Sociology Program Capstone
All students are expected to complete a senior capstone research project under the direction of a faculty mentor. This capstone project expands upon and integrates work completed in previous courses and provides students with an opportunity to apply methods of scholarly and/or action research to issues and problems of their own choosing. The results of the research project study are shared through ePortfolios on a virtual “commons” used for publication-presentation and critique open to all. Students create the ePortfolio from a Sociology Capstone Template. During the first five weeks of the semester, students use journals and ePortfolios to draft, share and comment on:
- Reflections on their preparation for the capstone and how they will use it to transition to the next stage of their career;
- An academic portfolio
- A Statement of Purpose;
- A CV (contact with Career Services is highly recommended)
In Week #5, students begin work on their research project. The intent is for students to select a topic from a prior course. Because of the newness of the program and very small number of students, this practice remains experimental but has already resulted in several changes to assignments in upper division courses so as to ensure that students have suitable projects from prior coursework that can be developed into the fuller research project. Beginning in Week #7, students must communicate weekly progress on their research project to classmates in a short Power Point presentation and with their mentor via written drafts and synchronous communication (telephone, Skype or Blackboard Collaboarate).
The SPS Online BA in Sociology was launched in Fall 2011 and currently has about 60 students. The program design was based on a model suggested by an American Sociological Association Task Force on Undergraduate Education. The program learning objectives were derived from those culled together by representatives from the discipline. Specific skills are staged within courses at different levels in the program. The program thereby moves away from the ferris-wheel model (take a course and then take anything) to one in which the serious — and intentional — student builds skills as he or she progresses from 200 to 400 level courses. There is such a thing as economic reality, and we have had to maintain enrollments while building the program from scratch. An important anchor has been the course eportfolio templates, which engage faculty in the process and make teaching and learning both intentional and visible. The Academic Director has worked closely with each course site creator to ensure that specific and appropriate level program learning objectives are built into courses and addressed by assignments and assessments that are peer reviewed at the course level.
The Online BA in Sociology Program was conceptualized and implemented while the Academic Director, Barbara R. Walters, participated, first in Making Connections and then in Connect to Learning. While she is the primary author of the eportfolio practice reported here, both the program and the project were developed in tandem with the initiation and implementation of the SPS Eportfolio Program. Credit and much appreciation are due to Bret Eynon, Trent Batson (AAEEBL), Jeff Yan, William Bernhardt, Ellen Smiley, Randy Bass, Jennifer Sparrow, Jordi Getman, Howard Wach and others at C2L, most especially the work of Susan Kahn at IUPUI, and, the energetic and dedicated sociology faculty and students. Earlier important influences while serving as Co-Director of the Kingsborough Community College Learning Communities, include the profound influence of Rebecca Mlynarczyk. Credit and thanks is also due to other faculty leaders in the early days of learning communities at Kingsborough, not least long-term teaching partners Kate Garretson and Marcia Babbitt. Last, and perhaps most importantly, much credit and thanks goes to George Otte and to Sarah Morgano, who is deservedly featured prominently throughout the CUNY SPS site.
The Sociology Program Committee consisted of William Divale, Charlyn Hilliman, B. Loerinc Helft, Sara Martucci, Kimberley Robinson, Lacey Sischo and Barbara Walters, who devoted considerable time and attention to the project. Keith Roberts at Hanover College in Indiana provided advice and suggestions on the Sociology Program development. And, finally, Andrew Beveridge at Queens College, Joanne Miller at Queens College and David Halle at UCLA served on the Sociology Program Curriculum Committee, provided invaluable input into the curriculum design.
Description of Practice
The Sociology Program Capstone Eportfolio Seminar is taken in the senior year of the Online BA in Sociology Program. Students in the seminar:
- Reflect upon, integrate and communicate learning about course work in the Sociology Program, making connections within the capstone, to earlier courses, and to their personal life and career goals:
- Specific knowledge gained in each course;
- Strengths and weaknesses in their preparation for the capstone;
- Strengths and weaknesses in transitioning to the world of work and/or additional academic training.
- Create, rewrite, revise and perfect a “Statement of Purpose” for career or graduate school admission.
- Develop at least one résumé.
- Write, rewrite, revise and edit a sociological research report:
- Select a topic/paper of interest from prior or current coursework for development and/or revision
- Sharpen the focus to frame a research question;
- Create and revise a literature review;
- Locate, collect, and analyze appropriate data;
- Summarize findings;
- Write a research report in basic ASA format.
- Reflect upon and write about:
- The role of sociological research in organizational decision-making;
- How they will use the capstone as an important piece in their transition to the world of work or graduate school.
Faculty organize the work into weekly units and respond on a weekly basis. During the first five weeks of the semester, faculty communicate in private tutoring sessions with each student. Advisors and the Manager of Career Services consult with students as they develop career plans and/or plans for graduate school. Peers respond and comment to each others’ work. For the research project, which is quite long, students are assigned to pairs and required to comment on the work of their partner using specific criteria.
What kinds of knowledge and understanding does this practice seek to help students construct? Please be specific. In what ways are these understandings integrative (as defined above)?
Students are required to reflect specifically on the AA&U VALUE integrative learning rubric and to write both reflections and a statement of purpose as they review where they were when they began the program, where they are now and where they hope to go next. The research project is a very important piece. Students must take the substantive and methodological tools they have learned and apply this to a study of their own design.
How does the practice design the communication of understanding? What are the students communicating? How does it employ or draw on the ePortfolio?
The project requires students to be in touch with their advisor, Career Services, the Academic Director of the Program and their peers. Much of the social pedagogy takes place inside the Blackboard course site, as students “rehearse” and comment on first drafts of each others’ statements and reflection. They also comment on later drafts that are placed on the eportfolio. Students are communicating what they know about sociology and how they intend to apply it. Especially as students transition to the eportfolio, they become keenly aware that the eportfolio is a public space for communication to potential admissions and career officers.
What audiences are involved? How does the nature of this audience shape students’ communication? What kind of interaction is involved? How does the social interaction (communication, exchange, sharing, audience, different perspectives) seek to change or deepen students’ understandings?
Students control their eportfolio settings; however, they are encouraged to think carefully about potential audiences: faculty, advisors, career placement professionals, admissions officers, peers and faculty in other programs, including our graduate programs. We have had only a few students, but the audience issues have precipitated much deeper reflection than initially anticipated, many revisions and the use of the hidden folders.
Reflection: How does the practice involve reflection? What reflective prompts or processes are employed? What aspect(s) of the Rodgers/Dewey reflective framework does this practice engage?
Students are required to write a minimum of two reflections: one at the beginning and one at the end of the semester. The reflective prompts require students to engage specifically with the AACU Integrative Learning rubric and with Dewey’s criteria for reflection as outlined by Carol Rogers: making meaningful connections between experiences, ideas and goals; reflecting in a systematic way through the construction/completion of an academic portfolio that reviews course work; sharing their reflections with classmates and then the wider SPS community; interactions with the instructor that reinforce values of intellectual and personal growth.
Inquiry: In what ways does this practice involve inquiry? To what extent does it help students examine themselves as learners? To value their own lives and experiences in their learning?
Connecting the reflections, statement of purpose, CV and capstone research provides an opportunity for students to integrate their sociological knowledge with their own personal and intellectual goals. Students also read C.Wright Mills, “The Sociological Imagination,” which frames the way in which personal problems become public issues and how the process is grounded in sociological research methods.
Impact and Evidence
It’s too soon for any kind of formal assessment. We have had only eleven students take the capstone to date. However, there are many qualitative insights; these mostly focus the exceptional quality of our students and their work. There are, of course, “average” students, but the high quality of the student work suggests that the sociology bar has been raised. Moreover, recent requests for letters of support from students who have already graduated make clear the functional significance of the eportfolios. We can add links to these letters and easily write detailed letters of support regarding the work of students who graduated in earlier semesters (or years). The eportfolios attached below capture the work of our best graduates. (We have their permission to share the work.) James Davis, one of our first graduates, was selected for our first eportfolio showcase based on an earlier SOC 301 eportfolio. As was the case for all students in the capstone, I learned to interact with the whole person through the eportfolio process – working carefully with him as he transformed a personal issue into a public statement through his systematic capstone research. We continue to work on his career direction as he transitions from the role of “singer” to self-supporting professional, most likely – at this point – through an advanced professional degree. The eportfolios of Ana Sierra, Angela Isaac, and Nancy Barreiro taken together provide evidence not only of the individual student work, but also of the quality education students receive in our program. Especially Angela Isaac’s eportfolio shows the way she uses her eportfolio to showcase work for possible employment purposes.
Connections to other Polished Practices
The practice expands an earlier concept developed for our initial degree in Communication and Culture as part of our participation in Making Connections. The Online BA in Sociology Program is new and therefore the ePortfolio capstone is new. This summer the Academic Director will be presenting the Sociology Program Capstone ePortfolio project at a session at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Program. This will be the litmus test. We look forward to your comments for the obvious next step: shaping and communicating an assessment project that continues to serve the needs of our students but which also allows us to capture data on program learning objectives.