Capstone Input Needed!

Hey EMU members:

So in the meetings for the Undergrad Studies Committee, we’ve ben trying to hash out what the new Capstone system will look like. Associate Dean Ted Tarkow gave a November deadline for deciding this, and we highly doubt we’ll meet that deadline, so chances are things will remain the same this year and the changes will go into effect next year.

Anyway, we want your input. I’ve listed some of the options we’ve discussed below, and I’d greatly appreciate any input. You can comment on one option or more, or all if you’re really ambitious. You can even borrow my “hell yes, yes, meh, no, hell no” grading system if you’d like, and rate the options accordingly.

What the Capstone may look like options:

  • English keeps the capstone as it is (where students sign up for one of a few designated capstone courses on specific topics)
  • Any 4000 course counts as a capstone whatever its content
  • A larger number of 4000 courses count as capstones, each with research component
  • Students can designate a “capstone by contract” (like honors by contract)
  • making the 4000-level creative writing workshops (1 in each genre) capstones

Also some questions to consider:

  1. If you were taking a course as a capstone, would it make a difference to
    your learning experience if most of the members of the course were not
    taking it as a capstone (thus not a group experience of the same kind)?
  2. What matters more, the quality/intensity of the capstone experience, or the
    convenience of being able to choose from a wider variety of capstone
    options?
  3. Do you think it is important for all English majors to write a research
    paper before they graduate?
  4. If we were to broaden the capstone options, what type of courses do you think would work best as capstones:
  • period or movement studies (i.e. Romanticism, Modernism, etc)
  • major author studies
  • genre studies
  • ethnic literature
  • women’s literature
  • or some other kind

Your input is much appreciated! You can either comment on here or email me, Jaclyn Herr, at jmh8xf@mail.missouri.edu. Thanks!

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14 thoughts on “Capstone Input Needed!

  1. I think there should be a larger number of capstone courses. Working in the English office on campus, it’s become aware to me that, typically, there are a number of students stuck in a capstone class they do not they will particularly enjoy. The lack of options leads to the most problems, really.

  2. My capstone was last Spring, and there was no research paper. Instead, we built a Wiki site to work as an online anthology for Victorian short fiction. Students in the class were responsible for finding a story and researching it while considering how it related to the larger themes of the course presented in class. We also were placed on different “teams” to build the Wiki.

    I think my experience with this sort of capstone was more valuable than a course in which there would be discussion and a final research paper. The professor allowed us to work in an environment that prepared us for the future, be it graduate school or the job market. I have online publishing skills that I can place on a resume, in addition to a final project that (hopefully) will be put to use.

    Most of the class was graduating that spring, and so the professor brought in numerous individuals who were once English majors to speak about their career path, including what they are doing and what they have done since graduating college. I think that experience was helpful in allowing us to understand all the different paths we could take with our degree, and I don’t think that would have happened if the course was mostly non-capstone students.

    As far as the restructuring, I think yes, it needs to happen. I like the idea of having a 4000-level creative writing course for a capstone. I think this works with the idea of offering more capstones to prevent what Cary said, students stuck in a capstone they don’t particularly enjoy. By the time you reach your capstone, you should be excited for the course since it’s the climax of the degree you’ve been working toward for four years. Diversity always helps.

    1. Do you think having the final creative writing course as a capstone is making things too easy for creative writers? That’s one of the dilemmas we’re facing. Also, the fear is that we think all students should have at least some work with research and literary criticism in their capstone, and this avenue would make it to where creative writers no longer had that obligation. We don’t want students simply taking an easy route to graduation.

      1. I personally believe that there should be a creative writing minor at Mizzou. I am in my fifth creative writing course this semester and honestly am upset I have not had more opportunities to take writing courses. I think it would be extremely beneficial to be able to take more than three classes in each sequence because writing is a continuous learning process. I tend to resent the implication that creative writing courses are “easy A classes” because when students take them seriously, they are probably the most difficult classes on campus (not in terms of earning an A, but in terms of earning an education). Also, every creative writing course I have taken has had a small “research element” in the sense that we are forced to expand and learn from professional writers. I consider myself to be an English major because that is the closest major to my chosen field, not because I realistically believe literature will advance my career goals in the future. I think a creative writing capstone should be developed as a fourth course in a given sequence as a way to build portfolios and make considerable growth as a writer.

      2. As someone who is about to graduate with a creative writing emphasis, I would have to say that I think allowing the use of the advanced workshop as a capstone is handing CW students an easy way out. To be honest, while the workshops are very helpful and were a valuable experience, they weren’t particularly challenging, which I think a capstone course ought to be. Additionally, I think that the research component is important, as it acts as something of the culmination a skill which we’ve been building since English 1000. Even the creative portfolio option for the senior thesis includes a component of research/reflection, and I think that is important to have in addition to the portfolio.

        As far as what I think should happen with the capstone experience, I like the idea of a capstone-by-contract concept, wherein the student could designate any 4000 level English course as a capstone with an added research component, much like the way honors-by-contract works. This would ensure that students were interested in their capstone course while still necessitating that they put in the additional effort which I think should be a part of a capstone course.

        To answer the specific questions you have posed, I think that the group experience is a valuable one, as it facilitates discussion of issues specific to students preparing for graduation and what comes after, and because it ensures that the students in the class are dedicated to the course topic (assuming a broader range of courses available as capstones); of course this is problematic with capstone-by-contract, but I would tend to think that most 4000 level courses would have this dynamic to a certain degree anyway. I don’t necessarily think you can place quality over diversity or vice versa in terms of what is most important in a capstone, and I don’t think that you should have to. Quality should be a given, especially in an upper level course, and of course student interest is imperative or else the experience won’t be a valuable one. I’ve already noted that I do think research is an important component of a capstone course, provided (again) that the topic is of interest to the student.

        If specific courses were to be designated as capstones as opposed to working by contract, I think it would be important to select a variety of courses in order to appeal to the broadest range of interests as possible. One option might be to designate capstones not on, say, Romanticism or Modernism or a specific author, etc. but rather more broadly on “period and movement studies” or “major authors” and so on, so that the general focus of the course would apply to all students but each could select an area of specific interest.

  3. I agree that there should be a broader range of capstone options. The courses I have learned the most in over the course of my education have been courses that allowed me the freedom to focus on topics I am interested in. I feel that a lot of English courses at Mizzou are a little too structured around instructor preferences, which is fitting for low-level classes, but not as much for upper-level courses.

    To answer another of your questions, I don’t personally think a research project needs to be associated with an English degree.

    I am also curious as to how these possible changes would affect students in the Honors College? Can all English capstones be taken for a student hoping to graduate with honors as an English major?

    I have really enjoyed the opportunity to take courses honors by contract, so I think this would be interesting as a capstone option, but I think it would only work well if students were given some guidance by a capstone adviser or if there was a way of contacting other students taking capstones by contract.

    1. The honors capstone will still be a two-semester capstone experience and will probably not be set up in the same way as the non-honors capstone. There will also probably be an application process to take an honors capstone.

      Why don’t you think a research paper should be required? The rational behind having a required research component is to make sure students are learning how to do effective literary criticism and learn more about the research process, so that in Graduate school they will have those skills.
      -Jaclyn

      1. My answer to your question is probably best explained by the post I just wrote about the creative writing option. I personally do not plan to enter graduate school. Or, if I do, it will be for an MFA program, not a literature program. I guess I just don’t feel that research is the most effective way for all students to learn and grow. I learn best through discussion and through writing. But that is strictly a personal opinion.

  4. I’m currently in one of the honors capstones. We have the same problem in my class that everyone seems to complain about in the regular capstones: many students are frustrated by the specificity of topic (over which we had no choice, because the course description did not appear on blackboard prior to registration). I agree with what the others have said, that the best change would be to offer more diversity of capstones, in particular broader “period” capstones or genre studies capstones. Courses with a broader focus could allow students to follow their own interests within that period or genre for the research component. At the same time, there would be common ground for all the research papers, as literary criticism specific to that period or genre could apply to what most students were writing. We don’t necessarily need more capstone options, just broader ones. If a capstone is really meant to be the culminating experience that brings together everything we’ve learned as English majors, does it really make sense for it to have a narrow, instructor-designed focus?

    Something no one seems to have mentioned yet: What if, separately from the regular option, the honors option became capstone by contract? As I understand it, that would mean students looking to graduate with honors in English could get any 4000-level English course approved as their capstone, provided they were willing to put in the extra work to write, say, a 15-page research paper in addition to regular classwork. This process of doing individual research for a course of their choosing would prepare honors students for the self-motivated research they will need to do for their senior honors thesis the next semester.

    I would actually not recommend that the 4000 level creative writing courses be designated as capstones, both because of their focus on workshop rather than research and because students often take them well before their senior year. I took mine as a first semester junior, but I could have taken it even as a sophomore! Unless the class comes pretty much at the end of our undergraduate studies, I don’t think it can really function as a capstone.

  5. I think an option where more 4000 level courses are offered as capstones (in order to increase the chances that students can select something they are actually interested in) would be the best option.

    These courses could be offered as “option capstones,” so seniors wanting it to count as their capstone experience could enter into a contract with the individual professor and the dept., etc., to complete a research component and complete the capstone. Then underclassmen still interested in the course topic could still take the class, but without fear of an intensive research aspect if they aren’t yet prepared for it.

    Any 4000 level course or the 4000 level courses in the creative writing emphases shouldn’t automatically count as a capstone. There needs to be a more deliberate choice process involved, and we can’t expect all 4000 level courses to include the amount of research a capstone should have.

    I keep coming back to research: Yes, I think every English major should have to work in research IN THEIR SENIOR YEAR. It’d be silly to expect to graduate with an English degree and avoid research. Can’t be done. Shouldn’t be done. And even understanding that every student isn’t on a track to grad school in English, research skills are excellent skills to have and are very valuable in almost any market or career. When is it not important to be able to take in and assess information from various sources before drawing some kind of informed conclusion about a subject?

    One of the strengths of the capstone system as it is now – at least in the honors track – is that each student has the benefits of a group experience, with discussion and collaboration and the professor’s instruction in how to do research, in addition to an individually driven and executed research project. Both components are key to an experience “capping” a college academic career. It has to happen at the end, because it should be a culmination of your skills so far.

    Not everyone does the honors track, obviously, but it’s a great set up. When revising the whole capstone system, it might be beneficial to look to the honors track as a model for what works and what doesn’t.

  6. I like the idea of capstones with options other than the traditional research paper. I don’t plan on using my degree in English in the field of academia; I plan on going into publishing. It would be more useful to me to do something like Sarah said she did, rather than something that would mainly be useful if I planned on publishing in academic journals.

  7. The capstone should prepare students for whatever they are doing after graduation. If that means literary research, students should have that option. But for most students, literary research is not going to be something they need to know once they get their diploma. Research skills are important, but researching things like jobs, the economy, and graduate programs are a lot more useful than finding criticism. I think creative writing and literature studies should be options for capstones, but not everyone needs to perfect those skills before going off into the real world. Working on websites, practicing job interviews, and improving resumes would help a lot more English majors prepare for life after graduation. It would be great if the English department provided those opportunities to graduating students.

  8. I would like to see a capstone option that gave students a more “practical”, non-academic experience. A very small minority of English graduates will pursue graduate school (it actually seems to be actively discouraged within the department) and so a capstone that introduced some practical application (I’m thinking grant writing, writing copy, publishing, editorial, etc.) would be extremely useful to those of us about to hit the job market. Sure, English is Humanities major, but I don’t think that necessarily means that the skills acquired from the degree can’t be applied to the real world and I don’t think the department should flinch away from the business of helping its graduates do business, if you follow me. I know of other departments, even with in A&S, that are much more supportive of their graduates in terms of preparation for job placement. At the end of the day, I just don’t think a research paper is going to help the majority of us pay the rent.

    As far as the traditional research capstone, I agree that the courses are far too specific. But! here is the worst part: You have no idea what the topic will be until you are already registered. It simply boggles my mine that that information can’t just be posted onto myzou. Perhaps this is only a slip-up this year, but it has meant that a good number of people are in capstones with focuses completely uninteresting to them. It’s a bummer for them, the classmates who are interested, and the professor. Even the best students will drag their heels a bit if they are required to do a lot of work on a subject wholly uninspiring to them.

  9. I definitely think the option for capstone-by-contract would be a great option, it would allow for those of us who already have an idea about how we want to specify our work to do something directly in connection with that.

    I also don’t feel like being in a class where other student’s weren’t in it as a capstone would be detrimental. My current capstone doesn’t feel altogether that much different from any other upper-level course I’ve taken. Maybe if you were to sign up for a course as a capstone that wasn’t specifically designed to be a capstone, you could make an agreement for a slightly more in-depth research or longer assignment.

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