Capstone Courses & Experiences
This article focuses on the purpose of learning outcomes and how they relate to capstone projects. In order to support teaching and learning excellence as well as meet accreditation requirements, academic institutions have charged each program to develop expected learning outcomes so that they can measure their effectiveness in providing students with the required knowledge to earn a degree. Although goals are important, it is critical that learning outcomes can be assessed. The primary role of the capstone course is to provide students an opportunity to integrate the knowledge that they have acquired in prior coursework. An example of how a MIS program assisted students with integrating knowledge is presented.
Keywords Accreditation Bodies; Capstone Course; Cross-Functional Integration; Information Technology; Learning Assessments; Learning Outcomes; Management Information System (MIS) Program; Pedagogy
In order to support teaching and learning excellence as well as meet accreditation requirements, academic institutions have required each program to develop expected learning outcomes so that they can measure their effectiveness in providing students with the required knowledge to earn a degree. However, learning outcomes may be written at the university, program or course level. Program learning outcomes should be able to support the goals and objectives of the program and guide the development of specific learning outcomes for courses within the program (Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 2003). According to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (2003), program learning outcomes should be able to answer questions such as:
• What is most important for students to learn in a program?
• What should graduates of the program be able to do?
• How do the program's learning outcomes reflect the goals and objectives of the program as well as the requirements for potential accrediting bodies? (p. 22).
Examples of program learning objectives are:
Example 1 Program graduates will be able to apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to business problems in American corporations.
Example 2 Graduates of this program will be able to effectively communicate in any type of situation through speech and writing.
Example 3 A graduate of this program will be able to pass a national standardized test geared toward their area of study.
Although goals are important, it is critical that learning outcomes can be assessed. Learning assessments seek to determine if:
• The learning outcomes are measurable and can be assessed.
• There is evidence of student learning for each outcome and whether or not the evidence is relevant to each outcome.
• Established criteria have been developed in order to evaluate the above-mentioned evidence.
Examples of learning assessments are:
Example 1 Student achievement of this learning outcome is assessed by sample student portfolios that reflect the students' overall work in the program and by senior surveys.
Example 2 Student achievement of this learning outcome is assessed by reviewing samples of student work (i.e. essay examinations, capstone projects) and by employer surveys.
Capstone courses are an example of a learning assessment, and they can be developed for any discipline. Capstone projects encourage students to pursue independent research and scholarly work with the guidance of faculty from their chosen major discipline. Case Western Reserve’s SAGES learning program offers capstone projects that allow students to demonstrate their ability to:
• Articulate a problem or question that is both interesting and relevant to their chosen field(s) of study;
• Identify an appropriate research method or analytical response to the question or problem, and present the method/approach in discipline-specific modes of writing (i.e. project proposal);
• Conduct sustained research (i.e. designing and conducting experiments, exploring an archive, analyzing data, reading publications in their field) sufficient to draw conclusions significant to their discipline; and
• Produce a substantial presentation in response to the question or problem (Case Western Reserve, 2004, p.1-2).
By creating effective capstone projects, students have the opportunity to:
• Showcase their skills sets. Capstone courses allow students to integrate all of the courses that they have taken during a degree program.
• Develop a portfolio for potential employers. Employers want to see how graduates can transfer their classroom experience and academic background to the corporate world.
• Show the faculty what they have mastered. Faculty members have the opportunity to see how effective the curriculum is in preparing students for continuing their education and/or entering the world of work.
• Demonstrate how they are able to apply concepts to a practical situation. Institutions may use documents to showcase their students' achievements. This is helpful when accrediting bodies make site visits to evaluate the outcomes of programs.
A successful capstone project is a win-win situation for both the student and the institution.
Management Information System (MIS) Capstone
This section will discuss how the adult graduate information technology program at Johns Hopkins University developed and implemented a management information system (MIS) capstone project. Instead of focusing on the technical aspects of the program, the MIS capstone project allows the students to apply the information and skills that they have learned in the program. The students are divided into teams and assigned to work with an organization in the information technology field. The students are given the opportunity to deal with issues that are in the real world environment.
According to Novitzki (1998), "the effectiveness of communicating global MIS and business concerns to technical students has on the whole been poor. A survey of academic journals and popular literature reveals numerous articles describing various education programs and their efforts to better prepare MIS students to function in the corporate business world after they graduate" (p. 100). His article discusses how there is a problem accomplishing the above-mentioned objective at many schools. It was found that many students perceive themselves as being technically competent, but lack the confidence about their abilities in the IS field. In addition to Novitzki's work, there are many articles that discuss the shortcomings of IS students and employees from an employer's perspective (Chow & Edmundson, 1994). Studies have shown that there tends to be a disconnect between MIS programs and what the industry wants and needs graduates and potential employees to do in their organizations.
Novitzki (1998) conducted interviews with local Information Systems professionals and business executives to determine if there was a consensus about this lack of integration. The participants in the study identified the same general skill sets that Herman (1994) and others identified as being an important part of an effective MIS program. These researchers found that an effective MIS program must provide students with the opportunity to:...
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