In the Block, capstones are the final opportunity for students to emulate authentic practices in their discipline. They occur mostly in the final year and aim to integrate knowledge and skills gained by students throughout their course. Consequently these units have minimal new knowledge or skills. This enables students to:

  • adapt their skills and knowledge to diverse contexts such as workplaces, professional placements and simulated settings
  • demonstrate initiative and judgement in planning
  • make decisions and solve problems
  • be accountable for their own learning and developing professional practice.

Format of a capstone unit

While the format of capstones vary, they will include some of the following features:

Integrate and extend prior learning. Capstones should promote transferable skills within professional, organisational or community contexts, emulating experiences in the field.

Focus on messy, multi-faceted contemporary problems and scenarios with contestable solutions that require interaction between multiple stakeholders and decision-points and include ambiguous philosophical and ethical issues.

Foster independence, agency, professionalism, and, when relevant, teamwork. Students should have opportunities to make decisions about topics, approaches, and outcomes and build confidence and personal responsibility. Require students to articulate their insights and reflect on their new knowledge and skills and, optionally, further their learning opportunities as part of a process of continuous evaluation.

Include mechanisms for sharing and celebrating the students’ achievements. The celebration encourages benchmarking and sharing of individual achievements and helps students to identify areas they would like to explore further, thus establishing a base for ongoing lifelong learning.

Note that students may be progressing their capstone work while they are completing other units. You will need to think about how to support students while they are progressing outside of your Block.

A step-by-step design approach

Informed by the unit learning outcomes, imagine what your students will be doing in their career in five years.

Below are some example capabilities that students will need. Add your own or edit as suits:

  • working in a team
  • following strict protocols
  • selling/ marketing their work
  • developing proposals
  • analysing current events
  • gaining government funding
  • working up budgets
  • working alone investigating policy
  • managing clients
  • pitching ideas
  • persuading others
  • setting their own schedule
  • applying skills in new ways
  • acting as a consultant
  • engaging with community
  • developing strategy
  • developing products
  • planning for events
  • self-publishing work.

Determine the most appropriate approach for students to refine and develop the relevant capabilities. For example, complex/ authentic projects or consultancies that could be inquiry-based or practice-oriented.

Allow sufficient hours for extensive independent work then decide the number of face-to-face sessions required to support the students in their capstone work. Consider online tools to support students to achieve their milestones in a timely fashion.

Scaffold the learning/process during the unit delivery.

  • Give clear boundaries so that projects are realistic, manageable and feasible.
  • Make clear links with professional practice.
  • Guide students to develop plans and goals to achieve project outcomes.
  • Structure small and large group discussions to help students refine ideas.
  • Use templates to help students understand requirements and complete project documentation.
  • Assist students to establish effective teamwork principles including strategies to resolve difficulties and clear procedures for dealing with issues.

Common major outputs (processes and products) include:

Processes

  • interim report
  • self-reviews (reflections on processes, outcomes and consolidation of learning)
  • debates, forums and feedback loops
  • leadership, initiative and responsibility
  • team-based peer evaluations.

Products

  • reports and papers, client responses
  • process journals
  • presentations and events
  • job and task logs, impact assessments
  • portfolios.

Plan holistic assessment by breaking it down into smaller pieces to enable instructor and peer feedback at key stages. Reward ongoing problem-solving processes, depth of inquiry and resilience as much as the degree to which final products are successful. Conclude with a cumulative piece for students to share insights.

Tips

  1. Design so students have authority and autonomy to ‘own’ their capstone experience.
  2. Build in regular feedback from a range of sources, for example critiquing peers’ work, self-assessing their own work or invite feedback from external partners. Encourage students to respond with improvements.
  3. Encourage students to collaborate with each other to work through problems and seek creative solutions. Allow space for products to fail during the process supporting students to articulate their learning from the failure.

Want to know more?

Articles & other documents

Lee, N & Loton, DJ 2015, Capstone curriculum across disciplines: Synthesising theory, practice and policy to provide practical tools for curriculum design, Victoria University.

OLTF, OLTF Powerful Assessment Exemplars 2016

This document includes examples of the types of assessment tasks suitable for capstones. 

Websites

University of Waterloo, Capstone Curriculum n.d., Critical Reflection