By Veerle Bovens
— A recent survey by The Herring revealed that over 80 percent of the students currently writing their capstone thesis have needed an extension for one or more of their individual assignments. Dr. Maurits de Klepper, coordinator of the capstone team, feels it is time to completely overturn the thesis’ assessment structure.
So far, the final research project worth 12 European Credits (ECTS) has required the graduating students to hand in a research proposal, a writing update and a full first draft. The survey, which had 57 responses out of approximately 240 capstone students, showed that 81% took an average of five additional days to complete these assignments. De Klepper, who together with Bob Kardolus makes up the capstone team responsible for enforcing AUC’s capstone regulations, is not surprised by the amount of students in need of extensions.
“There are so many different kinds of projects that follow different schedules, like literature reviews or lab experiments depending on data,” De Klepper said. “So things like writing updates come for different people at different times. That, however, does not mean students are not on track.”
The survey shows that the majority of the student body feels the capstone deadlines are reasonable, but deadlines for other classes and activities interfere with their ability to meet them.
“At AUC, there’s just so much to do all the time, that things don’t really move to the top of your priority list until it’s really a pressing matter. At that point, you already have too little time,” said third-year social sciences student Roel van Herk.
The survey however does confirm that students like the regular deadlines, as these remind them to work on the capstone throughout the semester. “I really adapt the deadlines to my own needs, so I don’t worry about what AUC wants from me,” said third-year science student Maaike Sangster. “There’s three deadlines [before the final one], and they just help me to push myself to actually do something.”
According to De Klepper, this kind of loose, more independent attitude might be the right one, as it takes away some of the pressure inherent to writing a capstone. “I think it is important that students see the capstone as a doable project, a course in which they can show their academic skills. It will not be your life’s work. It is difficult for AUC students to see it this way, because they are quite idealistic, so some expectations are hard to let go.”
Still, de Klepper said, a restructuring of the capstone assignments and deadlines is long overdue, as the system of assessment has not been re-evaluated and changed accordingly since its establishment for AUC’s first graduating class, in 2009.
De Klepper wants to propose the introduction of open capstone deadlines to the management in the near future. These would be tailored by individual students and their supervisors, helping them with their schedules and the writing process as a whole.
“The perverse part of the AUC system is that if we open up the capstone deadlines, but still continue with continuous assessment in other courses, the other deadlines will often become a priority,” De Klepper said. “AUC students get little training in independence, so many students would not know how to deal with [open deadlines] properly.” He adds that they would require very good communication between supervisor and student, as well as self-discipline on the part of the latter.
De Klepper also wants the capstone team to re-evaluate the content of the different assessments, as he feels a ‘process grade’, which would take work ethic and commitment into account, is missing. “It is really time to do things differently,” he said.