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Why do I love teaching capstones so much?

by Tanya Evans

Staff in universities far and wide often grumble when asked to teach capstone units. Not me! I am happy to nail my colours to the mast and declare that I relish co-convening our Modern History Capstone unit at Macquarie University. When teaching capstone we have to give our all as convenors and we must have the highest expectations of our students. This is the moment when our modern history majors draw together and display the knowledge and skills they have acquired over their years in our hands.

Most students undertaking a capstone unit will be passionate about their subject while others will not. Some may still be wondering whether they made the right choice when they were first years. Others will have switched to a modern history major after discovering the joy of reading and researching modern history. A particularly dynamic and charismatic teacher may have converted some, while other students will just be biding their time until their degrees finally finish. Of course, the same is true too of many units that we teach. No matter what their skill level or content knowledge is, whether they are passionate or bored by history, capstone is the time we have to convince all of our students of their degree’s relevance and to pass on the tools to persuade others of that value. In their feedback on last year’s unit students described how they had ‘never enjoyed a subject more than this one’, another, that ‘I have loved doing the capstone. My eyes have been opened and my ideas challenged! I couldn’t have asked for more.’ One described how, ‘The personal intellectual improvement I observed in myself gave me confidence with engaging in history.’ This is the sort of feedback all teachers crave.

During the unit, students reap the opportunity to conduct original research, to gain in depth historical knowledge in a subject of their choice and to communicate and share their learning with others in oral and written forms. As we guide them through their individual research projects we can hammer home the relevance of their degree and the impact it can have on the rest of their lives before they embark on diverse careers and post-graduate paths. We have to show them how, in what ways and why they must utilize their historical skills and thinking throughout their lives.

The capstone is my opportunity to share my passion for the subject of history on a weekly basis for 15 weeks. What more could a teacher and researcher ask for?

Dr Tanya Evans is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Modern History, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.