Capstones & Portfolios

Capstones and Portfolios, which may include cumulative courses, papers, projects, or student teaching, are a unique way for students to showcase what they have learned. Below are a sample of related articles, capstone/portfolio tools and resources.

Related Articles and Books

Brownell, J. E., & Swaner, L. E. (2010). Five high-impact practices: Research on learning outcomes, completion, and quality. Washington DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from: Source

Examines research on five educational practices: first-year seminars, learning communities, service learning, undergraduate research, and capstone experiences. The authors explore questions such as: What is the impact on students who participate in these practices? Is the impact the same for both traditional students and those who come from historically underserved student populations?

Hauhart, R. C. & Grahe, J. E. (2012). A national survey of American higher education capstone practices in sociology and psychology. Teaching Sociology, 40(3), 227-241.

Previous research on capstones in sociology and psychology has suggested that there is a typical capstone experience required by three quarters of all four-year colleges and universities in the United States. This article reports results from a national survey that confirm that sociology and psychology capstone courses conform generally to a common format. The findings further indicate that factors related to student limits and time limits predominate with respect to those variables that produce less successful course outcomes.

Murray, M., Perez, J., & Guimaraes, M. (2008). A model for using a capstone experience as one method of assessment of an information systems degree program. Journal of Information Systems Education, 19(2), 197-208.

A well-defined capstone experience is comprehensive in nature allowing for the assessment of a wide range of abilities. A capstone based assessment method includes mapping project deliverables and other artifacts to specified learning outcomes, establishing a scoring rubric that defines performance criteria, collecting and analyzing data and reporting results. Through this type of analysis, program strengths are revealed and program weaknesses are identified. Subsequently program improvement plans can be developed and ultimately increases in student learning can be realized.

Sum, P. & Light, S. A. (2010). Assessing student learning outcomes and documenting success through a capstone course. PS: Political Science and Politics, 43(3), 523-531.

A capstone course is an increasingly common method to measure student learning and assess programmatic and institutional success. We provide concrete suggestions to design a capstone course and assess student learning outcomes. After describing the structure of the course and four innovative assignments, we present the results of assessment conducted through the capstone. We further the conversation on the development of best practices and how political science departments can align institutional and programmatic goals and lead the way in university assessment.

Erradi, A. (2012). EasyCapstone: A framework for managing and assessing capstone design projects. Paper presented at the ICCSE 2012 – Proceedings of 2012 7th International Conference on Computer Science and Education, 1345-1350. 

To enhance students learning and satisfy ABET requirements, the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Qatar University undertook over the past few years significant enhancements to the senior design project course. This work has produced a framework for managing and assessing capstone design projects. Along with a web-based application named easyCapstone to ease the framework adoption by automating key workflows particularly for managing the project registration, the submission of deliverables, scheduling project presentations, assessing students work and providing timely personalized feedback to students.

Goldberg, J. R. (2012). Active learning in capstone design courses. IEEE Pulse, 3(3), 54-55, 57.

This article discusses means by which to encourage active learning within capstone courses. Many schools are moving away from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side model where the instructor is a facilitator of learning. In this model, the emphasis is more on learning and less on teaching, and it requires instructors to incorporate more active and student-centered learning methods into their courses.

Healey, M. (2014). From the international desk: Integrating undergraduate research into the curriculum: International perspectives on capstone and final-year projects. CUR Quarterly, 34(4), 26-32. Retrieved from: Source

This article provides various examples of what a capstone might look like; specifically in universities abroad. Through integrating numerous short case-studies from universities in the U.K., the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand, this article delves into the differing forms capstone projects can take, their main purpose, and common characteristics.

Blicblau, A. S., & Dini, K. (2012). Creating an alternate reality: Critical, creative, and empathic thinking generated in the “global village playground” capstone experience. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 7(3), 153-164.

The “Global Village Playground” (“GVP”) was a capstone learning experience designed to address institutional assessment needs while providing an integrated and authentic learning experience for students aimed at fostering critical and creative thinking. In the “GVP”, students work on simulated and real-world problems as a design team tasked with developing an alternate reality game that makes an impact on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Researchers employed a qualitative case study approach to evaluate participant reactions to the course, their perceptions of the instructional design methodology, what they learned in the course, and the challenges they experienced during the pilot implementation of this capstone design.

Schermer, T. and Gray, S., (2012, July). The senior capstoneTransformative experiences in the liberal arts (The Teagle Foundation Final Report). New York, NY: The Teagle Foundation. Retrieved from: Source

The four private liberal arts colleges participating in this study – Allegheny College, Augustana College, Washington College, and The College of Wooster – are distinctive in that they require all seniors to engage in an intensive mentored experience (“capstone”) that is designed and executed by the student using the theories, methods, and tools of a discipline, resulting in a scholarly or creative work. While we have long believed the experience to be transformative, the evidence has been largely anecdotal. This report presents some concrete findings on the impact of capstones on student learning.

Carey, S. J. (Ed.). (2013). Capstones and Integrative Learning. Peer Review: Emerging Trends and Key Debates in Undergraduate Education, 15(4).

This periodical is dedicated towards understanding what effective capstone programs are for undergraduate students. In particular, the contributors address the nature of capstones as integrative learning, the need for fostering interdisciplinary projects, conducting formative and summative assessments of such programs and requiring faculty involvement. Some of the institutional examples provided includes Hampshire College’s Division III project for their fourth-year students and University of La Verne’s Flex program and use of e-portfolios, among others. The periodical also includes a discussion about some practices that may hinder the success of capstone projects and programs, such as the lack of communication among students and faculty about the goals of capstone learning as an integrative experience and conducting capstones as solely a senior capstone experience, which limits the necessary reflective time needed for effective integrative learning.

Hutchings, P. (2014). DQP case study: Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego, California. National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. Retrieved from: Source

This DQP Case Study explores Point Loma Nazarene University’s use of the DQP focused on capstones, their use of rubrics, and more.

AAC&U High-impact Practices: Retrieved from: Source  

High-impact Practices have been widely tested and have been shown to be beneficial for college students from many backgrounds, especially historically underserved students, who often do not have equitable access to high-impact learning.

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: AAC&U. Retrieved from: Source  

This publication defines a set of educational practices that research has demonstrated have a significant impact on student success.

Kuh, G., O’Donnell, Reed, S. (2013). Ensuring quality & taking high-impact practices to scale. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from: Source  

This publication presents research on specific educational practices correlated with higher levels of academic challenge, student engagement, and achievement.

Chen, H.L. and Light, T.P. (2010). Electronic portfolios and student success: Effectiveness, efficacy, and learning. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges & Universities. Retrieved from: Source

This publication presents an overview of electronic portfolios and ways individuals and campuses can implement e-portfolios to enhance and assess student learning, recognizing that learning occurs in many places, takes many forms, and is exhibited through many modes of representation.

Chen, H.L. and Light, T.P. (2010). Electronic portfolios and student success: Effectiveness, efficacy, and learning. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges & Universities. Retrieved from: Source

This publication presents an overview of electronic portfolios and ways individuals and campuses can implement e-portfolios to enhance and assess student learning, recognizing that learning occurs in many places, takes many forms, and is exhibited through many modes of representation.

Sample Capstone Tools and Resources

  • Capstone Projects – An outline to aid students in the development of a capstone proposal, the importance of feedback, and the defense of the final product.
  • Thesis and Capstone Projects – Examples of what capstone projects might include, the process involved, and templates for both thesis and capstone projects.
  • Examples of Capstone Projects – American University has assembled a list of top graduate capstones over the years.
  • Advantages, Disadvantages, and Variety – Skidmore College highlights the advantages, possible disadvantages, and examples of variety in capstone projects.
  • Strategies for Effective Assessment: Capstone Assessment – Offers a variety of capstone examples (simulations, team projects, portfolios, tests, internships/clinical experiences, etc.) and ideas on how to assess each project.
  • Capstone Assessment – The Greater Expectations Project on Accreditation and Assessment collected examples of good practice in assessment, most at the senior level. Models were selected in which both major and general education outcomes were integrated during the capstone process. Twelve different models are described.
  • Sample Evaluation Forms – University of Colorado at Denver
  • Independent Study Capstone Program– College of Wooster

Sample Portfolio Tools and Resources

Capstone Curriculum

  • Capstone Curriculum – The website is a resource on capstone curriculum across the disciplines, developed as part of a National Senior Teaching Fellowship funded by the Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) in 2013-2014.
  • Types of Capstone Presentations – Montana State University provides guidelines and evaluation checklists for the various styles in which capstones can be presented/submitted (written, poster, or presentation); as well as examples of each from previous years.
  • Peer Review, Fall 2013 – This issue of Peer Review focuses on capstones and integrative learning; specifically on learning outcomes and best practices for capstone courses and assignments.