Capstone Advising

Capstone mentorship and guidance

The role of the Capstone supervisor is to guide students to conduct quality, independent, academic research that contributes to their discipline. Faculty capstone mentors should seek to foster student motivation, lower student stress, and consciously establish a positive atmosphere of encouragement and support (Nilson 2013). The Yale-NUS College Capstone project is a significant learning experience in which our 4th Year Student emerge as self-directed learners.

The student and faculty capstone supervsior should first meet to discuss the scope, format, and timeline for completion of the Capstone project. Students will have to submit a project proposal form early in Semester 1, and it is as this stage that you and the student should establish how often you should meet and your preference for drafts etc.

Level-setting student expectations & preparing them for the project

  • Faculty will need to remind students that this is an undergraduate research project worth 10MCs that should be kept to scale. It is not a graduate thesis. This realistic scope is important given that students have three other courses a semester within which they are expected to perform well.
  • Faculty should be clear about assessment criteria up front.
  • Remind students there are many support-resources on campus in addition to their capstone supervisor including the Writer’s Centre, Librarians, their peers.
  • Remind students to balance stress by planning ahead and that the Health and Wellness Centre and Vice Rectors are available if they are struggling with stress.
  • Emphasise the importance of academic integrity and ensure your capstone advisee is familiar with the location of relevant policies.

When a student is struggling

Procrastination can be a real challenge in long-term projects. The Capstone project is a challenging long-term assignment that you can help to break up into steps if the student is struggling to move forward. Encourage your Capstone advisee to schedule their week. Anxiety, denial, and fear of failure at the task often drives procrastination.

There are signs of procrastination that faculty Capstone advisors can look for in order to help a student who is stuck and/or not progressing quickly enough (Hazard, 2011).

  • Waiting to do things until the last minute
  • Not setting or not honoring personal deadlines
  • Not taking action until a crisis develops
  • Not setting personal priorities for accomplishing tasks
  • Spending substantial time unproductively doing trivial or routine tasks, reading nonessential material, and socializing face-to-face, on the phone, or on social media
  • Saying yes to every request and invitation
  • Overcommitting, overscheduling, and overextending oneself
  • Setting perfection as the standard of a task
  • Not asking others to help or to pick up other tasks

Talking with your advisee about these behaviours can help them gain the self-knowledge the will emerge from their answers and ideally encourage them to change their unproductive behaviour (Nilson, 2013)

When a student is struggling beyond procrastination or you suspect severe stress, refer them to the Health and Wellness Centre and notify their Vice Rector.

Assessment of Capstone projects

  • Ask yourself: what learning objectives am I reviewing relative to the material presented? What skills am I assessing?
  • Review the sample grading rubrics for your major

Remind students that all capstones are Double Graded, as stated in the guidelines: “Grading of the final project will be done by the supervisor and another examiner independently and the final grade will be the average of the two grades or as mutually determined by the supervisor and examiner. If the two grades differ by more than two grade steps or a mutually satisfactory grade cannot be determined, a third examiner will be appointed by the Head of Studies (or the Divisional Director, if the HOS is the original supervisor/examiner) to assess the project and determine the final grade in consultation with the Divisional Director or HOS.”

Giving feedback

Providing feedback throughout the capstone process can be a powerful motiving factor for your capstone advisee. Timely and constructive feedback at critical junctures in the process is best. Effective feedback on a proposal, early draft, or a chapter, which includes descriptions of strengths, weaknesses and suggestions for future iterations should align with the learning objectives of the Major and assessment criteria of the Major’s Capstone project. You want to communicate progress and direct subsequent effort in the thesis process. Be specific where possible because targeted feedback gives students prioritized information about how their performance does or does not meet the Capstone criteria so that they can improve their future performance (Ambrose, 2010).

Students are conducting the capstone as independent work. Therefore, reading multiple drafts is beyond the scope of the capstone advisor. Feedback can be targeted to specific aspect of the research without taking away from the self-regulating nature of the work.

The student should receive final summative feedback from their capstone advisor. You can coordinate with your Head of Study and colleagues in your Major to collaborate on when such feedback is released to the student. It is important that there is a final assessment of the work that is explained to the student, so as to bring the learning process to a close.

Prepared by Director Nancy Gleason

Further reading

1. Understanding the Capstone Experience Through the Voices of Students (Patsy Tinsley McGill The Journal of General Education, Volume 61, No. 4)

This paper provides an overview of the purposes of the capstone within the goals of undergraduate education, as well as student opinions about their capstone experiences. Key takeaways that can be obtained from this paper include what students expect from faculty in terms of support, how they would prefer their capstone experiences to be structured, what they might learn from their capstone experiences and how they value the knowledge and skills gained from the capstone.

2. Assessing Student Learning Outcomes and Documenting Success through a Capstone Course (Paul E. Sum; Steven Andrew Light Political Science and Politics, Vol. 43, No. 3)

This paper provides concrete suggestions on how a capstone course can be designed to assess student learning and evaluate if university learning goals are being achieved. A political science course is used as an example of how a mixture of classroom exercises and assessment methods can help improve critical thinking, written communication and oral communication amongst students. The paper also provides examples of how assessment standards for a capstone can be written.

3. Examiners’ reports on theses: Feedback or assessment? (Vijay Kumar and Elke Stracke, Journal of English for Academic Purposes, Vol. 10)

This paper analyzes six examiners’ reports to gain insights into the connection and/or potential disjunction between assessment and feedback in examiners’ thesis reports. Although the reports examined were assessments of postgraduate theses, the conclusion that feedback is critical to student success after graduation, as well as the suggestion that examiners “embrace more willingly their dual role as assessor and feedback provider”, could be applicable to the undergraduate context.

4a. BioTAP: A Systematic Approach to Teaching Scientific Writing and Evaluating Undergraduate Theses (Julie Reynolds, Robin Smith, Cary Moskovitz and Amy Style, BioScience, Vol. 59, No. 10)

Responding to the push to engage more undergraduates in research, the authors of this paper created BioTAP, a teaching and assessment tool. This tool includes a rubric for articulating departmental expectations and a guide to the drafting-feedback-revision process that is modeled after the structure of a professional scientific peer review. The tool can also be adapted for other disciplines, and the paper includes a section that addresses making changes to the tool to meet different goals in other disciplines.

4bWant to Improve Undergraduate Thesis Writing? Engage Students and Their Faculty Readers in Scientific Peer Review (Julie A. Reynolds and Robert J. Thompson, Jr., CBE – Life Sciences Education, Vol 10)

This paper provides evidence for improved performance of students through the use of BioTAP in a thesis-writing course titled “Writing in Biology”. The findings demonstrate that students enrolled in this course were more likely to earn highest honors than students who only worked on-on-one with their research supervisors and faculty readers. They also scored higher on assessed skills.

4c. “On Course” for Supporting Expanded Participation and Improving Scientific Reasoning in Undergraduate Thesis Writing (Jason E. Dowd, Christopher P. Roy, Robert J. Thompson, Jr. and Julie A. Reynolds, Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 92)

This paper demonstrates how the use of ChemTAP, the Chemistry Thesis Assessment Protocol, supported the push at Duke University to expand participation in the undergraduate honors thesis. Utilizing assessment methods and structured scaffolding explicitly designed to enhance scientific reasoning in writing, this tool is proven to have helped better distribute faculty resources amongst students and also significantly helped less prepared students better manage their thesis writing.

Prepared by Dean’s Fellow Joanna Lee