Designing a Capstone Course
Senior capstone classes are unique and crucial experiences for undergraduate students, in that they provide long-term, often synthesis-based projects in a collaborative environment. However, this collaboration often exists between students in the same specialization or concentration within a discipline. For example, electrical engineering has several areas of concentration such as controls, robotics, machine learning, software systems etc. However, each concentration has its own capstone course and students rarely engage with students in other areas. Most importantly, most programs do not provide students with the chance to work cooperatively across disciplinary lines. Those that do typically only allow for interaction between groups within the same overarching discipline. Yet, in the workplace, graduates are expected to work collaboratively with experts in their own and often other unrelated domains. Subsequently, capstone classes are lacking the ability to prepare undergraduate students for membership on the multi-disciplinary teams that exist in the workplace. Consequently, there is a need for courses at the undergraduate level that are aimed at providing students with the opportunity to learn and work in a truly multidisciplinary environment. This project will seek to 1) examine the process of creating and implementing a multidisciplinary capstone course, 2) explore what influence, if any, established norms of collaboration like notions of authority, problem definition and what passes for an acceptable solution to a given problem have on team members’ interactions within a multi-disciplinary capstone class, and 3) compare the findings from this course to other multidisciplinary courses at other institutions, where they exist, to ultimately create a model of collaborative capstone design that might be of interest to the broader transdisciplinary community. Furthering our understanding of collaboration in multidisciplinary contexts holds several positive implications for the overall undergraduate experience. For students, the experience of working in a diverse team environment and having the chance to confront expectations that they may not even be aware that they harbor about others prepares them better for their professional careers and makes them more attractive to potential employers.