This Capstone Reflection assignment prompts students to reflect on their learning over the course of a full academic semester in which they have completed a substantial professional internship, as well as engaged in academic coursework and professional development programming. It provides an important artifact for the portfolio of work students assemble over the course of the semester. As such, it presents direct evidence for assessing Integrative Learning as framed by the Integrative Learning VALUE Rubric.
Background and Context
This assignment invites students to tell the story of their own growth and development over the course of a semester in which they engaged in an internship.
Specifically, this assignment arises from The Washington Center’s Academic Internship Program, which we often describe as an academic semester built around an internship. The internship is full time, Monday through Thursday for 15 weeks in the fall and spring and nine weeks in the summer. In addition, students also enroll in one traditional academic course, which is usually an upper-level elective and may or may not be within the field of the student’s major. Finally, students all engage in the LEAD Colloquium—a series of professional development workshops, professional arena explorations, and civic engagement activities.
Student Profile. The Washington Center serves approximately 1,200 students annually in the Academic Internship Program in Washington, D.C. All of these students complete this capstone reflection. The following profile reflects our most recent demographics.
- Our students come from approximately 400 partner universities around the country and 20+ countries around the world.
- Approximately 47% of our students are seniors in college, 40% are juniors, and 7% are sophomores.
- Our students come from diverse academic majors; the largest representations are from political science (20%), International Affairs (10%), Business and Accounting (10%), Criminal Justice (8%), and Journalism or Communications (7%)
- Students intern in a wide variety of professional organizations around Washington, D.C., including Congressional and administrative offices, local government agencies, nonprofit organizations and private and for-profit organizations from law firms to media organizations.
Learning Outcomes. Internships are usually highly unscripted experiences in which the learning is often emergent. What is more, the range of learning outcomes students can achieve through internships is quite broad. Given its timing at the end of this kind of experience, the Capstone Reflection provides direct evidence of Integrative Learning.
It is useful also to think of internships as informing learning pathways that might cut across multiple domains of the DQP (Grose 2017). This Capstone Reflection Assignment might articulate learning in multiple domains.
Because internships are work-based experiences, the Capstone Reflection Assignment will likely often speak to students’ development of skills in the Applied and Collaborative Learning category.
- Applied and Collaborative Learning. This domain of the DQP focuses on “the interaction of academic and non-academic settings and the corresponding integration of theory and practice.”
Additionally, depending upon the nature of the internship, the Capstone Reflection will likely also speak to proficiency developed in other domains of the DQP.
- Specialized Knowledge. Some internships explore the professional applications of the specialized skills and knowledge gained in the major with the goal of transferring that learning into the launch of a career.
- “Defines and explains the structure, styles and practices of the field of study using its tools, technologies, methods and specialized terms.”
- Intellectual Skills. Other internships explore professionalism in general apart from any vocational application of specialized knowledge. Learning to function in a professional workplace, then, explores the transfer of intellectual skills on campus to the workplace. The six intellectual skills in this domain of the DQP are described as “crosscutting” “proficiencies that transcend the boundaries of particular fields of study.” In the context of work, they inform all-purpose skills that are often described as the “soft skills” that are essential for functioning in today’s economy.
- Civic and Global Learning. Still other internships focus on work-based learning that immerses the student in a civic setting, whether local, national or international.
- “Collaborates with others in developing and implementing an approach to a civic issue, evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the process, and, where applicable, describes the result.”
As a reflection assignment, the Capstone Reflection will provide indirect evidence of these learning outcomes. Reflection, though, can often play an important role for students in clarifying and deepening the learning that might be more directly reflected in other artifacts in a portfolio or ePortfolio. Reflection is also an important skill for Integrative Learning.
This assignment is one of the final assignments in a portfolio of assignments that students complete over the course of the semester. It usually holds the place of an introduction to the rest of the portfolio.
The portfolio also contains several kinds of artifacts that serve potentially to enrich and support the narrative developed in the capstone essay. First, it contains work samples from the internship, as well as academic coursework from the semester. Second, it contains other reflection artifacts that relate directly to the internship experience itself. For instance, at midterm, students complete a self-reflection on their progress to date, which they review with their internship supervisor during a site visit by a supervising member of The Washington Center’s staff. Finally, the portfolio also contains assignments that the students complete for The Washington Center that help to prepare them to reflect at the end of the semester. One such assignment is an informational interview that explores the career path of someone in a field the students might wish to explore themselves (Grose & Williams 2017).
Assessment. Our assessment of this assignment has two levels. First, for the purpose of grading, we evaluate each Capstone Reflection with the grading rubric included here in the assignment library, which was designed with the leadership of LEAD Instructors Christopher Mesaros and Danielle Samsingh. This rubric is aligned with the AAC&U VALUE Rubric for Integrative Learning. Part of the rubric speaks to assignment-level expectations such as formatting, etc. The remaining areas speak to skills of integrative learning. For the expectations of grading, we designed our rubric to align the descriptors for an A-level performance with Milestone 3 on the AAC&U rubric.
Second, for the purpose of program evaluation, we rate all of the portfolios completed in the Academic Internship Program with our adaptation of the AAC&U VALUE Rubric for Integrative Learning (also included in this assignment library). The most important adaptations we made to this rubric served to broaden the descriptors to include work done beyond campus.
Since this is a part of a larger set of assignments that constitute a portfolio from the entire Academic Internship Program semester in Washington, D.C., our main strategy to improve the quality of the capstone reflections has been to adjust the other assignments scaffolded throughout the semester that provide the artifacts that serve, in part, as the basis or prompts for the reflection in the Capstone Reflection Assignment. This is an ongoing process of alignment as our program changes and develops from semester to semester.
Our experience to date has been that this is a strong assignment. Students tend to enjoy writing this reflection, as it tells the story of their own experiences and learning over the course of the semester and beyond. Our hope is to keep the assignment relatively open-ended so as to prompt reflections that are authentic to each student’s own experiences.
Grose, A. W. (2017). Internships, Integrative Learning and the Degree Qualifications Profile. (Occasional Paper No. 30). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NIILOA).
Grose, A. W. & Williams, S. (2017). Informational Interview Assignment. Washington, DC: The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars.
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