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Capstone Experiences

Please cite as follows: Chan, CKY (2015). "Capstone Experiences", Engineering Education Enhancement and Research Asia (E3R Asia).


Capstone experience has become an important component within the new four-year undergraduate curriculum at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). Capstone experience may be in the form of a research project, research paper, thesis, practicum, or an internship. The purpose of capstone experience is to allow students integrate and apply knowledge that they have learnt throughout the course of their study into the different forms of capstone experience that the student engage in. Capstone experience broadens student’s perspective. Students can explore knowledge beyond their studies and learn to work individually or collaboratively with or without faculty supervision. Depending on the individual faculty or department, each major programme can decide the form of experience to be adopted, the number of credits to be awarded on the basis of the specific aims of the programme or curriculum, and student’s needs. Capstone experiences are great assessment grounds in providing the faculty or department information on the strengths and weaknesses of their curricula because students’ performance are being observed and assessed holistically, and it provides a true method of direct evidence of student learning.

In Reinventing Undergraduate Education (Boyer Commission, 1998), capstone experience is defined as a project organized based on all the research skills that a student has developed during the course of his/her studies, which demands the formulation of a significant question, the creative exploration or research to find answers, and the communication skills to express the results to both expertise and non-expertise. Although in this definition the focus emphasizes on “research skills”, however we would like to encompass the definition of capstone experience to cover a wider range of skills that includes interpersonal and generic skills. Recently, university capstone experiences have begun to comprise elements of authentic nature to allow students to be better prepared for the real world of engineering.

Capstone experience is student-centered. It requires students to take responsibility and ownership for their own experience. At HKU, the Faculty of Engineering has organized some form of capstone experience as part of their curriculum component such as internship and design projects (capstone projects). Many other local and overseas universities have also incorporated some form of capstone experience within their engineering programme curriculum.  

Accredited engineering bodies such as Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and Hong Kong Institute of Engineers (HKIE) have recognized and emphasized the importance for engineering students to be able to “design a system” and to “work in teams”. Therefore capstone experience is adopted among universities with accredited engineering programmes as a popular mean in demonstrating students’ knowledge of creating and implementing a real design, where students work in teams and gather their knowledge from prior learning experience throughout their studies in the design process. As engineering bodies acknowledges the importance of a design component within engineering programmes, capstone experience has been offered to senior year students and has become an integral part of engineering students’ graduate requirement within the 4-year curriculum in HKU and among many overseas universities.