Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Transforming the Capstone: Transformative Learning as a Pedagogical Framework and Vehicle for Ethical Reflection in the Capstone Course

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Transforming the Capstone: Transformative Learning as a Pedagogical Framework and Vehicle for Ethical Reflection in the Capstone Course

Article excerpt

CAPSTONE CLASSES PROVIDE an ideal setting to present students with opportunities for professional development, self-reflection, and specialized improvements designed to incorporate the totality of their college experience-both in-and out-of the classroom-while connecting various aspects of this experience to skills desired by employers. Despite being identified as a highimpact practice by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (Brownwell & Swaner, 2010; Kuh, 2008), capstone classes (i.e., senior seminars) remain an understudied component of post-secondary education. "A surprising dearth of research exists regarding these [capstone] experiences at the student, institutional, and programming levels" (Padgett & Kilgo, 2011, p. 2). Therefore, the aim of faculty development is to "impart skills and knowledge that promote growth in regard to institutional and individual vitality, to foster understanding of the science of learning, and to build capacity towards providing state of the art instructional practices" (Behar-Horenstein, Garvan, Catalanotto, & Hudson-Vassell, 2014, p. 75). The capstone course, as a high-impact practice, should be examined as a viable option for institutions. However, if capstone courses are offered as a summative curriculum experience, the course should be aligned to program outcomes, and faculty should be trained to navigate the unique experience. This research provides an overview of one way faculty members can utilize the capstone class to provide students such skills and knowledge.

Capstone courses often serve as the culminating experience for students nearing the end of their college programs. As a result, the organization, assignments, disciplines, and learning objectives associated with capstone classes vary considerably across institutions and departments; therefore, a widely accepted definition for capstone experiences is lacking among scholarly research and across campuses (Bronwell & Swaner, 2010). Regardless, capstone courses are typically designed to bridge the gap as students "transition from the undergraduate student role to the post-baccalaureate roles of employee, graduate student, civic-minded community member, and/or lifelong learner" (Rowles, Koch, Hundley, & Hamilton, 2004, p. 1). As such, these courses, which are distinguished as a high-impact educational practice, offer an array of opportunities in the form of, among other things, written and/ or creative projects, original research, portfolios, self-reflection, and in-class discussion that allow students to make holistic sense of their education by applying and summarizing what they have learned throughout their program.

One particularly helpful theoretical context for developing a sustainable and appropriate capstone course is transformative learning. Transformative, or transformational, learning is a holistic vision for adult learning and a theoretical perspective on how adult learners understand, evaluate, and apply information (Dirkx, 1998). The learner progresses through the learning cycle, which leads to an eventual change in perception or worldview. Transformative learning involves a process of reinterpreting old experience, forming new expectations, and giving a new meaning and perspective to the old experience (Mezirow, 1991). As such, transformative learning represents a perfect complement or framework for a culminating capstone experience.

This study explores the role of transformative learning in the capstone class as a vehicle for reflection on personal and professional ethics. Students enrolled in a capstone class within the communication discipline served as participants, and data consists of student essays about ethics. The contents of this capstone course in communication, coupled with the assignments discussed in the article, provide an example of how to engage students so they critically think about the topic of ethics and how they will encounter ethical constructs in their postgraduation lives. …

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