Rationale for Final Projects

The Framework and Rationale for Final Projects in Our Online Learning Context

I want to know and understand the points below, since I won’t be able to discuss them with open Q & A as I usually do in an in-person classroom.

First: Preparing for Your Final Project Discussion Meeting

To prepare for our meetings on final projects, I would like you to review your weekly posts, and notes you have taken over the semester, and reflect on two or three of your main new knowledge “take aways.” What stands out as for you: were there concepts, approaches, or methods that give you new or different ways to ask questions and find answers? Do you understand ways to use what you’ve learned to make new discoveries on your own? Ways that provide connections to other fields, topics, and problems that we study in CCT?

Sometimes what we learn in a course or after doing new research isn’t immediately clear, and emerges over time as we combine and compare one learning experience with others. But you should be able to identify a few learning steps that you can build on further.

The Bigger Picture:
The rationale for a final project as a “capstone” for your learning in the course

We have a tried-and-true educational practice for graduate-level courses in CCT-related fields (which actually goes back a hundred years): a final research and/or reflection project (usually as a written essay), which enables students to apply what they’ve learned to a question, a problem, a set of cases, the history of research in a field, or to developing a deeper theoretical understanding of the field(s) and topics of a course.

We call this learning outcome a “capstone” from the metaphor of placing a top-covering stone on a roof or a column of a building: it’s your “crowning” achievement. This method also enables teachers to evaluate what a student has learned according to transparent criteria: have you achieved the learning goals in the course, and can you demonstrate this by applying what you’ve learned to a relevant topic in your own way? 

This general learning and evaluation method includes a further step for graduate-level studies: helping graduate students learn how to do —  and properly document — their own research according to the protocols, expectations, and standards of the discipline(s) in which problems and questions are framed. 

There are many great reasons why all of this is important to learn in grad school (and not just from one course), but I will explain an important reason, if you don’t already know. When we learn how to do graduate-level projects, we are also learning how to participate in a larger community of inquiry and knowledge-building around questions and problems valued in the community, and in activities already in progress. We learn about the dialog and debates surrounding research questions within the various fields that we are studying. By the end of any graduate degree, we will be making a transition from being outsiders just learning the basics of a field (as undergraduates), to becoming members of one or more communities of practice where we want to have a stake in the knowledge. When we begin this transition, we always enter the ongoing conversations of a field (or fields) like stepping into a stream that’s been flowing for years, and we need to learn where the stream has been and where it’s going. It’s very hard at first, and it can take several years to find our way, but we all have to just dive in, learn how to learn more, and apply our learning and research on the topics that we care about, and become part of the dialog.  

This practice is true no matter what professional fields and careers that you develop after grad school. All non-academic professional and business fields value research and well-informed writing, as it is conducted in a specific profession. Further, the ability to do your own research and also work with teams of people on a research question that results in publications is always prestigious and will always advance your career. For further academic studies (for example, for a Ph.D.), the research and writing skills are essential.

So, when you work on and then submit your final project (no matter what kind it is), remember that you are not just writing for me (the professor), or just fulfilling a course requirement (sure, it is that, but the reason for it is more important for you). This is why I want students to use a Web publishing platform (WordPress), and then use the URL of their “post” for their work as part of a professional e-portfolio. Our course is one small step in your whole progress of learning and finding your professional identity, but you can make it intentionally and deliberately so by learning as much as you can with your project.

Practical Matters for References, Documentation, and Citations

You must use Zotero for managing your references and bibliography. Make sure that when you have Zotero insert the metadata into Zotero’s data fields for an item that it goes into the fields properly formatted (for books, articles, videos, reports, and kind of document). 

For creating references as notes in your paragraphs and for your final “References” or “Bibliography” list, choose one of the standard professional citation “styles” in Zotero’s “Preferences.” Be consistent with any citation/reference style that you choose.

Using references and bibliography formats correctly is part of professional practice.