A Bridge from Course to Capstone: The Final Methods Paper


Leslie Reynard

Communication Studies

Washburn University


Reynard, L. (2014). A Bridge from Course to Capstone: The Final Methods Paper. Washburn University.


This assignment, given in the qualitative methods course, was designed to serve as a bridge to the research-centered capstone required of Communication Studies students in their senior year. Its aim is to help them develop a basic plan for their capstone research project in terms of topic, methodological framework, IRB consideration, core theories, and also soft skills such as goal setting and realistic time management.

Background and Context

The Communication Studies Department at Washburn initiated a research-centered Capstone in 2011. As the faculty member charged with developing and teaching this Capstone and also as the CN assessment person, I undertook a discipline-wide research project that aimed to identify generalizable standards for senior projects and Capstones in Communication Studies.

The goal of this research was to develop a Capstone course at my institution that would reasonably direct students to demonstrate their achievement of major learning objectives and ability to apply these in an original project. This plan for a discipline-wide survey was awarded an Advancing the Discipline grant from the National Communication Association. The Capstone course I developed incorporated many of the objectives and strategies that appeared to be most commonly embraced by respondents to the NCA study.

In terms of applying assessment feedback, I found that my Capstone students would benefit from scaffolded and interrelated projects in prior courses. The Methods course assignment which follows is oriented to providing a day one foundation for a Capstone that requires an original scholarly research project.

This assignment permits assessment of student proficiency in the following areas:

Specialized Knowledge points to learning outcomes that reflect specific areas of study, the terminology, theories, tools, literature, complex problems, and methods that characterize the field or major.

Intellectual Skills encompasses five crosscutting competencies that should transcend disciplinary boundaries: analytic inquiry, use of information resources, engaging diverse perspectives, quantitative fluency [awareness of qualitative methods of inquiry], and communication fluency.

Applied Learning focuses on what students can do with that they know, as demonstrated through their addressing unscripted problems in a variety of settings, both academic and beyond, bringing together theory and practice.


In facilitating the first two semesters of the Capstone and mentoring students in their projects in subsequent semesters, I found that students ability to apply the theoretical learning they took from the curriculum in a one-semester senior project needed to be augmented by related tasks and assignments in their junior-level courses. My experience with our senior Capstone students demonstrated that the majority begin the Capstone semester with no workable ideas as to topic, methodological framework, IRB consideration, core theories, or awareness of how quickly 14 weeks will pass.

My objective in teaching Qualitative Methods using this bridge to Capstone assignment as the final paper was to help them develop their basic plan for their research project prior to beginning their final semester. In the absence of such a foundational study which allows them to enter their Capstone with basic thinking and planning in place, it is likely to be Week Four or Week Five before that is accomplished, especially when IRB approval will be required.

Thus, students also benefit by getting a sense of the ‘soft’ skills (including goal-setting, realistic time management, and task-prioritizing) that are required, in addition to academic skills, to successfully complete a demanding Capstone research project in less than four months. This can alleviate the stress of an unrealistic senior-year timeline and allow the students to find some enjoyment in doing creative research and writing.

Use of Assignment in Courses:

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The submitted assignment, a Preliminary Research Proposal, is the last paper that Qualitative Methods students completed this semester. Students had three weeks to complete it, from Week Fourteen through Week Sixteen of the semester. The research, reflection, and writing was supplemented and supported by two round-table discussions in regular class periods during Weeks Fourteen and Fifteen; students reported a high level of satisfaction with these brain-storming sessions.

This paper is designed to meet the requirements of the Capstone Proposal assignment. Thus, it can serve as the first paper they will be required to submit in Week One or Week Two of students’ Capstone semester.

Usefulness of Assignment:

I believe that this assignment will be beneficial to many stakeholders:

Students certainly will find it useful to think through and develop the foundation of a major research project a semester or two prior to the actual senior culminating experience course. It is easy to underestimate how much time it will take before a good idea can be transformed into a solid, well-researched, scholarly paper. It is also useful to them in developing the ‘soft’ skills briefly discussed above. The approximately three-week timeline for the major work needed to complete this paper mirrors the maximum amount of time they might be given to complete these tasks in a senior Capstone.

Faculty who teach courses leading to and supporting Capstones may find this assignment useful, not only to serve as a Capstone foundation but also to serve as assessment of teaching-learning in prior courses. The assignment has room for adjustment as to breadth, depth, and rigor. Faculty who teach senior culminating experiences “and I speak from my own experience with these” will welcome the opportunity to mentor students in higher levels of research, reflection, and writing when students begin the semester with a well-developed plan in place.

Assessment liaisons and leaders may see a benefit to using this form of cross-course integration or hybridization of SLO’s and methods, as a reinforcement of elements of a departmental or institutional assessment plan.

The planning and critical thinking, research, writing (incorporating both scholarly and report conventions), discussion and peer critique elements permit assessment along the DQP dimensions listed above. Additionally, the skills and strategies developed in completing this project are transferable to professional application.

Timeline for Assignment:

Week Twelve: Determine your topic. Review qualitative methods studied to date and determine which approach works best with your topic. Be able to provide a rationale for your choices. Begin research, annotated bibliography

Week Thirteen: Determine possible theoretical framework. Discussion of plan to date. Critique, brainstorm, revise

Week Fourteen: Further discussion of plan, especially rationale for significance. Critique, brainstorm, revise further

Weeks Fifteen and Sixteen: Complete research, writing, and submission of final draft.

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  1. NILOA_Rubrics_Final_Reynard.pdf