Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.
7. Mapping Out your Capstone Project
By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:
- Explain how visual mapping can be used to organize knowledge and structure for your capstone project.
- Compare and contrast Logic Models and Concept Maps
- Explain how Problem Tree and Root Cause analyses can help you better understand identified problems, issues, or needs and develop methods for addressing them.
- Utilize a SWOT analysis for strategic planning of the capstone process.
This chapter focuses on visual mapping tools that can help you plan and implement your capstone project. The purpose of Logic Models and Concept Mapping in relation to capstone projects are explained. Problem Tree and Root Cause analyses are described in the context of identifying and planning for capstone project development. Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) Analysis, as a strategic planning model for capstone development, is also discussed.
Visual mapping, as a capstone planning tool, is an excellent way to organize knowledge that can help you to structure, address, and systematically approach your capstone topic. A Logic Model is a graphic depiction, or road map, that presents the shared relationships among resources, activities, outputs, and outcomes/impacts of your capstone project’s activities. The intended effect of a Logic Model is the “if-then” relationship among the project’s elements (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2018). Concept mapping is a useful tool that can be used to define your theoretical framework and to visually display how it is applied to your literature review (Grant & Osanloo, 2016). Problem Tree analysis, also referred to as Situational analysis, can be used for project planning. Problem Tree analysis can help you find solutions to an identified problem, issue, or need by mapping out the anatomy of the cause and effect (Luma Institute, 2021). Root Cause analysis can be used to discover the root causes of a problem, issue, or need to identify appropriate solutions (Guavera, 2018). Finally, a SWOT Analysis is a dynamic planning model that can be used to plot out a future course for your capstone project by acting on strengths, while minimizing associated risks. It is important for students to develop knowledge and skills with visual mapping models and techniques in order to enhance their capstone project planning and development.
Logic Models provide a visual representation of an entire program in a flow chart format. Logic Models are a systematic and visual way to present and share your understanding of the relationships among the resources you have compiled to conduct your capstone project, the activities planned for implementation, and the anticipated changes or results from project/program implementation.
Components of a Logic Model
Logic models can focus on any level of a program: the entire organization, one of its component departments or programs, or just specific parts of a department or a program. Although logic models differ widely in format and level of detail, the following key terms should be considered in its development (Refer to Table 7.1: Key Terms Used in Logic Models)
Table 7.1: Key Terms Used in Logic Models
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. (2018, December 12). Framework step 2 checklist . Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/evaluation/steps/step2/index.htm; Doll, J. D. (2010). Program development and grant writing in Occupational therapy: Making the connection . Jones and Bartlett Publishers. (Refer to Appendix 7.A: Sample Logic Model: Community-Based Diabetes Prevention Program).
Concept mapping is a useful tool that can be used to define your theoretical framework and to visually display how it is applied to your capstone project’s literature review. Basically, concept mapping is a process for representing and organizing ideas using pictures. The goal of a concept map is to simplify complex concepts using circles, boxes, and/or other shapes that are linked with arrows carrying explanatory legends that depict pictorial connections between ideas (Grant & Osonloo, 2016).
A concept map offers you an instrument to draw a plan for how you will approach your capstone project within a specific theoretical framework. First, you should review literature and organize key issues of interest related to your topic. These are the foundational concepts that support your chosen theory. Next, arrange your ideas in a hierarchical, logical structure. You can start with general ideas and funnel your thinking down to more specific, related topics and ideas. Each idea should have a clear purpose and significance in relation to the aggregate topic. Readers of your capstone project should begin to see a clear picture of your ideas by previewing the organization and identification of your key topics. Visual arrows and connectors should provide insight into how concepts are aligned and connected and illustrate the flow of ideas. Lastly, frame out your entire map with your theoretical framework and your PIO/PICO question (Grant & Osonloo, 2016). Concept maps will help you write a clear literature review in an organized manner that is aligned with your chosen theoretical framework (Refer to Table 7.2: Items to be Included in a Literature Review Rooted in Theory).
Table 7.2: Items to be Included in a Literature Review Rooted in Theory
Source: Grant, C. & Osanloo, A. (2016). Understanding, selecting, and integrating a theoretical framework in dissertation research: Creating the blueprint for your “house”. Administrative issues journal: connecting education, practice, and research , 4 (2),7.
The ability to construct a concept map illustrates two essential properties of understanding: the representation and the organization of ideas. A holistic view of your developing concept map will allow you to view concepts that may or may not fit with your theoretical framework. Your capstone instructors, and mentor can help you evaluate the feasibility of the theory, plan, and approach to your capstone project (Grant & Osonloo, 2016). (Refer to Appendix 7.B: Sample Concept Map: Person-Environment-Occupation Model).
Problem Tree Analysis provides a template for mapping causes and effects to better understand the chain of connected circumstances that led to a current issue, problem, or need. Using the tree as a metaphor, you separate the causes (roots) from the effects (branches) of a central issue (trunk). Problem Tree Analysis provides a structured way for you to identify concerns, discern causes from symptoms, and potentially frame problem statements in a clear manner. Problem Tree Analysis can help you:
- untangle complex problems
- reveal various causes and effects
- build a shared understanding
- provide a direction for problem-solving
Problem Tree Analysis, which is also known as a Situational analysis or Problem analysis is central in many forms of project and program planning (Luma Institute, 2021). (Refer to Table 7.3: Advantages of Problem Tree Analysis).
Table 7.3: Advantages of Problem Tree Analysis
Source: Planning tools: Problem tree analysis . ODI. (2014, June 27). Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://odi.org/en/publications/planning-tools-problem-tree-analysis/ (Refer to Appendix 7.C: Sample Problem Tree Analysis: Pediatric HIV)
Root Cause Analysis
Root cause analysis (RCA) is the process of discovering the root causes of problems to identify appropriate solutions. RCA assumes that it is much more effective to systematically prevent and solve for underlying issues rather than just treating unplanned symptoms and putting out fires. RCA can be performed with a collection of principles, techniques, and methodologies that can all be leveraged to identify the root cause of an event or trend. Looking beyond superficial cause and effect, RCA can show where processes or systems failed or caused an issue, problem, or need in the first place. Identifying the root causes of a problem, issue, or need helps in developing more effective strategies to overcome it (Guavera, 2022). There are three basic types of root causes that can have a potential impact on a problem, need, issue, or event:
- Physical causes
- Human causes
- Organizational causes
The first goal of RCA is to discover the root cause of a problem, issue, need, or event. The second goal is to fully understand how to fix, compensate, or to learn from any underlying issues within the root cause. The third goal is to apply what we learn from this analysis to systematically prevent future issues or to repeat successes ( Root cause analysis explained: Definition, examples, and methods . Tableau, n.d.).
There are several core principles that guide effective root cause analysis, some of which may be readily apparent while others may not (Refer to Table 7.4: Core Principles of Root Causes Analysis).
Table 7.4: Core Principles of Root Cause Analysis
Source: Root cause analysis explained: Definition, examples, and methods . Tableau. (n.d.). Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://www.tableau.com/learn/articles/root-cause-analysis
It should be noted that RCA is not a one-size fits all methodology. Rather, there are many tools, processes, and techniques that can be used in conducting in RCAs. Regardless of the technique chosen, the process for Root Cause Analysis remains the same (Refer to Table 7.5: Root Cause Analysis Process).
It should be noted that RCA is not a one-size fits all methodology. Rather, there are many tools, processes, and techniques that can be used in conducting in RCAs. Regardless of the technique chosen, the process for Root Cause Analysis remains the same (Refer to Table 7.5: Root Cause Analysis Process)
Table 7.5: Root Cause Analysis Process
Source: Guevara, P. (2022, August 12). Root cause analysis: Definition and examples . SafetyCulture. Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://safetyculture.com/topics/root-cause-analysis/(Refer to Appendix 7.D: Sample Root Cause Analysis: Fall-Related Injuries on Behavioral Health Unit)
Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) Analysis
A SWOT analysis is a high-level strategic planning model that helps organizations, programs, and/or other entities identify where they are doing well and where they can improve from both an internal and external perspective. A SWOT analysis can help you evaluate your business, program, or other entity by considering multiple factors:
- Strengths and weaknesses (represented as internal factors). Internal factors are considered things that can be controlled. Examples include team members, program content, and geographical location.
- Opportunities and threats (represented as external factors). External factors are considered things that cannot be controlled. Examples include policies and regulations, economic trends, and competitors.
Students can use a SWOT analysis to plot out a future course for their capstone project that will focus on project strengths while minimizing risks. Insights you glean resulting from your SWOT analysis should be used constructively as part of the capstone planning process (Jackson, 2022).
How to Do a SWOT Analysis
Undertaking a SWOT analysis requires planning and organization. The following steps will take you through the process:
- Step 1: Create a SWOT Matrix (Refer to Figure 7.1: Sample SWOT Matrix)
Figure 7.1: Sample SWOT Matrix
- Step 2: Consider including community, program, and capstone project stakeholders. Including stakeholders input in a SWOT analysis can provide more insight as different perspectives can be considered (Jackson, 2022).
- Step 3: Lists your strengths
- Step 4: List your weaknesses
- Step 5: Identify your opportunities
- Step 6: Identify your potential threats
- Step 7: Examine your Matrix for connections
A SWOT analysis can help you with strategic planning for your capstone project and program development. This tool can help you define objectives, create priority initiatives to help make them a reality. Subsequently, a SWOT analysis can help you to identify measures that help to ensure that your capstone project is unfolding optimally (Refer to Appendix 7.E: Sample SWOT Analysis for a Hospital).
Logic models can be a valuable method for establishing capstone program planning, an implementation plan, and the outcomes or changes you hope to achieve (Doll, 2010). A concept map is an attempt to make explicit your program’s connection with theory so that it can be reviewed by others. While concepts maps provide a visual representation of how you will approach your capstone project in the context of a specified theoretical framework, logic models provide a graphic depiction that presents the shared relationships among the resources, activities, outcomes, and outcomes/impacts of your capstone project’s identified need, problem, or issue. Problem Tree and Root Cause Analyses can help you with your capstone project by identifying how to approach a recognized problem, need, or issue. Finally, a SWOT analysis can be used to evaluate your capstone project by considering multiple internal and external factors that can facilitate effective program development while minimizing risks.
Glynn has continued to meet with their mentor, capstone instructor(s), the institution’s statistician, and librarians.
The guiding theory for Glynn’s research-based capstone project is the Diffusion of Innovations. After performing a literature search to specifically gain more information about this theory, Glynn created the following:
Appendix 7.E: Sample SWOT Analysis for a Hospital
Optimizing Your Capstone Experience: A Guidebook for Allied Health Professionals Copyright © 2023 by Virginia E. Koenig is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
Share This Book
Unique Analytics Capstone Project Model
Ideas Made to Matter—that’s what Sloan cares about, and it’s what we embody in the MBAn program. Our students represent the top potential in the analytics field, and we make sure that their ideas and their solutions have meaningful impact for our business partners.
A highlight of the Master of Business Analytics curriculum is the 24-unit, required Analytics Capstone Project, which gives students an opportunity to work on real-life data science problems with industry practitioners.
So what does it look like?
2 students. 1 faculty adviser. 7 months. $60k. Change your business. Change the world. 1. Submit a proposal. We accept submissions from July 1 - October 31 each year for the following cycle. You have the option to submit for a single year, or a 3-year engagement.
2. Get matched—In January, Companies pitch their project and interview student teams. We use an algorithm to match teams with host organizations and assign them dedicated faculty advisors.
3. Refine your Scope—February to May, students work on the projects on campus at MIT, meeting regularly with their faculty advisor and host organization.
4. Dive Deeper— In the summer, students travel to the host organization for a full-time, 10-week summer internship.
5. Reap the Rewards— Finally in August, upon completion of the summer internship and submission of a final report and presentation, students earn their formal degree.
Want more? Get the Newsletter.
Sign up for updates about our Capstone process.
Our newsletter is delivered quarterly, so we won’t flood your inbox.
Thank you for signing up to receive updates from the MBAn program at MIT Sloan. We take your time and inbox space seriously, so we only send newsletters once per quarter.
Created by the Great Schools Partnership , the GLOSSARY OF EDUCATION REFORM is a comprehensive online resource that describes widely used school-improvement terms, concepts, and strategies for journalists, parents, and community members. | Learn more »
Also called a capstone experience , culminating project , or senior exhibition , among many other terms, a capstone project is a multifaceted assignment that serves as a culminating academic and intellectual experience for students, typically during their final year of high school or middle school, or at the end of an academic program or learning-pathway experience . While similar in some ways to a college thesis, capstone projects may take a wide variety of forms, but most are long-term investigative projects that culminate in a final product, presentation, or performance. For example, students may be asked to select a topic, profession, or social problem that interests them, conduct research on the subject, maintain a portfolio of findings or results, create a final product demonstrating their learning acquisition or conclusions (a paper, short film, or multimedia presentation, for example), and give an oral presentation on the project to a panel of teachers, experts, and community members who collectively evaluate its quality.
Capstone projects are generally designed to encourage students to think critically, solve challenging problems, and develop skills such as oral communication, public speaking, research skills, media literacy, teamwork, planning, self-sufficiency, or goal setting—i.e., skills that will help prepare them for college, modern careers, and adult life. In most cases, the projects are also interdisciplinary, in the sense that they require students to apply skills or investigate issues across many different subject areas or domains of knowledge. Capstone projects also tend to encourage students to connect their projects to community issues or problems, and to integrate outside-of-school learning experiences, including activities such as interviews, scientific observations, or internships.
While capstone projects can take a wide variety of forms from school to school, a few examples will help to illustrate both the concept and the general educational intentions:
- Writing, directing, and filming a public-service announcement that will be aired on public-access television
- Designing and building a product, computer program, app, or robot to address a specific need, such as assisting the disabled
- Interning at a nonprofit organization or a legislator’s office to learn more about strategies and policies intended to address social problems, such as poverty, hunger, or homelessness
- Conducting a scientific study over several months or a year to determine the ecological or environmental impact of changes to a local habitat
- Researching an industry or market, and creating a viable business plan for a proposed company that is then “pitched” to a panel of local business leaders
For related discussions, see authentic learning , portfolio , relevance , and 21st century skills .
As a school-reform strategy, capstone projects are often an extension of more systemic school-improvement models or certain teaching philosophies or strategies, such as 21st century skills, community-based learning , proficiency-based learning , project-based learning , or student-centered learning , to name just a few.
The following are a few representative educational goals of capstone projects:
- Increasing the academic rigor of the senior year. Historically, high school students have taken a lighter course load or left school early during their twelfth-grade year, which can contribute to learning loss or insufficient preparation for first-year college work. A more academically and intellectually challenging senior year, filled with demanding but stimulating learning experiences such as a capstone project, the reasoning goes, can reduce senior-year learning loss , keep students in school longer (or otherwise engaged in learning), and increase preparation for college and work.
- Increasing student motivation and engagement. The creative nature of capstone projects, which are typically self-selected by students and based on personal interests, can strengthen student motivation to learn, particularly during a time (twelfth grade) when academic motivation and engagement tend to wane.
- Increasing educational and career aspirations. By involving students in long-term projects that intersect with personal interests and professional aspirations, capstone projects can help students with future planning, goal setting, postsecondary decisions, and career exploration—particularly for those students who may be unfocused, uncertain, or indecisive about their post-graduation plans and aspirations.
- Improving student confidence and self-perceptions. Capstone projects typically require students to take on new responsibilities, be more self-directed, set goals, and follow through on commitments. Completing such projects can boost self-esteem, build confidence, and teach students about the value of accomplishment. Students may also become role models for younger students, which can cultivate leadership abilities and have positive cultural effects within a school.
- Demonstrating learning and proficiency. As one of many educational strategies broadly known as demonstrations of learning , capstone projects can be used to determine student proficiency (in the acquisition of knowledge and skills) or readiness (for college and work) by requiring them to demonstrate what they have learned over the course of their project
In recent years, the capstone-project concept has also entered the domain of state policy. In Rhode Island, for example, the state’s high school graduation requirements stipulate that seniors must complete two out of three assessment options, one of which can be a capstone project. Several other states require students to complete some form of senior project, while in other states such projects may be optional, and students who complete a capstone project may receive special honors or diploma recognition.
Most criticism of or debate about capstone projects is not focused on the strategy itself, or its intrinsic or potential educational value, but rather on the quality of its execution—i.e., capstone projects tend to be criticized when they are poorly designed or reflect low academic standards, or when students are allowed to complete relatively superficial projects of low educational value. In addition, if teachers and students consider capstone projects to be a formality, lower-quality products typically result. And if the projects reflect consistently low standards, quality, and educational value year after year, educators, students, parents, and community members may come to view capstone projects as a waste of time or resources.
The Capstone Project
At the end of the program, students partner with companies and labs to address complex and challenging machine learning and software engineering problems. Projects may be self-contained or part of a larger business initiative. Supervised by a faculty member, students will spend 10 hours a week working on their capstone for 16 weeks during their last spring semester.
Projects may consist of software development, machine learning, mathematical modeling and simulations, and high-performance computing. Given the wide variety of student backgrounds, professional interests, and computational science topics covered in the MSSE program, the capstone projects will be classified into one of the following three professional interdisciplinary tracks:
A project on this track focuses on the research and development of a computational science application. Students understand the scientific problem at hand and the impact that their project will have in a particular field of science.
A project on this track focuses on the development of large-scale software libraries, tools, or computational applications relevant to molecular science. Students understand the need for scaling a given computational application, the computational complexity of applications and key kernels, and the impact that the project deliverables will have in a particular field of science.
A project on this track focuses on the development of a library or software package for computational sciences applying the best practices of software engineering and covering all elements of the software engineering cycle. Students understand the need for such a library or service to the computational science community.
Capstone Partnership Timeline
Projects Recommended to Students
Students Assigned to Capstone Projects