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Modernizing the Capstone Project Course
Course Development in Canvas (LMS)

Learning Objectives 

The Capstone course is intended to provide students with an industry-relevant project experience. The learning objectives for this online course include being able to (1) identify appropriate tools in the learner's field of study relevant to their project, (2) apply skills and tools learned from their academic studies to this industry, research, or community project, and reflect on their validity, (3) develop recommendations to improve a product design or process, and (4) demonstrate effective communication skills for their industry. 


  • Our students are attending engineering and design classes online and in-person, full-time and part-time, with a diversity in educational and career experiences. 

  • Each student in the capstone course is matched to a faculty adviser that can provide technical and project management support throughout the course. These advisers would be affected by any changes in the current course. 

  • Program Directors require that the students in their program take this capstone course as a requirement for graduation, and have influence over what should be included in or removed from the course. 

  • Each of these projects has an external sponsor, whether in industry, in a lab, in the community, etc. Changes in the course may affect a sponsor's willingness to participate in the program. 


Learning Theory

This course is grounded in Experiential Learning Theory (Kolb, 1984), where students learn by doing. Students seek out a concrete experience that will enable them an opportunity to demonstrate (1) their command of previous coursework and (2) an actual improvement over current state conditions (or provide evidence of the potential for improvement). Once engaged, they should have an opportunity to reflect on the experience they are having, conceptualize how they would implement their learnings in the workplace, and then actively try out what they have learned by continuing to engage in "doing" the experience. 

Design and Development

In approaching the redesign of this course, I started by analyzing the existing course to see where there were opportunities for improvement. I conducted interviews with our Subject Matter Experts to determine the prior knowledge of our learners, mapped the learning outcomes to the existing course assessments, and included key stakeholders in needs assessment for updating learning objectives and course content.

Key takeaways were that there was room for growth in a couple of areas: 

  • Students were not realizing the importance of (1) finding a suitable experience early enough in their program to be able to propose a project idea in time for their last semester and (2) having this project scope be appropriately defined so as to fit in a single semester. 

  • Students were lacking opportunities for practicing reflection and multiple modes of communication.


Based on these takeaways, I was able to redesign key learning components and course assessments to include elements of self-reflection and peer-to-peer reflection and feedback. Additionally, I provided more flexibility in modes of assignment deliverables to reflect the differences in industry-relevant communications. 


The course was developed to be delivered in the Learning Management System (LMS) Canvas. The course layout in Canvas was designed to be as simple as possible while being effective; Learners need to be able to easily find the syllabus and any assignments and due dates. Since project milestone deliverables and discussions were the primary assessments, these were linked to buttons on the main page in the course. (The html editor was used to add these buttons and make other formatting improvements.) Videos covering various topics were created using Camtasia. Special attention was paid to making the course accessible to learners, especially choosing fonts, colors, and media that would engage the learner but not overwhelm. 


Evaluation and Post-project Reflection

The course has been delivered several times in its updated format, implementing feedback each semester for continued improvement. Students and other stakeholders have reacted positively to the course experience. After the initial offering, there was feedback that the course now contained too much work, so I went back to a mapping exercise to make sure that each assignment had a specific purpose towards reaching the learning goals. At that time, it was determined that a second presentation at the midpoint of the semester didn't map to any unaddressed learning objectives, and the assignment was removed. Since this modification, there hasn't been any other feedback indicating the course has too much work. 

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