Date of this Version
Published in Southern Communication Journal 64:1 (1998), pp. 65–67.
For many departments, the need to develop an assessment package has been the driving force in the consideration of adding a capstone course to their communication curricula. But there are other reasons to justify the creation of such a course. In general, the capstone course has been described by some as a course in which students are required to integrate diverse bodies of knowledge to solve a problem or formulate a policy of societal importance. The dictionary describes a capstone as the “final or crowning part.” That may be a bit presumptuous, but it illustrates the notion of what most educators think of when they speak of a capstone course—a course that allows students to put closure on what they have learned. I conceptualize the capstone as a required course at the end of a series of courses within a given major that allows students to synthesize, research, and demonstrate what they have learned.
While the capstone serves as an important assessment outlet for faculty within a department, giving them clear indications of what students have been taught, what they have learned, how well they have learned it, what skills they have developed as a result of taking courses in the major, what gaps exist in either the curriculum or in individual course content, it also serves as a “check” for students. Students not only inventory what they know but they also receive a synthesizing experience, one which challenges them to discover overlaps, inconsistencies, and prevailing trends within a discipline. A capstone course exposes, like no other type of course, students’ critical thinking abilities.
Yet, given all of the pluses related to offering a capstone course, there are many pragmatic decisions to make when faculty actually sit down and start discussing the potential for such a course. Before I begin my list of “important decisions,” let me offer the caveat that there is little or no research that I am aware of that has been conducted on capstone courses, their place in a curriculum, their function as assessment opportunities, etc. Thus, much of the information provided here is anecdotal or “armchair” thinking from an administrator’s point of view, drawn from discussions with my own faculty about capstone courses in communication.