Publication Details

Zanko, M., Turbill, J., Sykes, C., Gibbons, B., Moerman, L. & Spedding, T. (2012). Building a matrix in the students' mind through embedding cross-disciplinarity in innovative capstone courses. In L. Gomez Chova, I. Candel Torres & A. Lopez Martinez (Eds.), 4th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies - Conference Proceedings (pp. 5731-5737). Spain: International Association of Technology, Education and Development (IATED).


Universities are increasingly looking to round off undergraduate business degrees with a capstone course that provides students with learning experiences that synthesise prior knowledge, skills and abilities acquired throughout their degree and that leads them to look forward to the transition to the world of employment and professional careers. Capstone courses are also widely employed by universities as an efficient and effective basis for the justified assurance of overall degree learning goals/outcomes often for external professional, international or governmental accreditation purposes. In this paper, we take a closer look at these increasingly important capstone courses as part of a multi-university project funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council on 'Good Practice in Capstone Courses in Undergraduate Business Degrees', which is aimed at developing a better understanding of the purpose of capstones and the best approaches to course design, learning activities and assessment. First, we define a capstone course. Next, we look at the two dominant types of capstone reported in the relatively scant research literature: disciplinary magnets and cross-disciplinary mountaintops. We report on their usage based on an audit of all Australian university websites. We then focus on a more detailed examination of the cross-disciplinary mountaintop capstone since it is this type that brings together students majoring in a range of disciplines to work together in cross-disciplinary teams on a set of cross-disciplinary problems that more closely represents the reality of work and industry. The intention embedded in such a mountaintop is to provide cross-disciplinary learning, in effect building an integrative, cross-disciplinary matrix in the student's mind (after Bartlett and Ghoshal, 1989), one which enables the student to engage simultaneously with a variety of disciplinary perspectives, processes and possibilities as experienced in the 'real' world. Such mountaintops require careful and considered cross-functional 'matrix' conceptualization, design, development, implementation and evaluation that involve an interdisciplinary teaching team. In this paper we provide a detailed case analysis of the innovation processes involved in the creation and operation of such a mountaintop capstone that employs a highly innovative, locally produced business simulation that embraces triple bottom-line criteria and the United Nations Global Compact Principles that embody the key concepts human rights, labour standards, the environment and anti-corruption. The advantages as well the challenges associated with this initiative are discussed. Suggestions for future capstone course practice from research into cross-functional teams, matrix organizations and organizational politics associated with product and process innovation are outlined.

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