A capstone course is one that “seeks to provide a cumulative experience for students enrolled in a degree program”. The students undertaking the capstone course are expected to apply the knowledge acquired from a degree program in a real-life work situation. The courses are normally undertaken in the final year of college or university program. Capstone course has always been done through internships, individual reports, and seminars. Thus the program provides a framework for assessing the student’s ability to apply what has been taught in class. For the course to be effective, its objectives must be clearly defined and relevant to the learning and assessment needs of the students. This paper thus focuses on the objectives of the capstone courses and how they can be presented in a syllabus.
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Learning Objectives of a Capstone Course
Integration of Knowledge
The main objective of a capstone course is to enable the students to integrate the knowledge gained as a result of pursuing a given degree program in college or university. The course should enable the students to integrate the skills and concepts learned systematically during their stay at the university. This means that the course content will focus on refreshing the student’s memory on what he or she was taught in class. This helps them to remember the entire content of the degree program and its application.
The students should be able to integrate all aspects of the course which includes the theory, practical skills, and communication skills. They should be in a position to combine the diverse skills acquired in class and apply them in a work environment. This is based on the fact that the ultimate objective of the pursued course is to enable the students to transfer or apply their skills to the challenging work environment. The capstone program thus acts as a self-assessment mechanism that reminds the students of the expected learning outcomes. Besides, it allows them to evaluate the degree to which they have achieved the learning outcomes.
Professional Level Performance
Having completed a particular course, the students should not only be able to apply the course content to real-life work situations but should be able to do so in a professional manner. The capstone course should, therefore, focus on helping students to perfect their technical skills in handling a given task. This requires the students to have hands-on experience in their respective fields of specialization. To achieve this objective, many capstone courses include an internship program.
The students are expected to find a business or an organization whose core activities are relevant to the pursued course. The student is then expected to work in the organization for a definite period to demonstrate his or her skills as well as to improve or learn new skills. The internship experience also helps the students to improve their communication skills by interacting with the management of the organizations they work for at different levels. The student should thus be able to perform at the level of a professional at the end of the internship or field experience.
Depth of Knowledge
The capstone course acts as a basis for determining the amount of information the student has retained and how well such information has been understood. The objective of the course, in this case, is to ensure that students have fully understood the topics taught in class. Consequently, most capstone courses include a teaching session whereby the students are expected to tutor underclassmen for a given number of hours. This enables the professor to evaluate the students’ understanding of the topic. Students who can demonstrate a full understanding of various topics are considered successful. However, those who are not able to demonstrate a clear understanding of various topics may be required to take more study hours to improve their knowledge.
Pursuing a Career
Other than helping students to integrate skills and concepts taught in class, the capstone course also offers training on career development. The course aims at equipping the students with skills that help them to “create working resumes, develop professional interview skills and how to develop a successful career”. Upon successful completion of the capstone course, the students should be able to consider all aspects of their knowledge and portray their abilities to potential employers.
How to Present the Objectives in a Syllabus
The overall learning objectives of the capstone course should be informed by the learning goals of a department. This means that the syllabus of the capstone course should incorporate the learning goals and objectives of the programs pursued by the students. The syllabus should focus on the use of direct assessments instead of indirect ones to capture the real potential of students. Standard examinations should be offered due to the following reasons. First, when using nationally acknowledged exams, interdepartmental or interuniversity comparison of students’ performance can be done with the aid of percentiles. Second, standard exams are informative and will thus allow the professor to use sub-scores to evaluate different skills. Finally, the tests should be flexible enough to incorporate questions submitted by departments.
Role of the Syllabus in Presenting the Objectives
The syllabus acts as a contract that defines the relationship or association of the instructors and their students. It specifies what the students expect during the semester and also guides the behavior of the students and the instructors. Thus the syllabus will define the responsibilities of the learners as well as the instructors in the learning and assessment process. For the syllabus to be effective in presenting the objectives of the capstone course, its content should include the following.
First, it should have a clear and accurate calendar that specifies the time needed to complete the course. Besides, the calendar should indicate the activities the students are expected to perform or task to be completed within a particular period. For example, it should indicate when exams are to be done or the due dates of assignments. Second, the syllabus should address the policies which have impacts on students. Such policies include the assessment criteria and their contribution to the final grade. For example, if practical skills will account for a greater percentage in the final grade, the students will be expected to excel in the internship programs.
The syllabus should address policies concerning the learners’ academic freedom. Since most capstone courses involve practical experiences in an actual work environment, the students should be aware of the level of freedom granted to them. This will not only help them to maintain ethical standards but will also help them to focus on the academic aspect of their field experience. In a class environment, students should respect the rights of their colleagues to air their opinions regarding course topics to enhance better understanding.
Third, the syllabus being a contract will include a disclaimer. This means that it will specify what the students expect to achieve at the end of the course. Apart from this, the syllabus should indicate what the students will not be able to do with the knowledge gained from the course. For example, a capstone course for an engineering program may enable a student to operate a machine but may not enable him or her to design and develop similar machines.
Thus the expected achievements and the limitations of the course have to be specified and this forms the basis for evaluating the success of the course. Finally, it should indicate the rights and responsibilities of disabled students. Due to physical disabilities, some students might not be able to engage in field experiences or internship programs for a long period. The syllabus must thus indicate alternative learning and assessment methods that will be used to accommodate the disabled students. This will help in ensuring that the objectives of the course are achieved uniformly.
The syllabus acts as a permanent record of what was taught in the course. As a permanent record, the syllabus helps in stating and achieving the objectives of the capstone course in the following ways. First, the syllabus promotes accountability on the part of the instructor and the students. Thus the instructor will set achievable course objectives, given the available resources and the abilities of the students. Once such objectives have been set, the instructor and the students will strive to achieve them. Second, it encourages documentation of the course achievements. This acts as a basis for evaluating the course and planning for the future.
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Due to the increase in online degree programs and the use of the internet in learning, most students are not able to interact with their professors on a face to face basis. Thus in the absence of the instructor, the syllabus will act as a guide that will enable the learner to achieve the course objectives.
The above discussion indicates that a capstone course aims at helping students to integrate the knowledge acquired throughout their stay in an institution of higher education. Apart from the classwork, the course also involves filed experience or internship. The assessment of the course focuses on the students’ ability to remember the content of the pursued course and their ability to apply the acquired knowledge in a work environment. As discussed above, the syllabus acts as a guide and enables the learners and the instructors to achieve the objectives of the capstone course.
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