Expanding capstone outcomes through individual assessment within large teams

Case Studies

Institution:

Deakin University

Discipline:

STEM

Model/s of WIL activity:

Simulations

Level the activity is delivered:

Program-wide

Expanding capstone outcomes through individual assessment within large teams

Undergraduate and postgraduate students collaborate in large mock companies demonstrating achievement of degree learning outcomes.

The capstone experience marks the culmination of the degree and allows students to demonstrate the achievement of degree learning outcomes. Our capstone experience involves student-run companies and an assessment framework that focuses on qualitative outcomes. This assessment ensures that the level of achievement reflects a student’s competency, independent of the performance of other team members, across a set of criteria that align to the degree learning outcomes of each student. This novel capstone program intends to change students’ attitudes and behaviours, from focusing on project artefacts to focusing on personal and professional development.

Length of time the WIL activity has been/was in operation

4 years

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

Over the last few years, the School of IT has enhanced its final year capstone program with assessment and team organisation innovations. The intention behind this program is to change students’ attitudes and behaviours.

Unit assessment innovations have allowed group work assessment without group-based marks. Assessing students as individuals, allows for more authentic team-based project work that closely mimics industry practices as students can perform different types of work and be acknowledged for it. Assessment involves students presenting a portfolio of evidence demonstrating their degree learning outcomes, showcasing their capabilities, and reflecting on their achievements. A holistic rubric linking grade criteria to developmental levels encourages and rewards students for engaging in high-order tasks and personal reflections and is used for final grading. 

This assessment structure has been an enabling factor in the shift to a company model, with students in companies of 120 students with dynamic and complex team structures. The program consists of a sequence of two units. The first unit sees students join a company as junior members, where they work under the direction and support of the senior students. When students return to the second capstone unit, they fill the leading roles in the company to advance the company, recruit and mentor junior students, and develop and deliver new or enhanced IT projects and products. The IT projects and products the companies work on are commissioned by industry and academics, with students working with product owners to develop and deliver the right solutions.

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

Students: authentic experience for applying industry-relevant knowledge and skills in a safe and supportive environment. Agency to decide what skills to develop and how to demonstrate learning. Better understanding of technical and social expectations at work.

Academics: opportunity to verify impact of their teaching across the degree and identify gaps.

School: opportunity to disseminate good assessment and feedback practice as most academic staff within the School of IT work in capstone program at some point

Industry: opportunity to work with students through projects and provide feedback on students’ skills and needs.

Community: promotion of personal responsibility, inclusion, collaboration and belonging. 

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

Assessment involves a portfolio that evidences degree learning outcomes, showcases capabilities, and includes reflection on achievements. Formative tasks guide and support student learning, helping to ensure that final submissions align with grade aspirations. Students aiming for High Distinctions present at two panel interviews, one mid-teaching period aimed at providing feedback and helping them see this as a supportive process, and the final presentation where they put forward their case supported by their portfolio of evidence. Final assessments include student’s reflections against each of their degree learning outcomes and a holistic rubric that captures capabilities and attitudes at different developmental levels.

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders?

The capstone program provides a checkpoint, showcasing student capabilities, interests, and highlighting gaps in their degree. This has, and will continue to, provide valuable insights for curriculum enhancement. 

As students can propose initiatives across the program, students’ voice has become more apparent. Inclusion and addressing assessment bias have been strong themes this past teaching period. Student voice reflects our broader society and ensures the program remains relevant.

Industry representatives are being integrated into the program and involved in mentoring student leaders to guide company outcomes. Their feedback informs the design of our program, ensuring graduates develop the skills they require.

How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula? Include how it incorporates the preparation, implementation and reflection/debriefing phases of WIL.

Students are informed of capstone, placements and WIL experiences during orientation. Career education is further expanded on in strategic units. Students observe and engage with capstone companies in the unit that leads into the capstone program, with high achieving students being encouraged to undertake intern positions within the companies. Two capstone units bring together final year students from all Bachelor and Master degrees in the School. Students join as junior members in the first unit, moving into senior roles in the second unit. Reflections against each degree learning outcome are embedded as part of the assessment in both units.

Describe how the case study is informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship.

A problem-based learning (PBL) capstone experience allows students to apply the concepts learned in the classroom, further develop their skills, work collaboratively and develop adaptability, essential to their professional life (Bastarrica et al., 2017). PBL experiences have a strong impact on affective learning outcomes (Paasivaara et al., 2018) with positive impact on students’ attitudes towards Software Engineering topics such as Agile practices, project planning and technical challenges. The rubric guiding our students is informed by Kegan’s Constructive Developmental Theory (Kegan, 1994), which describes the development of adults holistically. Our rubrics include both, cognitive and affective outcomes explicitly.

What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

Going forward, the company model makes it possible to integrate a wider range of disciplines within the capstone program, beyond just IT students. Incorporating students from other areas would help provide a richer and more authentic experience, across multi-disciplinary teams. The strength of the model is that it can work for any degree, with students working toward their degree learning outcomes, and can work with complex team structures such as where groups can change over time and where students may participate in more than a single group. Industry will continue to guide and connect with students through the capstone program.

 

Case Study Leaders

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

Ms Laura Tubino

Lecturer Curriculum Design, Deakin University

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

A/Prof. Andrew Cain

Associate Head of School, Learning, Deakin University

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

Prof Jean-Guy Schneider

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

Mr Jesse Mcmeikan

Manager, Industry Projects, Deakin University

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

Dr Dhananjay Thiruvady

Senior Lecturer, IT Industry Projects, Deakin University