Helping Students make Transitions

According to a guide, titled Developing capstone experiences, developed at the University of Melbourne,

Many universities in Australia and internationally have considered the need to provide students with a culminating academic experience that brings together the knowledge of an academic discipline and student transition to the world of work". (Holdsworth, Watty & Davies 2009, p. 1)

Despite this the transitional needs of first year students as they enter university is given much more consideration by many course designers than the transition or preparation of final year students for the next step in their career, whether it be in the workplace or further study (Kift, Field & Wells 2008). Courses should not be a collection of individual subjects bundled together to add up to enough credit points to make a degree, but a coherent series of learning experiences that fit together. Topics need to build on each other, drawing from students' previous and/or concurrent learning and experiences and preparing the way for future learning and development. To assist students in the successful negotiations of their transition from university to work the design of the learning experiences needs to change across the years of their degree. In the United States some universities have introduced what they call "capstone" courses. These are designed to bring all of the learning together, providing an opportunity for students to demonstrate what they have learned throughout their degree in preparation for future (post-graduate) study or the work-place (Moore 2005).

Holdsworth, Watty & Davies (2009) indicate that capstone courses and experiences vary widely and that they may take the following forms:

Kift, Field & Wells (2008) suggest that opportunities for students to reflect are essential in capstone topics. They argue that,

Reflective practice is a fundamental skill of lifelong learners and effective legal professionals, so supporting student development in relation to reflection is a vital objective for a capstone unit. Reflection can also be seen to be critical to achieving the two objectives that accompany it, namely effective closure and effective transition for students; and it can be used as a significant facilitator of the journey for students from closure to transition. (p. 151)

In Australia capstone topics are often associated with the development of graduate attributes or graduate qualities (Holdsworth, Watty & Davies 2009) and they help students better prepare for the workplace.

Professor Iain Hay has considered how students can prepare themselves to make the transition to work. Using a Flinders University Innovations grant, he developed resources to assist students in generating a portfolio of generic skills gained in completing discipline-specific topics (PDF 59KB) .

Dr Bet Roffey who used to work at Flinders University taught capstone programs in the US and used this experience to inform the design of her final semester topic which is discussed in Teaching Final Year Students Using 'CAPSTONE' Topics. A number of these ideas are also reflected in Macquarie University's Assessing final year students - capstone units (PDF).