Designing Capstone Experiences
Starting with the graduating class of 2025, all Stanford undergraduates are required to complete a capstone project as part of their major (see capstone.stanford.edu).
Capstones have been identified as a high-impact educational practice, providing opportunities for students to integrate and apply what they have learned during their major courses of study, strengthen relationships with instructors and mentors, and experience a range of personal and practical benefits.
Capstones may take many forms, ranging from honors theses to community projects, seminars to group projects, e-Portfolios to research papers.
Many models for successful capstones already exist across Stanford departments and programs. Here, we provide a few exemplars to give a sense of both the possibilities and practicalities in this work.
Each of these capstone exemplars excel in two critical areas:
- providing opportunities for student-guided learning
- structuring experiences to help students meet challenging goals.
Through the capstone, students are often tasked with open-ended questions that push them to find novel or original answers. This offers students a unique opportunity to explore their own interests and direct their own learning. Whether students work on a team-based or individual project, they must use the knowledge and skills they have gained throughout their education to tackle complex problems that are often interdisciplinary in nature.
Preparing students for this kind of work can be challenging. A good place to start is with the learning goals from our capstone exemplars. The instructors identify important learning goals for their students that will help them transition into independent work and guide their own learning throughout the capstone.
But what happens when a student struggles with these ambitious learning goals? The capstone exemplars also discuss how their capstones have evolved over time to provide students with continuous support and feedback to help them throughout their capstone experience. The instructors describe how their capstones are structured to ensure students have clear guidelines at the start of their capstone and multiple checkpoints to meet the intended capstone learning goals.
CTL offers the Capstone Experience Design (CapED) program to all departments and programs conferring undergraduate major degrees.
CapED is a two-day intensive to focus efforts on designing a successful capstone experiences. Modeled after CTL’s renowned Course Design Institute (CDI), CapED provides departments and programs a collaborative environment in which to design capstone experiences for their majors. Teams or individuals are welcome, and may include faculty, lecturers, staff, and undergraduate majors.
In CapED, we apply current research in teaching and learning to design effective and inclusive capstone projects suitable for diverse student majors. Learning goals for CapED participants include:
- Articulating student learning goals for the capstone project
- Drafting a capstone curriculum aligned with capstone learning goals and the major curriculum
- Integrating research-based practices into the capstone curriculum
- Evaluating capstone design to ensure equity and inclusion for all majors
- Receiving feedback from mentors in departments/programs with a capstone project
CapED Workshops and Materials
We are not currently planning another instance of CapED, but if you or your department/program are interested, please contact Kenny Ligda, firstname.lastname@example.org, for workshop materials or for a customized offering for your group.