A Student's Look at the 2014 Spring Conference

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Becky Kelleman is a public policy student at Rutgers University's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

Capstone Courses: Mastering the Links Between Classrooms and Client
Roundtable moderated by Juliet Musso, University of Southern California
Participants: David Eaton and Angela Evans, University of Texas at Austin; Erica Foldy, New York University; and Dora Kingsley Vertenten, University of Southern California

Juliet Musso introduced the roundtable discussion by explaining that the capstone experience is the integrative way to help students put their knowledge into action.  

Angela Evans continued the conversation, adding that the capstone experience is a professional research project that benefits students by allowing them to gain skills and see the real-world applications of their work. Evans encourages collaborative work from different disciplines to facilitate knowledge from across the board. She explained that a team, ideally, would consist of students with different backgrounds--i.e. one student from the policy school, another from the business school and another from the law school. This diversity will help to identify creative options and draw out innovative solutions. Evans highlighted several critical features for capstone projects: project development, team building, a final product that is objective and impartial, quantitative analysis, and acts as a bridge between faculty and the policy making community.

Erica Foldy elaborated on how the capstone program is part of the core curriculum of the Master’s program at New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service that actually begins during the new student orientation. Students participate in a retreat during orientation, where they partake in team-building exercises and learn about the importance of identity and diversity in public service. Students then take part in a required team project within their first semester and actually create teams for the capstone experience in late October. The first responsibility of the team, at this stage, is to develop a team charter that discusses each participant’s role, how the team will communicate, and how it will manage conflict. The capstone program at Wagner requires students to interweave issue areas, research skills (methods for research), and process skills (teamwork and project management).

Dave Eaton focused on the importance of embedding clients with students. The relationship fostered here helps build client confidence in the final product as well as in the students themselves. In his capstone experience, clients regularly attended class to help develop the problem and the methods needed to address it. Eaton explained that in order to encourage this level of involvement, students and clients outline mutual expectations, and students provide interim deliverables.

Dora Kingsley Vertenten discussed the role and importance of an advisor of capstone experiences. Advisors are the coaches for the team members and also its “quality control.” Advisors also should be finding clients, managing their expectations, and most importantly reaching out into the community. Being part of the community is integral in developing a network of clients. “People want help. Any help is better than what they have now,” she emphasized. Vertenten continued that this type of networking strengthens relationships within communities.

During the question and answer portion, each speaker shared specific examples from their capstone programs, offering some best practices and continued challenges. Overall, the speakers agreed the capstone experience is an excellent way to incorporate concrete and practical experience for students.

Connecting Students through Technology
Panel Chair: Angelina Delgado, Baruch College
Presenters: Sean Tanner and Dan Thompson, University of California, Berkeley; Mindel van de Lar, University of Maastricht; and Jay Bainbridge, Marist College

photo_4Modern technology, and its rapid evolution, continues to provide new opportunities for students as well as increased areas for research. In this panel, speakers shared current research and proposals for enhancing the student experience using current technology.

Sean Tanner and Dan Thompson presented their current project, Are Clickers Appropriate for Graduate Students of Public Policy? The Results of an RCT. For those who may have known clickers by another name, these are educational tools categorized as either a student response system (SRS) or audience response system (ARS). Clickers are a technological solution that encourages audience participation in real-time, allowing instructors to poll a classroom and have immediate access to its results.

Tanner and Thompson understood that there is ongoing research revolving around clickers, regarding the increase in class participation and the decrease in anxiety on students to participate. They questioned if MPP students would experience different outcomes. MPP students were identified as having a higher probability of participation in class and are more engaged. Despite this, would clickers have similar impacts on a class of MPP students? Tanner and Thompson, although they have not finished their research, shared their findings thus far, which indicate the usage of clickers to have a negative impact on students seen through a slight decrease in student performance. A possible explanation for these results could be that students may be experiencing anxiety or frustration in using clickers. Tanner and Thompson did offer that clickers may be more useful for larger lectures or for obtaining opinion data and may not be appropriate for small class sizes.

Mindel van de Lar presented her current work with Community of Learning for Africa (CoLA)-Connecting Young Researchers from Africa and Europe.  Van de Lar is collaborating with Martin Rehm, University Duisburg-Essen, who was not present at the conference. She explained there is a need for capacity in higher education in Africa and identified shortages of good applicants, funding for Ph.D. research, and on how to build capacity in higher education through studies on doctoral education in Africa.

CoLA is a new type of hybrid Ph.D. program that provides a platform that is well-designed and supported by supervisory staff. The study found key components that make Ph.D.'s successful, which are primarily: academic capacity and experience of the Ph.D. candidate, the motivation and maturity of the candidate, and an institution and faculty that possesses knowledge, experience, structure, and very little hierarchy. CoLA proposes its initial course offerings to include: research design and methodology, leveling courses, research support, and content courses based on faculty. There is still work to be done on this project, and van de Lar explained there will be many challenges moving forward.

Jay Bainbridge presented Using Analytics to Identify at-Risk Students of an Online Masters of Public Administration Program. The research explored student success in online courses or dual programs. The research questions asked the determinants of student success and factors that predict student performance. Marist College offers small classes that offer intimate discussion and most assessments are written; the College does not use any self-grading tests or quizzes. Overall, the research identified that the most important factor in determining a student’s success is their cumulative GPA prior to the program.

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