Compared to researching and writing a thesis, the capstone process is shorter in duration and resulting pages. With capstone research the end is always in sight; however, reaching this goal involves highly accelerated, intensive research preparation, design, implementation, and completion. In short, you need to put in the required pre-research preparation to produce a capstone project worthy of a Harvard degree.
What should you consider about the project?
- Think about what you want to do when you graduate. You enrolled in Extension for a reason, with a goal; think about how your capstone will help you reach that goal, or get that ideal job. For example, what could you put in a portfolio or show to a potential employer, that will demonstrate to them that you have a specific skill set? Think about what you want to be doing in that job for that potential employer.
- There are many students, however, who want to do something radically different from what they are doing now. That’s also acceptable, but keep in mind that many of you are here to further your careers, so you want the time spent on your capstone to help you fulfill that goal.
- What didn’t you learn in your courses at Extension that you still want to learn? What do you want to learn more about? What kinds of classes did you enjoy, and what would hold your interest? For example, maybe you had a few classes in web design but you’d love the opportunity to build a large, complex website with lots of content. Or maybe you want the experience of building a mobile app and you already have some programming courses in your background.
- Think about the classes that you have enjoyed. The timeline for the capstone project is about 6 months: you start working on a proposal which takes some time to be accepted; there is a little time (between proposal acceptance and the start of term) when you should start work on your project; and then there is the length of the term itself. It ends up being about 6 months from start to finish, so be sure that you don’t pick something that bores you.
- Think about where you want to be in 5-10 years and how your capstone and your degree will help you to get there. Realistically, it’s impossible to predict where we will be or what will be happening in 5-10 years (10 years ago, consider, mobile apps were not really a thing), since there are always innovations which are game changers that could not be foreseen. However, it’s still helpful to think about how your capstone can launch your career and put you where you want to be in the long term as well.
- Is there a life after this project? If so, what is that life? (For example: is this the launch of your business, or some work for a client?) Many students simply focus their capstone on fulfilling graduation requirements and getting their degree, which is perfectly acceptable. However, other students see this as an opportunity to perhaps launch a new product that could be sold in the App store, or sell a course online. If there is a life beyond graduation then you should spend some time planning to scale your idea up, and then think about what phase 2 might look like after you graduate.
- Your number one focus is to GRADUATE – not necessarily to do what your employer wants, or create a whole new open source project – GRADUATE.
- Consider your coursework as part of the program. Try to start thinking about your capstone early in the degree process and try to shape your coursework around what you might need to learn in order to get where you want to go. You could possibly take 2, 3, or 4 courses in a particular area and then focus your capstone in that area, rather than trying to do a capstone in an area where you may have inadequate training.
- Finally: What is your plan for maintenance, or is the project life done at the end of the semester? Will you continue to support and grow it, or will it be finished?
Why not have your capstone do double- or triple- duty for you, serving as a portfolio piece or a case study for a new job? There are so many things that you can do with your capstone beyond it being yet another school project.
As soon as you are admitted you can begin speaking to your research advisor about your capstone project, but the semester before capstone registration you need to work on the proposal in earnst--many hours a week for an entire semester.
This is the first thing you will tackle as part of the process. It will include:
- What is the problem you are trying to solve? Why is it important, interesting, or both? You’d be surprised how many students start with “I want to work with this technology/this type of camera” (for example), and this is not a good place to start. Find a problem that needs solving and engage your audience with why it’s interesting and should be solved.
- What is your approach to solving the problem? Why this approach? Often storytelling is a good way to go for certain programs (like digital media).
- What have other people done about this problem, or about similar problems? Think about other people who have tackled the problem that you are proposing and how they have gone about it.
Good projects include:
- Digital media design: Videos should be an original film, directed by the student, that is approximately 15-30 mins long. The student may have others work on it but the student must direct the film. A fully realized version of the proposed project is expected.
- Information management systems: Websites typically have some level of “programming” attached to them. If you’re not going to do a lot of programming then you’ll need to work on some other aspect. For example, a 5 page website or 10 page won’t be sufficient. If you’re doing a multiple 100s of pages, or very interactive with a database – those types of things are capstone worthy.
- Journalism: A series of articles that delve deeply into a specific topic
- Museum Studies: A working plan for a museum or institution that could be implemented
- IS THIS LIST USEFUL? IF IT IS I WILL ADD IN THE REMAINING PROGRAMS. IF IT IS NOT THEN WE CAN PUT THIS INFO SOMEWHERE ELSE.
Things to remember
- Proposals are an iterative process – you’ll need to do multiple revisions (usually 3 or 4).
- Don’t wait until July 1 (or the earliest possible date depending on your timeline) to submit your first draft. Even if you are missing pieces of information (i.e. adding sources or citations) it’s still good to give your advisor an idea of what you’ll be working on.
- You may want to contact your advisor before writing your draft to discuss direction, deliverables and ideas.
May I have a client?
- Yes, BUT:
- Your graduation must come first with this project. You might need to satisfy requirements for graduation first and then, after graduation, add in anything that the client wants. Make sure you do not give the client a delivery date of the end of term – it’s better to make it a month or two after the end of term so that you can make any changes that the client has specifically requested.
- It’s possible that what you need to create and deliver for school will differ from what the client requires.
- You will need to consider how to balance these demands carefully. Clients may want deliverables faster than you can provide given the amount of time that you should be working on the capstone.
May I work on a project for work?
- Yes, BUT:
- The project is the student’s alone. You cannot have contributions to the project from co-workers. If you are collaborating with anyone, that collaboration must be completely outside the scope of your project. For example, if you are working on the back end of a website and you are working with a graphic designer on the front end, that might be acceptable. It should be very clear what is your work and what is someone else’s work. Feedback, assistance on direction from co-workers is all fine.
- There can be no prohibition of the student publishing the result. We will not sign any non-disclosure agreements for your work. Other students must be able to see what you’re doing. There is often a “gentleman’s agreement” that we do not discuss capstones outside of class, but be aware that if it’s sensitive information to the company then it’s not appropriate for a capstone.
- The project cannot be on a manager’s schedule. Keep in mind that sometimes school requirements and work requirements can conflict. Your manager may want you to hit a milestone that we think is unrealistic, or may want you to include a feature that we don’t think is educationally interesting. Graduation still comes first. After graduation, you can tweak the project to make it right for the job.
How "big" is big enough?
- Your project should be an entire semester’s worth of deliverables.
- Consider how much time you spend doing homework and assignments for a typical Extension course – that’s how much time you need to spend on your capstone.
- Your advisor will let you know if your capstone is too big or too small, and will help you stay on track.