- Course Validation
- Course Revalidation
- Course Development
- Assessment Concepts
- Assessment Rubrics
- Student Petitions
- History of ES
Capstone Course Criteria
Summary of Task Force Position on Essential Studies Capstone:
Among the key findings of the Task Force was the idea that the current program was not helping students understand the value of General Education. There was no place in the program where students could integrate meaningfully the knowledge gained from disparate general education courses, nor was there a place in the program where students were invited to step back and reflect on what they were learning. Instead, Gen Ed and Gen Ed advising had been reduced often to “checking boxes” and getting requirements “out of the way” before moving on to the “real” education offered by the majors. The Longitudinal Study found that as students were moving through the first-two years of their college educations—the years in which they took most of their Gen Ed courses—they had little sense of why they were taking these courses or how they fit together. However, the study also discovered that, in their final semesters of study, students could reflect back on their earlier course work and see connections that they had not noticed before. Students began to see that the work that they were being called upon to do in their majors was enhanced and supported by the work they had done in Gen Ed. The authors of the Longitudinal Study were happy to see these realizations emerge for the students they interviewed, and yet they also had to ask if it was the study itself that was giving students the opportunity to make these connections? Would students, that is, who had not participated in the study have any chance of thinking back over their educations?
To address these concerns the Task Force decided to require a capstone course that only students with second semester junior standing could take. The rationale for this was that the Capstone course would provide a “culminating experience”: it would be expected, that is, to pull together learning that occurred in previous courses around two or more of the Essential Studies goals. This could be done within the context of a capstone already required for a major, but an ES capstone need not be a traditional major capstone at all. An ES capstone is important as a means of emphasizing – one final time – goals that faculty generally agree are important for all students, and in a context where the learning is especially likely to be perceived by students as important.
The following criteria are intended to help faculty members, from a variety of disciplines, design a Capstone Course. These criteria should also give the GER committee a set of standards for the purposes of validation and revalidation.
Essential Studies Capstone courses provide a culminating experience that pulls together learning around two of the Essential Studies goals: Thinking and Reasoning, Communication, Information Literacy, and Diversity. Capstones can take two forms. A discipline-based capstone course would enable students to integrate knowledge from both their major and Essential Studies. Alternatively, faculty may develop broader capstone courses offered to students beginning in their second semester junior year across the university. As they near graduation, either type of capstone would reinforce Essential Studies goals that students first saw in earlier courses without lapsing into the mindset of “checking off boxes.” Rather, capstones offer the opportunity for students and faculty to see how far students may have progressed during their undergraduate studies. Thus rubrics or templates used to validate an introductory level course for an Essential Studies goal could serve as a foundation, but may not be appropriate for a senior-level course
- The course must be taken by students no earlier than the second semester of the junior year. For existing courses, this can be done by showing that a large percentage of those who took the course in a recent year graduated within two semesters of completing the course. For new courses, listing a minimum number of credits or second semester junior standing as prerequisites could help a course meet this requirement. See also Additional Consideration 1 below
- The course must intentionally and thoughtfully address two of the Essential Studies goals:
- Thinking and Reasoning
- Information Literacy
- The chosen goals must be meaningfully integrated into the course. This integration should be conceptual as well as practical. Conceptually, the Essential Studies goals should be integral to the course’s design. Practically, the chosen goals should be woven into the syllabus, instead of isolated or additional components. Such integration should provide the opportunity for synergistic growth over the course of the class. See also Additional Consideration 3 below.
- Capstone courses should represent the culmination of a student’s educational experience. Therefore the letter should explain how the proposed capstone fits the department’s existing curriculum, in the case of a discipline-specific capstone. If the proposed capstone is designed as a more general, university-wide course, the letter should explain how it will serve as a culminating experience in this broader context. See also Additional Consideration 4 below.
- Capstone courses should both measure and produce advanced maturation in students’ intellectual skills. The letter requesting approval must show how the proposed capstone will foster progress in the chosen Essential Studies goals appropriate to the senior level.
- It is anticipated that effective Essential Studies Capstone courses will be more challenging to teach. To ensure proper faculty assignments are made to meet the Essential Studies Capstone goals, the required qualifications for the faculty teaching this course should be identified.
For revalidation, the instructor or department must demonstrate that:
- Students are taking this course no earlier than the second semester of their junior year.
- Two of the Essential Studies goals - Thinking and Reasoning, Communication, Information Literacy, Diversity - are incorporated into the Capstone course at an advanced level.
- The Essential Studies goals are truly integrated in the course.
- Students are making progress towards meeting the Essential Studies Capstone goals. Evidence will be required as a part of the revalidation process.
- Faculty who have taught the course since the last revalidation meet the qualifications provided in the chair’s application letter.
- While the requirement that capstones be taken at the of beginning the second semester junior year might demand interpretation on both individual and programmatic levels, the character of a culminating experience must not be compromised. For example, on an individual level, a student with sufficient AP credits might technically have senior standing, but not be deemed ready for the capstone.
- The two essential studies goals chosen are entirely up to the department. In discipline-based capstone courses that are also Essential Studies capstone courses, assuring that students have information literacy (goal Information Literacy) in their field could be a natural fit.
- The essential studies goals should be “integrated into the curriculum” of a course, and not be stand-alone elements that allow for a checkmark in the box. For example, a senior capstone course in government relations might focus on how non-profits, businesses, interest groups, unions, etc. work with governments (local, state, and national) to influence laws and regulations. To qualify as an Essential Studies Capstone, the Essential Studies goals must be integral to the course. Simply having a week where “diversity” (Diversity) is listed on the syllabus and students write a final paper (perhaps addressing Information Literacy) would not be sufficient. Having students write a paper (potentially addressing Communication and/or Information Literacy and that suggests how different and diverse stakeholders (Diversity) could be differentially impacted by a new government regulation, and thus might try to influence the regulations in their favor, however, would be a more reasonable way to integrate essential studies into the curriculum.
- The General Education Task Force, in all the documentation, always referred to this as “a course,” and indicated it was a 3-credit course. This wording is what has been approved for implementation. Several departments have expressed concern over how they might implement this requirement in light of their current curriculum, which may not have a 3-credit capstone course. Since not all capstone courses will be discipline-specific, such departments would not need to offer a capstone. Students could take an Essential Studies Capstone course from another department. Or, if such departments desired to offer their own Essential Studies capstone course, other options that may be considered include:
- Restructure the curriculum to include a discipline-specific capstone course.
- Designate an existing senior-level course to meet the Essential Studies capstone requirement.
- Propose that the 3-credit Essential Studies capstone be met from a combination of courses. For example, some departments separate their capstone experience into a classroom experience followed by “in the field” experience, listed as two separate courses. Thoughtfully developed proposals along this line will be considered. At the time of revalidation, extra attention will focus on whether the essential studies goals had been integrated, for students, in the curriculum across multiple courses.
- Other options will be considered if the department can demonstrate they will meet the spirit of Essential Studies Capstone goals.
Final Revision 11/21/2008