Assessing Media Education:
A Resource for Educators and Administrators
William G. Christ
The Capstone Course
Robert C. Moore
Department of Communications
Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania 17022-2298
moorerc at etown dot edu
Chapter 21: The Capstone Course
The capstone course is an excellent opportunity for a comprehensive direct assessment of student learning. The capstone course described in this chapter integrates learning from the courses in the major with the courses from the rest of the students’ academic experience. It is a multi-faceted course that requires the application of knowledge to course requirements and serves as an instrument of evaluation in all three modalities of learning. The course fosters interdisciplinary connections with other university departments and helps address industry concerns and expectations. The chapter outlines a rationale for the course and a review of the course design that requires four different capstone experiences.
EVALUATION AS A TRADITION
In examining a basis for the existence of a capstone course, the literature in the field of Education, specifically Curriculum and Instruction, provides some direction. From a wide variety of definitions for curriculum, a 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 continually 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.
Outcomes assessment must be systematic. Schools are called upon not only by academic and political demands but also by the very ethics that underlie the profession, to develop numerous direct and indirect measures of student learning to provide both proof and accountability that the Academy is accomplishing those things that are specified by it as important. Volkwein (2003) suggests that a systematic plan of outcomes assessment gives appropriateness to the mission statement, utility of the institutional goals and objectives, adequacy of assessment measures, and the impact of programs on students (p. 3).
In 2003, ACEJMC adopted a revision of accreditation standards. Regardless of a school’s desire to undergo accreditation, these standards provide a useful academic foundation for curriculum design and development recognized nationally. Standard 2, in particular, deals with curriculum design and stresses specific expectations that are to be included in courses of study. Standard 9 is applicable in that it sets out numerous expectations for student learning. Incorporation of several of these expectations into a curriculum also requires that they be able to be assessed.
The capstone course is an excellent method of direct assessment. 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, 1989, 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 satisfactorily 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 directly assess the performance of students in the attainment of institutional and departmental curricular expectations. Additionally, it provides the opportunity to address and assess the relevant accrediting standards and those of professional bodies. It is an in-depth opportunity for the student to demonstrate accomplishment of the full spectrum of that learning. A useful model for such expectations is Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Bloom, 1956). 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.
Affective learning has been referred to by Bloom (1971) as the implicit curriculum (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 (Kemp, 1975, p. 17) 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 professional philosophy.
Psychomotor learning is an on-going refinement process. Such learning is assessed as units and 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, 1975, p. 17).
The capstone course expectations should be a display of a mastery of all three modalities of learning and the ability to apply them to new, unusual and integrated project requirements. Table 21.1 specifies the progressive levels of achievement in each of the learning modalities and the expectations of student performance in a capstone course.
[Insert Table 21.1 about here]
Other learning theories have been advanced that present reinforcing views of the three domains of learning. Kemp & Smellie (1989) cite Gagné in clarifying the hierarchical structure of learning and also note that learning is a “cumulative process. Basic information or simple skills . . . contribute to the learning of more complex knowledge and skills. [Gagné] identified five categories of learning: verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, motor skills, and attitudes . . . These [also] fall into three phases of learning advanced by Bell-Gredler: preparation for learning, acquisition and performance, and retrieval and transfer [of knowledge, attitudes and skills]” (p. 16). Kemp & Smellie (1989) also note that 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 (p. 17).
These approaches to learning provide a basis for course design and evaluation. 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 a single concept; the course draws upon the whole of the learning experience and requires that it be applied in a meaningful way.
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 congruence with the university and department’s educational goals as represented by the appropriate mission statements and courses taken (Volkwein, 2003, p. 3).
Unfortunately, faculty 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 of 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 (Boyer, 1987) and by the Association of American Colleges (AAC, n.d.). 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” (Kings College, 1986, 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 [for defining a liberal education]” (p. 13). The Michigan Professional Preparation Network Report listing of ten potential professional/liberal outcomes can be used as a framework to ascertain if a student has satisfactorily met the goals of his/her education. As an overall statement of the goals of learning, these outcomes provide a unifying strategy for the students’ entire curriculum as well as an excellent framework for the major. 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 improvement 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).
The outcomes specified in the Michigan report and several of those specified in ACEJMC Standards 2 and 9, by Newton (n.d., p. 1), or those drawn from the proceedings of The Senior Year Experience and Students in Transition conference (Cuseo, 1998, p. 22), provide a blueprint for higher education—a benchmark by which institutional and departmental mission statements might be based. Table 21.2 lists many of these outcomes expectations and indicates how they can be categorized into one or more of the modalities of learning previously discussed.
[Insert Table 21.2 about here]
Mission Statements and a Rationale for the Capstone Course
The American Association of Higher Education (AAHE) has said that “assessment is most effective when it [is] multidimensional, integrated…with explicitly stated purposes…which illuminate questions that people really care about…which lead to improvement [and] promote[s] change” (AAHE, n.d.).
The capstone course may be the singular opportunity to determine if the student has assimilated the various goals of his/her total education. “The purpose [of the capstone course]…should be defined in light of each institution’s purposes (Smith, B. L., 1998, p. 90). It can be a self-directed, integrated, learning opportunity with goals 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, AAHE, and others. 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 linchpins on which capstone courses are taught. They provide the focus for expectations in the capstone course (see chapter three).
Each academic department, in successfully formulating a mission statement, makes an attempt to draw into its goals those of higher education and those of the educational institution. Yet, given the varied focuses possible in any discipline, especially communications, the institution perspective is refined in the departmental document. 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.
Wagenaar (1993) sets forth a rationale for capstone courses by specifying key objectives that should be demonstrated by the student:
1. Integrating and synthesizing the field;
2. Extending the field;
3. Critiquing the field;
4. Applying the field;
5. Addressing issues raised in…introductory course(s), but at a higher level;
6. Exploring key arguments in the field;
7. Making connections with general education;
8. Specific comparisons with other fields;
9. Critically thinking generally and within the field;
10. Examining values and views of life.
(Murphy, P. D., 2003, p. 1).
Kings College (1986) sees these objectives as being able to be articulated in what they refer to as “transferable 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, . . .[research methods, and skills in mediated communication]” (p. 23). Alverno College faculty developed similar expectations as they defined an educated person (Smith, B. L., 1998, p. 87).
In a study by Lockhart and Borland (2001), faculty ranked the relative importance of several of these items for inclusion in a capstone course. 91% of the faculty surveyed rated “thinking effectively” as the most major in importance in a capstone course. Other elements that were important included “using complex knowledge in making decisions and judgment” [82%], “exercise and expand intellectual curiosity” [67%], “develop skills (as) life-long learners” [64%], “write effectively” [53%], and “think across areas of specialization and integrate ideas from a variety of…disciplines and applied fields” [53%] (p. 21).
At Elizabethtown College, the attainment of many institutional goals is incorporated into the course expectations as are the goals and objectives of the departmental mission statement. These documents also incorporate either directly or indirectly select ACEJMC expectations and those of several professional associations. While not all of these outcomes may be appropriate in all communication curricula, requirements of the capstone course provide a means through which a faculty member may judge a student's performance against those outcomes. (The institutional and departmental mission statements referred to here can be found on the author’s homepage under Research, Capstone Course at: http://users.etown.edu/m/moorerc/).
The capstone course at Elizabethtown College is broader than courses with similar purposes at other institutions. Depending upon the nature of those communication programs, capstone courses may be more or less specialized in order to provide outcomes assessment appropriate to the department's mission.
Design of the Communications Capstone Course
“Levine (1998, p. 56) reports that [only] two-fifths of colleges and universities have employed…[the capstone approach,]” Henscheid’s (2000) research has shown that most capstone courses are in the major. They often require a project and a presentation but those that require a thesis tend to be at small selective schools (p. 144). The focus of the capstone should be to design an experience that integrates the discipline and the liberal arts. Further, it also creates an environment to assess a variety of skills seen as important in higher education. A student as a “compleat” communicator must be able to meet the competencies set out by the institution and the department. If skills development is a part of the curriculum, demonstration of abilities must 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 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 (1993) call this approach “cross-training . . . a flexible, fundamental, integrated approach to media education . . .” (p. 32).
Learning, not teaching, is at the center of capstone experiences. Mark V. Redmond (1998) says that “breadth of understanding…[and] depth of abilities” are key aspects to evaluating summary learning (p. 74). Such courses are student-centered and seldom resemble those in traditional classrooms. Problem analysis, information sharing, creative solutions and projects drive the capstone course. Student expression is critical to demonstrating successful achievement of capstone course objectives. The professor should be a mentor and guide, a consultant or counselor.
The capstone course, as presented here, is based on applied research. 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 requires 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, in professionally oriented programs, when “real world” problems are presented, then it is valuable that students will work with “real world” clients in developing solutions. This practical/experiential component allows the student to begin to develop a sense of professional identity by working with individuals already in the field and jointly developing a meaningful project (see chapter seventeen).
Glaser (2000) calls such a task/real problem a service learning experience and that its inclusion is critical to a communication capstone course. For students moving on to graduate school, systematic research and its application provides excellent background and experience. The course begins a transition from school to an eventual 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--all key outcomes previously cited as critical to higher education.
The Capstone Course Goal
The departmental and institutional mission statements, incorporating various elements and the spirit of the Carnegie report, the Michigan report, and authors Andreasan and Trede (1998), Carlson (1993), Smith (1993), 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 is a culminating experience that integrates coursework, knowledge, skills and experiential learning to enable the student to demonstrate a broad mastery of specialized learning with that from across the curriculum for a promise of initial employability and further learning and career advancement.
The Capstone Course Requirements
The Carnegie Foundation recommends three instruments for measuring 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, and preparation of a portfolio [see chapter twenty] (“Prologue and major recommendations,” 1986, November 5, p. 22). Volkwein (2003) concurs that outcomes assessment requires multiple measures of student learning (p. 4). The capstone course at Elizabethtown College requires four instruments to measure outcomes.
The Senior Thesis
The thesis examines the history, values, ethics and social perspectives of the discipline related to a particular problem or issue. The research study extends the prior knowledge of the student through the conducting of a literature review. The student then proceeds to conceptualize the study, develop procedures, analyze the data and make recommendations regarding the topic/problem.
The Senior Project
Students in professional or performance-based curricula might be required to produce a project specifically tied to the thesis. The purpose of the project is to provide an opportunity for the research work to actually be a workable solution to the problem presented. Production or performance at this level not only demonstrates applied skills and abilities but also allows for practically applied research.
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, 1988, p. 36).
“Using projects as part of the content of such a 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, 1988, p. 35). Specifically, as a client project, it 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.
The project demonstrates the level of achievement reached by the student in 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 (Moore, 1987).
The Oral Defense/Presentation
The content of this performance is based upon the integration of the thesis and the project. It is a defense/presentation of the research study; it allows for a summarization of the literature review, discussion of its procedures, data, and recommendations. It also can review the project, exhibit the production or performance and discuss its results applicable as a solution to the problem. As a public performance, oral and non-verbal expression can also be assessed.
A formal collection of works, which covers the full collegiate career of the student, the portfolio provides the evidence, documentation and best samples of various types of creative expression and skills learning. Options exist for this portfolio to be submitted as evidence of learning or as a tool to be used in an employment search. In either case, the portfolio should show that specific aims of the curriculum have been mastered (see chapter twenty).
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 (Moore, 1988). O’Hair, Kreps, and Frey (1990) listed the various characteristics of a definition of applied research. Generally, applied research is the practical design of a workable solution for a real world problem designed specifically for a particular client (p. 5).
Using the terminology for the stages of applied research as identified by O'Hair & Kreps (1990, p. 25), Table 21.3 lists and relates them to the capstone course requirements, which incorporates the senior thesis and the accompanying senior project. The course requirements follow the systematic development of the research and literature review and integrates them with the project as a workable solution to a problem. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it specifies as a final stage the process of evaluation of the solution.
[Insert Table 21.3 about here]
Each of the course requirements, or learning measurement instruments, provides for individual differences in learning and permits demonstrated achievement in areas in which the student excels. In Table 21.4, each instrument is related to the specific type of learning modality applicable to it.
[Insert Table 21.4 about here]
These 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. Table 21.5 summarizes and integrates those various aims of education within applicable learning styles and course requirements. (The course syllabus referred to here can be found on the author’s homepage under Research, Capstone Course at: http://users.etown.edu/m/moorerc/).
[Insert Table 21.5 about here]
The capstone course is a learning experience that has the ability to draw together many diverse elements of prior learning to help determine if the academic goals and objectives of the institution and the department have been achieved. As a direct measure of student accomplishment of them, the course requirements allow the faculty member to assess student learning and performance as having, at least satisfactorily, met those expected outcomes.
The capstone course at Elizabethtown College uses the “Aims” noted in Table 21.5 as a basis for evaluating student performance in each of the course requirements. They have been translated into a student grading/evaluation guideline that sets levels of performance in order for the student to be “satisfactory” or better in their demonstrated performance.
rubric is a commentary about the standards for grading. It then lays out expectations for how
student performance will be evaluated in each of the course requirements. This guide is shared with students
early in the semester, reviewed often, and specifically referred to when the
instructor provides evaluative comments on the thesis, project, and oral
defense. Additionally, the
elements of Table 21.5 are referred to in comments made during evaluation. Students are expected to continually
refer to this grading/evaluation guideline so that they are also able to make a
self-assessment of the work prior to submission or performance. Students who are graded “satisfactory”
or higher on each of the course assessment instruments are judged to have met
the minimum expectations of the department mission and course goal and objectives.
(The standards and expectations referred to here can be found on the author’s
homepage under Research, Capstone Course at: http://users.etown.edu/m/moorerc/).
Advantages of the Capstone Course
The position presented in this chapter, and the examples provided, have focused on the integration of writing, speaking and communicating through media. It has also incorporated the need for a sense of aesthetics, creative expression and experiential learning. The nature of differing curriculums in communications, especially those without a professional focus, requires the flexible application or alteration of capstone course requirements as necessary in order for the assessment provided by the course to be faithful to the specific mission statements of that department and institution.
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 . . .
• allows for the adaptation and integration of institutional mission statements, departmental/school mission statements, and course objectives to the general goals of higher education.
• can be 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.
• 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 so that students are demonstrating that they are learning what faculty thinks they are teaching.
• as curricula and expectations change or expand, 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.
• 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 requiring a student to engage in analysis, synthesis and evaluation of past learning and apply it to new experiences. “Faculty report that…research…[is] the most effective method to teach [such] critical thinking (Lockhart & Borland, 2001, p. 19).
• as a summative tool, provides the opportunity to evaluate students at the end of their major program of study and end of their collegiate career.
• is a multi-faceted method of assessment. It goes beyond examinations and simple projects by integrating various assessment strategies. These particularly include a senior thesis, an applied project drawn from the thesis, a public oral defense/performance and a portfolio.
• allows students to perform and excel in those learning 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 needs 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.
• may allow less motivated and goal oriented students too much flexibility by focusing on independent and self-directed learning.
• can be too unfocused unless the faculty monitors 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 favored 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 always specify to what level that occurs. It 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.
All four instruments [thesis, project, defense/presentation, and portfolio] of evaluation are strengths in the course. They draw their success from their variety of approaches and the way in which each of the course requirements integrate with each other to create a complete picture of student achievement. Yet, that variety and shear workload are very demanding in terms of faculty and student commitment and time. Although tempting to make the course less time consuming, elimination of any one of the instruments weakens the course because each in isolation cannot be the summative tool of assessment that they are when integrated. Any one of the instruments does not allow for written, oral and mediated expression in all three modalities of learning.
A survey of a variety of types of capstone courses was conducted by Henscheid (2000). The study reviews structure, goal, objectives, requirements, operation, and many other aspects of various capstone courses.
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 (Rowland, 1991). 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. 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 is not the how of communicating messages--what buttons to push or writing or speaking style to affect-- but the what of message content” (Pease, 1994, p. 9).
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 ties knowledge and experience together, from the totality of the student educational experience requiring a critical assessment and unique application of four years of learning 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 defines 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 have shown that they possess 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,” 1986, November 5, p. 16).
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Learning Expectations in a Capstone Course
Recall of Knowledge Students are presented with a
Comprehension problem and draw upon their
Application knowledge and research to weigh
Analysis and select various data leading
Synthesis to a solution of the problem
Evaluation which is workable and
Receiving The approach and decisions
Responding made reflect attitudes, values,
Valuing feelings and beliefs characteristic of Organization the discipline and the profession.
Gross Bodily Movements The production of a project
Finely Coordinated Movements solution to a problem and the oral and visual presentation of it,
Non-verbal Communication reflects a degree of skill
Speech Behaviors competency as a communicator.
Integrating Expected Outcomes With The Modalities of Learning
Critical Thinking X X
(concepts, theories) X X
Competence X X
Professional Roles & Ethics X
Adaptive Competence X X X
(ability to be independent) X
Scholarly Concern for
Motivation for Continued
Learning X X
Research Capacity X
The Applied Research Model for the Senior Thesis and Project
Conceptualization Literature search: informal & institutional sources, library & database sources, interviews.
Operationalization Transform the research findings into 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, 1990, p. 25).
Outcomes Instruments as Related to Learning Modalities
Senior Thesis X X
Senior Project X X X
Oral Presentation X X X
Portfolio X X X
Aims Achieved by the Evaluation Instruments
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 & information.
Critically examine issues.
Evaluation of data collected and conclusions related to issues of thesis.
Advancing the professional 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 persuasive, 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 broad range of abilities.
Shows imagination, concept development.
Shows an under-standing of the responsibilities and attributes of a communicator.
Understand the societal context of learning.
Convey professional values and ethics.
Show motivation for continued learning
Applying knowledge, skills, values of profession or discipline to a new or unique problem.
Assume a professional identity and exhibit professional responsibilities
Shows aesthetic sensibility.
Assumption of a proper professional identity appropriate for delivery of the thesis 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.
Competence in reading, writing, research.
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 materials.
Collection of mastered skills and abilities.
Technical acumen evident in displayed work.