High Impact Practices Spotlight Series: Capstone Projects and Assignments
By Tiffany MacLennan, Maple League Research Fellow and Strategist and Tanisha Campbell, Maple League Student Fellow, Knowledge Mobilization & Community Engagement
In today’s High Impact Practice Spotlight Series, we look at capstone projects and assignments. Capstones take students’ learning over a course or throughout their degree and challenges them to integrate and apply their knowledge to an assignment or project. In the stories below, we see opportunities for students to learn through self-direction, work directly with community partners, and work towards a greater understanding of the knowledge they obtained by connecting learning to practice.
Professor Jennifer Harvey – Bishop’s University
I’ve recently taught an eight-month capstone project in entrepreneurship. I complemented these two courses with a voluntary half day workshop in product design and launch, financial management and team management. I also decided to promote active participation during class, by designing mini workshops or activities to follow up the lecture portion of each class. These activities helped students apply what was just covered during lectures in a safe and meaningful way. I’ve also taught a course in Product Strategy and Innovation where I experimented with community-based learning. Our Experiential Learning Co-ordinator identified some partners in the local community who would be interested in working with our students on a project related to their business or organization’s product or service marketing. The students worked in teams as consultants and gained invaluable real-world, in-depth experience.
Dr. Andrew Wilson – Mount Allison University
Capstone projects are a remarkable way of celebrating a student’s learning. I like to provide an opportunity for students to create and direct their own projects, opportunities where they can combine their formal learning with their personal story and interests. These projects represent some of the most creative and rigorous work a student can do. They are projects where I am privileged to accompany students on a learning journey of their own making, often amazed at the ways in which their research and analysis extend meaningfully into the richness of their experience, showcasing their skills and competencies like no other. These capstone projects are invariably highly original and bursting with creative energy. This year alone, I have students combining interests in theology and animal rights, disability theory and Christian identity, iconographical representation and popular music and performance theory and the sacred/secular divide.
Professor David Mattie – St. Francis Xavier University
The Enterprise Systems capstone course “IT Enterprise Strategy” places students in a term-long consulting engagement with national and international clients. Students are surveyed before the course begins to understand experience levels and topic preferences, allowing opportunity to find the best fitting projects. All students are placed in a team of four and assigned a consultancy engagement that most aligns with their ambitions. Project assignments are based on the degree to which students will be challenged according to self-assessment of capabilities, and to encourage students to push their boundaries. In these engagements, students are expected to draw from their previous courses to complete the assignment. The projects cover a wide range of concepts, including project management, digital marketing, requirements and functional specifications, data modeling, analytics, systems design, process modeling, coding/low-coding, up to enterprise architecture and the use of industry methodologies such as TOGAF [The Open Group Architecture Framework].
This approach to immersive learning allows students to have authentic experiences, while appreciating the importance of a strong team, good leadership, trust, and integrity. They are expected to exercise their social graces as they interact and build relationships with clients that depend on them to deliver solid solutions. These situations cannot be simulated in a traditional classroom setting, and have given students an opportunity to understand what lies ahead in the coming months as they begin their careers. The projects also give students relevant and honest experiences to draw from during their interviews with future employers. The project ends with a client presentation, report, and hopefully a solution that meets the needs of their client. Students spend the final two classes of the term discussing lessons learned, sharing project stories, and elaborating on their projects to their classmates. These two days are intended to identify alternative courses of action and alternate solutions that will be valuable in future career engagements.
Dr. Gabrielle Donnelly – Acadia University
The capstone project for my course on International Community Development engages thirty students to form consulting teams. The teams are tasked with responding to a community development organization’s Request for Proposals (RFP) and designing an engaging curriculum to prepare young people to work in solidarity with communities outside of their home countries. This collaborative assignment pushes students to draw on one another’s strengths, wade through the challenges of working together, and produce something with relevance for a particular context – grounding their learning in the real world. To soften students’ resistance to group work, I support both process and outcome equally in the classroom. I teach facilitation skills and the subtleties of the art of collaboration alongside the course or assignment’s content. I remind them that collaboration is essential to addressing many of the complex challenges we face as a species and planet. The value of learning how to work well with others is no small accomplishment!
 The HIP Visibility Project is a part of a larger HIP project conducted by Research Fellow and Strategist Tiffany MacLennan. The goal of the HIP project is to make HIPs more accessible for both faculty and students. For more information about the HIP project or would like to participate, please contact Tiffany at firstname.lastname@example.org.