Co-authored by Amanda Lizier (Lecturer and teacher on the MEdLL), Donna Rooney (MEdLL Subject Coordinator) and Lucy Blakemore (MEdLL graduate).

Capstone subjects provide opportunities for reflection on months or years of learning, but also connect into students’ current and emerging professional interests. Here we share the learning design and student experience in Investigating Learning and Innovation, the capstone subject in the UTS Master of Education (Learning and Leadership) course. In particular, we trace a theory that was offered in a number of subjects and how one student (Lucy) took up this theory to use in her capstone project.

Linking thinking with a ‘whole of course’ approach

The Master of Education (Learning and Leadership) or ‘MEdLL’ is designed for students from a wide range of backgrounds looking to take the next step in their career. It is an OPM course, meaning that it runs on the short session carousel and is delivered remotely – students do not attend campus for any of their studies.​

From a design perspective, the MEdLL teaching team has always taken a ‘whole of course‘ approach, with scope to work within our expertise but also to create linkages between subjects for students. Whilst some theories are specific to certain subjects, there are theoretical approaches that students can draw on repeatedly to build knowledge over time.​

​What’s in a name? Defining a capstone subject

A capstone subject can be an opportunity to reflect on learning from across a course, where students are summarising and reflecting on how their learning will influence their professional practice. A capstone can also be a project that provides opportunities for students to apply knowledge gained across their course to a project of their choosing.​

Investigating Learning and Innovation does both. First, an opportunity to reflect on learning using the Capability Wrap. In every subject, students set learning goals mapped to their overall course learning goals. At the end of the subject, students ‘wrap up’ by reflecting on their learning and how it relates to the learning goals they set. In the capstone, students bring all of these wraps together.​

The following are important design features for the subject: 

  • Connection to practice: As a truncated (6-week) WIL project it allows students to explore an area of their professional practice.
  • The learning contract: Students develop a learning contract at the beginning of the subject, an important part of framing their learning in the context of their project. 
  • Feedback: Significant emphasis on peer, industry, and self (reflective) feedback throughout the project. ​

The capstone for MEdLL also allows students to take up areas or theories of interest from across the course to frame a short project. Some students choose to prepare for a research degree and use the capstone to explore a research idea (e.g. literature review). Capstone projects can also be linked to professional practice, as is the case with the example below. Choice of projects is student-driven with both class and one-on-one support from teachers. 

Student view: making complexity practical

Complexity can be used to look at systems across a wide range of fields like computer science, physics, anthropology, organisation studies, and education. Within the MEdLL program, students are introduced to complexity as a recent model of learning and those students who want to take it up in their work, like Lucy, find various opportunities to engage with the theory across the subjects in the degree.

The first few times I came across complexity theory, I found it both fascinating and overwhelming. It seemed to reflect so much of what I had come across in my own professional work, but needed more time and attention than my deadlines would allow. It was only when I got to my final capstone subject that I could look at it properly and start to connect it back to my industry experiences with international education.

Lucy Blakemore, MEdLL graduate
Lucy’s desk: the capstone planning process in action!

Working towards a digital artefact that would be the final assessment in the capstone, Lucy looked back over previous subjects in the MEdLL and found four of them had particularly strong connections to complexity and/or her student experience theme. These became the starting points for deeper research and reflection with industry peers.

I’d completed most of these subjects more than a year ago, but the Capability Wraps and my visual notes helped me track back to find where complexity theory had started to pique my interest. I tested the idea of applying it to international education and student support with a trusted industry colleague who became my ‘critical friend’ for the project. Her input made all the difference, as well as several others who knew my professional context and could tell me where it hit the mark, or what wasn’t clear enough as the artefact developed.

Industry-ready outputs

As the MEdLL capstone subject emphasises practical connections to industry, students are encouraged to create artefacts that can be shared and ideally applied in current professional contexts. Feedback from peers and industry mentors helps to shape and develop outputs that authentically connect theory and practice, guided by the teaching team.

I had recently completed a student research project for an industry conference, so was able to test the framework I had been developing and see how it worked in practice. It aligned so well, I turned the digital artefact into a public, downloadable Miro template, which was accepted and published the day my final capstone submission was due!

The framework also became part of Lucy’s conference presentation and an open-source follow-up report on supporting student experience, which has been shared by peers in the international education sector. Since completing her degree, Lucy continues to explore applications for complexity theory, as well as other theories and approaches from the MEdLL course.

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