Preparing For Post-College Life: Capstone and Keystone Courses

These days more colleges and universities are requiring students to participate in capstone courses prior to graduation. These classes allow students to achieve key learning objectives and demonstrate their mastery of particular material.

Different Times, Same Goals

Many schools now require courses known as keystone or capstone courses. However, not all colleges use capstone or keystone courses in the same way. Some universities use keystone courses to lay a foundation for the coursework and materials that are to come, while other colleges utilize capstone courses exclusively for those in their final few semesters of college. These “putting it all together” classes give students an opportunity to use their knowledge and skills, while giving faculty the chance to evaluate what a student has learned. In other words, capstone courses give those nearing graduation an opportunity to integrate all of the materials they have learned in a one- or two-semester course, assuring that the learning objectives set by the faculty, department or university have been met.

Types of Keystone Courses

Some colleges require all graduates to complete a school-wide capstone course that takes students from various majors and places them together to work on a single project. Other schools require capstone courses only for those in a particular major. Some universities require students to participate in both. And regardless of whether the courses are required for everyone or in a single department, there are essentially four different kinds of keystone courses: a major-project course, a portfolio-building course, a multiple-project course, or a field or internship program.

Field or Internship Programs
In an internship-style capstone course, the student participates in an internship, or works in the field, supervised by a faculty member, as well as a supervisor in the field. A good example of this is a student-teaching practicum, where a teaching student goes into a classroom and teaches under the supervision of a mentor teacher, who evaluates the student’s performance and provides regular feedback to both the student teacher and the student teacher’s professor.

The Portfolio-Building Capstone Course
Typically used to evaluate students in the creative arts, students in this kind of keystone course develop a large portfolio of projects or pieces. Either a single piece is selected for evaluation or the entire portfolio of work is reviewed.

The Multiple-Project Course
This kind of keystone course is likely to feature multiple small-group projects. Students in these keystone courses are generally required to demonstrate their knowledge of given material in every format, from oral reports to multimedia presentations to research papers and exams.

Major Project Course
As the name implies, in this style of keystone course, a student generally works on a single large project–such as a thesis paper or large research project–for the entire semester. This is generally the most-widely used capstone course format.

Putting it All Together

While capstone courses can be challenging, they provide a truly unique learning experience. These important courses give students the opportunity to collaborate with their peers; practice their presentation and organizational skills; use their knowledge; and, ultimately, showcase what they have learned and achieved during their college experience. They are, in fact, an ideal way to ensure that graduates are prepared for life after college.

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