Deciding between capstone and thesis?
- All programs are 12 courses (except for Museum Studies, which is 10).
Therefore in all cases, if you are an incoming student in Sept 2017, or if you are a current student switching to the new degree requirements, you’ll do one of the following:
- You'll take 11 courses and a capstone, or
- You’ll take 10 courses, a pre-capstone course, and then a capstone.
- If you were admitted prior to Sept 2017, your requirements may differ and you should discuss with your advisor if you want to stay on the old 10 course track or switch to the new 12 course one.
A thesis is a good choice if:
- You want a PhD or other advanced degree and you want the experience of writing for a publication
- You are willing to work on a much longer project, as the thesis can take 12-18 months and involves writing a long paper with a strong research focus, which would be good for continuing to academic pursuits
- You want to work individually with an advisor, who has been hand-picked to match what you are working on
- You are more self-directed, are good at managing your own projects with very little supervision, and have a clear direction for your work
- You have a project that requires more time – 9-12 months – to pursue. Capstone goes over the course of 1 term (15 weeks)
A capstone is:
- A class that you enroll in just like any other class;
- A class that usually goes over the course of 1 term;
- Like any other class, with weekly check-ins and lectures, by the end of which you will present your work to the class in some form or another;
- practical and hands-on.
Here are some facts to help you decide which would be right.
A capstone is the more appropriate choice if:
- You want to focus on a smaller scale project that highlights your technical skills to a current or future employer, as it could be a film, an instructional experience, a website, etc.
- You want to work with a client/manager/supervisor on a real-world project that can solve a pressing business need
- You want more input on your project from fellow students and other instructors, while working in community with peer review, guest lecturers, etc.
- You want more structure to your project, including internal milestones and due dates. This is very helpful if you want immovable deadlines to stay on track, rather than the more fluid and flexible thesis process where deadlines can be shifted by a week here or there if needed. For example, in the digital media program, there are 3 interim assignments where students report the work they’ve done so far and have some peer review in the process, which are built into the schedule and help keep students on track.
Where possible, examples of past projects can be found on the tabs above for each field.
Consider that your capstone project is as big as several regular size assignments. If you add up all the time spent on lectures, attending class, reading and doing homework, and doing assignments, you’ll get a good sense of how big your capstone needs to be. Many students over-commit and pick a project that’s too big and needs to be whittled down to something more manageable. Occasionally a proposal needs to be scaled up, which is also possible and is part of the proposal process. Your advisor will give you feedback on what will make an acceptably sized capstone project.
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.
Note: This is applicable to Fall, but proportional for other semesters.
- May 30 (recommended): Draft proposal to your Research Advisor. This will be a draft only and there will be revisions, since proposals are almost never approved on the first draft. Remember: “Done is better than perfect.” Get on your advisor’s radar early in the process.
- July 15: Edit, modify, refine and improve the proposal with your advisor. You might not need all of this time, but you might need it to conduct more research around what has already been published or done with your proposed topic.
- By July 30: Notification of acceptance to, and ability to, enroll in the capstone course. You were originally automatically put on a waiting list for this course after completing the necessary requirements. In general, we do not enroll more students than there are spaces in the course. Students who submit their proposals earlier in the process will be assured a seat in the class. Your 5 year timeline is also considered.
- July-August 30: Work on capstone! Some faculty may have a “What did I do with my summer vacation” assignment as an accountability piece to start off the school year. It helps you stay on track over the summer and is motivating, because it can be hard to focus on schoolwork over the summer.
Sept 2: First assignment due! Many first assignments will be due very early in the semester and you will have plenty of advance notice for this. Examples from digital media:
- Create a blogpost on “what did I do with my summer vacation”
- Create a 5 min video describing who you are and what you are doing, and asking for feedback
- Post your proposal online and soliciting feedback from your fellow students
- Create a draft of a grading rubrick
- Sept-Dec: work on your capstone. You’ll have set up your plan for what you’ll accomplish each week with milestones, and you’ll meet with your advisor a few times during that time (at least 3 formalized check-ins, which can be done online). Additional meetings can also happen if they are needed.
- December 3-4 (tentative): Hybrid weekend, with a poster session and oral presentations. Students come to campus to present their capstone work, alongside a poster to the public describing what they accomplished with their capstone. This is a great opportunity for students to meet each other and a really valuable part of the process.
- However, if you are an international student, you are not required to attend (although you are more than welcome to do so).
- For this reason: this course does not fulfill your residency requirements.
- If you are in the US or Canada you are strongly encouraged to come, but it’s understood that you don’t have to travel significant distances to give a short presentation.
- Dec 16 (tentative): all work due! If you did your planning right, all your work should really be finished for the hybrid weekend, and you can use the remaining time how you like.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- A series of articles that delve deeply into a specific topic
- A working plan for a museum or institution that could be implemented
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.