project based upon the review of literature. The focus is on pre-planning of the project. 4) This chapter provides documentation of the how’s and why’s of project production. Specific attention is paid to the concept, decisions made, and focus of the project. 5) The final chapter of the paper is made up of a summary and conclusion. The project is evaluated. Assessments are made as to the level of success, achieved, possible revision, and future considerations or plans as a result of the project. The follow-up to the literature review and the adapting of information to the actual project shows not only critical thinking abilities, but also a capacity for using or applying scholarly research to an immediate problem and creation of a solution that is useful and effective in meeting its goal. 6) An appendix section includes previously required progress reports, journals, treatments, scripts, logs, meeting notes, etc. All of this material was evaluated throughout the semester and now provides a historical record for the entire experience.

The research paper and project are also presented in public performance during the final week of the semester. Students are required an oral performance of twenty minutes minimum with a project presentation or selected screening at a maximum of ten additional minutes. This presentation is generally a review of related literature with an indepth focus on the project as a solution to the client’s key problem or goal. Students must select appropriate media to support and enhance the presentation.

In preparation for the above oral defense, the student will present an in-class ten minute summary review of the literature search. This speech provides an opportunity for an advanced peer critique of content and deliverv technique The oral presentation along with the display or screening of the project, allows the student to convey ideas and information in a speech and also in a mediated presentation. The development of poise and effective delivery in this setting enables the student to assume his or her professional identity and to demonstrate that a transition is talting place from student to professional communicator.

All students must formally plan and prepare a professional rsum. The rsum is a result of an introspective analysis of learning and skills drawn from the curriculum. The rsum provides for an articulation of a professional identity and direction for pursuit of a career after graduation. The rsum a product of introspectation and a review of learning, projects a character or identity as a total professional. It targets a specific identity with which the student is comfortable and provides the grounding for further development of a life-long career.

Each student, based upon course background and experiences, in and out of the classroom, will prepare a comprehensive portfolio of their professional strengths and expertise. The portfolio is the collection of the student’s best work which specifies those varied skills and abilities developed in the past four years. It is a physical representation of the student’s professional identity and a validation of the level of skllls achieved by the student.

Grading

In grading all of the above course requirements, the instructor’s focus is on the display of a high level of knowledge and the application of it to a high level of professional production and performance. Societal implications and ethical considerations are addressed in evaluations, as are the craft and skill in designing and developing messages. Superior students bring to the course knowledge and information from a multitude of disciplines and show the application of that learning to their particular problem.

Each of the requirements are weighted differently in calculating the final course grade. The project, research paper and oral defense make up 50% of the grade. The remaining portion of the grade is drawn from the mid-term literature review, the portfolio, and two small requirements: the rsum and a mini-oral presentation.

Com 485--Communications Seminar

Guide: Senior Project Proposal

Overview

Background of client (Name, Location, Type of Business, etc.)
Current status of a problem, issue or concern that is to be addressed by the project.

Goal

The single most important goal or solution to the problem. The client’s stated purpose for the project. The reason why the client wants the project to be done and the expected outcome or solution desired.

Objective

Several independent items that the client has established as things to be addressed in meeting the project goal. That is, specifics that the project will do that, when accomplished, will effect the solution to the problem as stated above.

Pre-Production Strategies

Specific elements or approaches to the project that, when completed, will achieve each of the above objectives and in turn effect the solution to the problem. The areas addressed here are planning, data gathering, and project design necessary to begin production.

Production Activities

Detailed list of all of the production planning and activities that must be done in order to complete each objective (and therefore meet the client’s goal for the project).

Evaluation

Planned activities to be undertaken to determine the appropriateness and success of the project. These often will be long term plans that cannot be completed in the time frame of the course. In that case, identity specific evaluation plans for the short term--to evaluate the effectiveness of the project production and the suitability of the strategies.

Com 485--Communications Seminar

Guide: The Research Plan

Subject

A written statement describing the client’s problem in its simplest terms. What is the problem to be addressed by the project? Who is it for (audience)? What is its goal or purpose?

Area of Study

Generally refers to the student’s concentration or area of study in the major. This provides the focus or angle to the project and sets the tone for the research.

Topic

Drawn from the above two items, this is a statement that specifically indicates the areas of literature to be investigated. Functionally, the topic is narrowed at this stage.

Research Question

A question which integrates the above information and the goal of the research. What one expects to learn from the research study. The question sets a theme for the research that helps the student focus only on key elements related directly to the problem.

Research Components

A prioritized listing of 3-5 key elements, drawn from the research question, that must be researched for a complete inquiry. They include: discipline related material, project management and design literature, specific production materials, and project distribution/implementation literature including planned evaluation.

Thesis

An integrated statement which indicates the specific nature and direction of the research. The statement cites the problem and the key areas of research which will lead to the conceptual design and production of the project.

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