InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Coastal Processes, Hazards and Society > Section 1: Introduction to the Coastal Zone: Forms, Processes and Society > Capstone: Part 1
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Capstone: Part 1

Sean Cornell, Shippensburg University,
Initial Publication Date: December 7, 2016 | Reviewed: September 23, 2014


The capstone project for this course requires students to select a key city or coastal region and complete a comprehensive coastal vulnerability audit using as a guide a tool that we created called the Coastal Vulnerability Audit Tool (CVAT). The CVAT is used as the course capstone to compile information learned from each module of the course in the areas of: 1) Physical Systems, 2) Human Systems and Engineering Infrastructure, 3) Vulnerability, Planning and Action, 4) Site Specific Issues or Considerations, and 5) Resiliency Action Plans and Recommendations. We provide four parts (or stages) to scaffold students through the development of their audits. Students are encouraged to complete each stage roughly every three weeks of the course (after each three modules are completed) so they can build their audit continuously throughout the course. At the completion of their audit, students submit their completed audit tool and are required to develop a video audio tour of their selected city/coastal area using Google Earth. All materials (readings, assignments, syllabi, and supporting documents) are provided on the course website. Stage 1 of the capstone, described below, focuses on student success by helping to provide detailed timelines, project overview, and a review of assessments to help scaffold student success later in the capstone.

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Learning Goals

Capstone Overview

As this is the capstone for the course, students should be able to demonstrate evidence of having met the objectives laid out for the course and each unit. Upon completion of the entire capstone, students should have realized each of the following learning goals. Thus students should be able to:

  1. document the geographic and geologic setting of their selected region and explain how their selected site is impacted by the various physical systems (plate tectonic setting, geomorphology, local and regional hazards, other coastal processes including sea-level change, and elements of vulnerability, and exposure) that are most active in that location;
  2. characterize the human landscape (i.e. coastal population and demographics, built infrastructure including commercial, residential, recreational, transportation, utilities, cultural resources, etc.) and assess existing approaches to mitigate risk through shoreline traditional and non-traditional engineering and flood control strategies. They should also evaluate where possible any non-structural approaches including regulation and insurance/risk reduction incentives;
  3. establish key facts about the vulnerability and adaptive capacity given the specific demographics (education level, income, age, community preparedness, etc.) of their selected site and communities that reside there. They should be able to explore evidence of resiliency planning which may include disaster management planning for future disasters both in the short-term and in the long-term as climate change and sea-level rise impacts their location.
  4. compile and explain other vulnerability concerns (both local and regional) for their specific site and generate a prioritized list of recommended action plans to help improve resiliency of the people and infrastructure at their selected coastal site;
  5. report on key references and resources used in their research process;
  6. produce a well thought out (2-min max) video/audio tour using Google Earth to communicate their knowledge of the items above, and their ability to critically analyze their site using geographic/geologic skills obtained through the course work.

Capstone: Part 1

For this specific stage (i.e. Stage 1) of the capstone, the instructor and students should carefully review the capstone goals and expectations. Please refer to the Capstone: Part 1 student materials page for this information and resources. This includes helping to lay out the stages (as shown in Figures 1 & 2) and discusses evaluation rubrics (how the students will be graded) as well as provides perhaps a few examples or models so students can appreciate the scope of work to be accomplished. This will allow students to plan for their success on this comprehensive capstone. At completion of Stage 1, students should be able to initiate research and begin to develop their plan for successful completion of the capstone. Students should know the deadlines assigned by their instructor for each of the graded components of the capstone (i.e. submissions after Stages 2 and 4).

Context for Use

This capstone was designed with a large class size in mind, although individual outcomes will depend on scaffolding provided by the instructor throughout the term and the student's dedication and planning. It is successful in smaller class sizes and can be adapted for both face-to-face and online delivery. Scaffolding includes providing students with a thorough up-front explanation of the assignment, assessment expectations, timeline, and resources to be used. Reminders at least quarterly should be provided when each stage should be completed. Links to examples, or instructional videos found on the Drupal site for this course, on SERC web pages for other contributions, on YouTube, or even those provided by software developers (i.e. Google Earth maintains a large compilation of instructional videos to support the use of their tools) will help students to be more successful.

Assessing student learning (using instruments other than exams) in large or online class formats is often time-consuming for the instructor. We have worked to provide a course-wide assessment that is as simple to assess as possible. Thus students will work independently on the capstone project as they would for a term paper, but in the interest of grading there will not be a significant paper to grade upon completion. Instead, students will produce a well-organized, carefully crafted two-minute audio/video tour using Google Earth and the tour builder functionality therein. Students will need to write a script before recording (and should submit that to the instructor), and they will incorporate their script into the tour while guiding the listener/observer through the landscapes (human and physical). In the tour they must demonstrate the risk and vulnerabilities of their selected coastal site and specific insights as appropriate. Thus grading a short a/v tour (and supporting documents) for a large class is much more manageable for the instructor. Instructors should thus encourage students to submit the completed CVAT along with their written script to ensure that the student has met the spirit of the assignment and demonstrated mastery of course goals.

Most students regardless of educational level or major should be able to complete the capstone by the end of the course. Students should plan to devote a couple of hours each week to be successful (and possibly a few additional hours at project end). The largest hurdles for some students will be building the knowledge base of key terms and concepts to fill out the CVAT appropriately. They will have questions from time to time, so office hours will be important for students to ask questions. For other students it will be the use of the software (Google Earth) for production of the audio/video tour. Students will use Google Earth on several occasions in the class, so they should have developed the technical skills necessary for navigating, labeling, and saving files within the platform. Students will need instruction or access to various tutorials on the use of the tour builder functionality as one new step.

Another potential pedagogical adaption could be through development of partnerships or teams. In this manner, students could be encouraged to help each other through peer review of both CVAT development, as well as tour-building activities. In our original vision, all students were encouraged to produce a single-authored submission. It is, however, up to the instructor to decide if they want students to produce joint team submissions, which would reduce the number of graded assessments. In this case, the assessment rubrics would have to reflect a team-based submission rather than an individual submission.

Description and Teaching Materials

The mechanics of this activity are provided briefly in Figure 2 above. It is a course-long activity that requires consistent attention by the student. Instructors should make a point at the end of every unit (after three modules) to review with students their progress and next steps. For this phase of the capstone (Stage 1) the primary objectives are provided above. Relevant materials for the students and instructor are provided in the student materials.

Please note, in light of feedback from course reviewers, we suggest that instructors require students to submit the first portion of their CVAT for a quick review (i.e. after Stage 2) to make sure students are on track with the application of concepts and ideas to their selected coastal city. This will also ensure that students are not procrastinating and are completing necessary research to set themselves up for success. Once students are on track with the CVAT, some instructional/work time should be devoted on occasion to checking in and reminding students of resources/tools to help them with the video elements well in advance of the submission deadline.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The capstone was designed to be comprehensive, and student success will depend on the attention given upfront in Stage 1 to make sure students are aware of the expectations associated with this capstone. Students will exhibit apprehension with this capstone project at first, but exploring the CVAT upfront and guiding them through it incrementally helps students dissect the assignment into bite-sized pieces that are more manageable. Typically, 30 minutes should be devoted to covering this material in the first week or two of the class. You may opt to produce your own online review of this material or support a discussion item through your CMS (Blackboard, Desire2Learn, etc.) to encourage students to share information, resources and questions. It is critical that assignment due dates be established upfront so students are aware that they will need to get to work on this and not wait until the end of the term to complete the assignment.

Students must be encouraged to work incrementally on the CVAT so they apply the terms/concepts learned in the modules to their selected site. Then near the end of the term, students will need to compile their content into a short, succinct script (i.e. similar to a news or editorial script) that will focus on a few key locations and issues (that can be identifiable/demonstrated visually in Google Earth imagery). Students will then produce their audio/visual tour and submit that for grading.

The specific essential question for this module that the student should be presented with is: What does the course capstone need to include, and how will you set yourself up for success? Students should be encouraged to reflect on this question so they articulate where they need to be by the end of the term.


All of the required materials for assessing the capstone are found on the student materials page for Capstone Project: Stage 1

For this particular stage of the capstone (i.e. Stage 1) there will not be a grade assigned. However, the instructor may chose to ask students to reflect on the essential question, either in class or as a quick mini essay, etc.

Overall the assessment for the capstone (following the assessment rubric) will focus on four levels of performance (Exemplary, Acceptable/Average, Below Average, and Unacceptable). The assessment criterion include six overall categories. These are:

  1. Completeness of materials (CVAT, audio tour script, Google Earth files, and their a/v tour) and conformation to provided instructions and guidelines
  2. Analysis of physical system (geology/geography)
  3. Analysis of coastal hazards (past, present, and future)
  4. Documentation of vulnerability (human and natural landscapes)
  5. Evaluation of resiliency and planning options with specific supporting data
  6. Demonstration of overall professionalism and effort

Students will be scored on a 24-point scale. Students with exemplary overall performance will generally have scores within the 21 to 24 point range. This indicates that students will have demonstrated knowledge and skills at an advanced level (A to high B-range scores). Students with scores in the 18 to 20 point range will demonstrate average performance and will generally meet the majority of the overall objectives with a few noticeable deficiencies (generally C+ to low B-range scores). Students with scores in the 15 to 17 point range (D to low C grade range) will have a number of key deficiencies either in skill development or in the application of key concepts and content knowledge to their given location. Finally, students with scores at or below 14 do not successfully demonstrate adequate performance in either skill development (categories 1 and 6 above) or knowledge base (categories 2–4 above). These students will fail the assessment.

If the a/v tour does not provide enough basis for assigning a score itself, the instructor should look at the submitted supporting materials (CVAT itself, script, etc.) to determine competencies in knowledge areas. For instance, a student might not have mastered the use of the software platform (skill) to demonstrate their knowledge gains. In this case, the supporting documents should be useful in quickly assessing whether the student has met other assessment criterion benchmarks.

References and Resources

Student Readings and Supporting Documents:

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »