Research Components

17 Capstone Components and Products

Capstone Components and Products

The capstone is a distinctive type of research project. The capstone focuses on a localized educational problem, whereas the thesis and dissertation focus on a problem in a broader educational context. The capstone project uses the findings to build a product that can be applied to the local educational context where the research was conducted. Normally, the findings of the thesis or dissertation are generalizable across educational settings.

The capstone project has many components that are the same as the thesis and dissertation. However, several components are unique to the capstone. These unique components support the development of the capstone product. The product is designed to address the problem being researched. Product examples include  professional development presentations; teacher’s toolkit; faculty handbook; training videos; leadership manual, new institutional policies, etc.

The guidelines for the capstone components are specific to the degree program and will vary.  Some capstone projects have a structure similar to a thesis or dissertation. While others are considerably different in organizational structure and have additional components. The following headings are generally included in most capstone projects.

Needs Assessment

The Needs Assessment heading explains how the empirical evidence obtained supports the development of the capstone product.  The heading functions the same as both the Methodology and Data Interpretation and Findings headings. The heading occurs in Chapter 2 of the capstone project document because it details the methodology and presents the results and interpretations from a needs assessment conducted early in the project.

A needs assessment is conducted to determine what is “needed” to solve the problem. The needs assessment involves active research to collect and analyze data to answer the guiding questions. For example, a survey of specific strategies teachers desire can provide important information for creating a professional development series. The writing explains the applied research methodology used in the needs assessment, the findings, and the conclusions. The findings of the needs assessment are the empirical evidence used to support the design of the product. The Needs Assessment and the Literature Review are used to support the significance of the capstone project.

Essential Elements and Outcomes

The Essential Elements and Outcomes heading is found in Chapter 3 of the capstone project. It functions as an overview of the product. The writing explains the elements that must be included in the product. The essential elements are determined from both the needs assessment findings and findings presented in the Literature Review from Chapter 2. The writing also explains why the essential elements effectively address the problem.

The outcomes of the product are also detailed in the heading. The outcomes specify what is achieved by implementing the product. Outcomes are observable results or changes that provide a solution to the problem. The writing explains how the outcomes fulfill the purpose of the capstone project. The outcomes also guide the evaluation methods used to measure the success of the implemented product.

Product Development

The Product Development heading delineates the specific steps used in developing the product. The writing identifies who is involved in the process, what and how each step is carried out, and the timeline for completion. The heading also describes the resources needed to complete each step of the plan. A chart may or may not be used to convey the basic information.

The Product Development heading explains how the steps of the development process are supported by specific empirical evidence from Chapter 2 of the capstone project. The writing references the findings of the Needs Assessment and explains how the product addresses those needs. Additionally, an argument is presented for how the product is structured to meet the essential elements and to reach the intended outcomes of the product.

Implementation Strategy

The Implementation Strategy heading discusses how the product development plan is executed in the local educational context. The writing explains the specific leadership strategies necessary to implement the product in this context. Effective communication, developing buy-in, facilitating collaboration, modeling, etc. are examples of leadership strategies. The heading explains how these implementation strategies are employed to ensure the success of the product when implemented. The focus is on techniques the author uses to lead the execution of the product plan.

Evaluation Methods

The Evaluation Methods heading details the measures used to determine the success or effectiveness of the product when implemented. This heading reads similar to the Methodology heading. The quantitative or qualitative measures are discussed in detail. The goal and function of each measure are explained in relation to the intended outcomes of the product. For example, if the product was a professional development series designed to improve the teaching and learning of X content, then the evaluation methods might include observations of teaching and student exam scores on X content. The writing communicates how the reader will know the product worked as intended.

Limitations and Barriers

The Limitations and Barriers heading details the potential challenges in the local context that affect the implementation of the product. Limitations are specific hurdles or complications that hinder the successful implementation of the product. Limitations may be large obstacles or small but are within the control of the author. For example, times available to deliver the product of professional development training may be a limitation, however, the author can work within the local context to find times that do not hinder the success of the training.

The heading also presents the barriers to implementing the product in the local context. Barriers are obstacles outside the control of the author that hinder the successful implementation of the product. For example, an institutional policy that requires professional development training sessions to be voluntary may be a barrier to having enough participants for a training session product. The writing in the heading explains both the potential limitations and barriers and how the implementation strategies or the product plan are designed in ways to avoid these.


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Graduate Research in Education: Learning the Research Story by Kimberly Chappell and Greg I. Voykhansky is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.