All Of That…For This? My Capstone Experience

Concordia College requires all students take a capstone course before they graduate. The purpose of this course is to ensure that all students achieve the 5 goals of liberal learning laid out by the college. Neurochemistry counted as my capstone course and honestly, I feel like I got the easy way out. I know friends that have taken their capstone courses for things like writing and film that have to build a large portfolio to fulfill class requirements. While neurochemistry was informative and enjoyable, I never once felt challenged, but maybe I was just well-prepared for the course.

The first goal of liberal learning is a love of learning. While my love of learning has grown and changed since coming to Concordia, I feel comfortable making the assumption that many of us are here because of our love of learning in the first place. For almost everyone I know, we didn’t need a class to teach us how to love learning. Much of the material in Neurochemistry was self or peer taught so one could argue that you need your love of learning to be self-motivated enough to be successful in the course.

“Foundational skills and transferable intellectual capabilities” is the second goal of liberal learning. According to Concordia’s website, “Foundational skills allow a person to do something; intellectual capacities enable a person to know when to do something, how to adapt it, and when to do it in a new way.” While we certainly had to use these skills to critically read a paper each week and communicate its findings, I don’t think Neurochemistry taught us these skills.

Goal three is to “understand and integrate multiple perspectives.” Again, we used these skills extensively in Neurochemistry when making connections between what we were learning and other courses we had taken. However, we do this in almost every course, the integration of information is not unique to Neurochemistry.

Goal four, “examined cultural, ethical, and spiritual well-being” is addressed in many of my classes but Neurochemistry was one of the first science classes that it had been stressed in. Each week, we had a different topic that usually related to some sort of neurological disorder. Every Friday, was spent discussing the implications of the paper and topic and how that might change everyone, not just scientists. While many of my classes have been discussion based, Neurochemistry was the first “science” course to have such a strong emphasis on this kind of discussion.

Finally goal five is “responsible participation in local, national, and global communities.” This is really the only goal that is unique to Neurochemistry. As part of the course, we were required to do a community action project that would ideally benefit the local community. My group had great ideas but didn’t really see our project come to fruition because we were unable to make the right contacts in the community. Aside from the roadblocks my group faced, the course did a decent job of demonstrating the importance of this kind of community engagement.

Concordia has recently shifted to requiring PEAK experiences instead of a capstone. A blog on the website states,

“Beginning in 2017, first-year students will be required to complete two college-approved integrated learning experiences before graduation. These are called Pivotal Experiences in Applied Knowledge (PEAK) and may be integrated into program-specific or interdisciplinary courses or they may be designed like an independent study.”

Having already participated in projects that have received PEAK “approval” for future years, I think shifting to this model will be beneficial. I’m not saying that I thought Neurochemistry wasn’t a good use of my time; I am just not convinced that the capstone-like experiences in Neurochemistry were unique to this course. And perhaps that is why Concordia is switching to the PEAK model. From the time we are first-year students, we are already participating in courses designed to fill the five goals of liberal learning so a designated capstone course doesn’t feel all that different.