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Design a Capstone Experience

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Designing IDEAL capstone experiences is important for promoting the learning and development of all students and for setting them up for success beyond college.

A capstone experience is the culmination of a student's study in a particular major. A capstone experience at Stanford encourages students to “integrate knowledge and skills developed in the major and to learn and think independently with the tools of the discipline.” Examples include an honors thesis, senior paper or project, and capstone seminar with individual student projects.

Capstones are considered a high-impact educational practice and have been widely shown to be of integral importance to students’ learning and mastery of course material in a major. They require students to assume agency over their learning, synthesize diverse perspectives, respond to targeted feedback, and approximate the methods and outcomes of experts in authentic, real-world contexts. At the same time, students might come to a capstone experience with varying prior experiences, as well as varying future interests and pathways.

More Team Project Ideas

Steps to consider

In pre-capstone courses: 

  • Integrate skills that will be highlighted in the capstone course, such as literature review and synthesis, data collection, recommendations of finding to real world settings (you can use VALUE rubrics as a guide) 
  • Use the learning goals established for the capstone course to help individual courses integrate goals earlier in the coursework (Stanford Teaching Commons Learning Outcomes Guide)

Stanford examples and resources


The VPUE website on Designing Capstones

Evidence-based Capstone Principles and the Capstone Curriculum website Guidelines for teachers published by the Australian Government Office for Teaching and Learning

Reynolds, Julie, Smith, Robin, Moskovitz, Cary, Sayle, Amy (2009). “BioTAP: A systematic Approach to Teaching Scientific Writing and Evaluating Undergraduate Theses”, Bioscience, 59(10), 896-903. 

Howe, Susannah, Goldberg, Jay (2019). “Engineering Capstone Design Education: Current Practices, Emerging Trends, and Successful Strategies”, In Design Education Today

Morreale, Joseph C., Shostya, Anna (2020). “Creating Transformative Learning Experience Through a Capstone Course in Economics”, International Review of Economics Education, 35, 100198.