If you are nearing the end of your undergraduate or graduate program, your advisor may be talking to you about your Capstone Project. His earnest expression and determined attitude may lead you to believe that this is an important event. What is a capstone experience and why do so many degree programs require it?
The Glossary of Educational Reform defines it this way: "It is a multi-faceted project that serves as a culminating academic and intellectual experience for students." Sometimes capstones are required of high school students, but they are usually mentioned in the context of post-secondary education. It is similar to a thesis, but usually results not only in a report, but in a product, a performance or in giving a presentation.
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What is Involved in a Capstone?
Capstone experiences may take many forms. Sometimes it is just a series of advanced courses and a comprehensive exam. Most often, though, schools intend for students to complete a project.
The first aspect of the capstone experience is to choose a premise or topic. EHow.com says the worst topics for capstones, as reported by college advisors in business,are those that require a lot of statistical analysis and that involve complex concepts that listeners find hard to grasp. Regardless of the subject, though, the best projects involve application of a principle, not just exploration of a proposition.
You will have to submit a proposal to your advisor or to a board of advisors. This proposal, which is approximately forty pages or more, will give an introduction to your project. Next, it will delineate the existing theories and state your hypothesis. The paper will give a review of the literature you intend to read in researching the proposal and detail your research methodology. It will also include alternate proposals in the event the one you present is not accepted.
Once your proposal is accepted, you will begin researching the subject. This may involve just reading literature on the subject and assimilating the findings, but it could also mean doing actual individual research. Capstone experiences are labor and time intensive. They are usually listed in the academic catalog as courses for which you receive credit and which last from a semester to a year.
Why Schools Assign Capstones
Although the projects do showcase your educational accomplishments, they are more about demonstrating that you know how to learn. They are intended to encourage students to use the critical thinking skills they have acquired through their degree programs to solve problems.
Schools also want to see their graduates develop and use public speaking skills. Writing proficiency plays a great part in the assignments because the presentation must usually be accompanied by a portfolio that details the steps you took to reach your conclusion or to create your product. The projects come in the last part of your degree program, so they increase your motivation at a time when you may be dealing with "senior slump," and they force you to become engaged in your discipline.
The traditional definition for capstone is a final "crowning" and protective stone laid at the top of an exterior wall. That definition, applied to your education, portrays the capstone experience as the final crowning moment of your education. A Capstone Project is that stone, on the outside wall, seen by everyone, that shows you have completed the monumental task of earning your degree.
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