2021 EDSIG Proceedings: Abstract Presentation

Secrets to the Successful IS Capstone Course

Amy Connolly
James Madison University

Jeremy Ezell
James Madison University

Carey Cole
James Madison University

To prepare students for successful careers as Information Systems (IS) professionals, our curriculum culminates in a rigorous, integrated capstone course. Students in the IS capstone apply all of their skills and knowledge from all of their IS courses to a real-world problem faced by an actual business client. For over a decade, our department has successfully incorporated a new, unique, and live client project into the capstone course every semester. The project prepares students for roles similar to those they will be hired into after graduation and extends their IS knowledge beyond general business concepts. This approach encourages a professional mindset and intense focus. Student teams interview various project business clients to gather and clarify requirements, plan a solution in the form of an information system, then deliver a functional, full-stack prototype by the end of the semester. The prototype consists of a well-designed user interface with a fine-tuned user experience, contemporary object-oriented code, a SQL database, Tableau analytics, and recommendations for the implementation and expansion of the prototype into the business and its sytems and processes. As the course has evolved over time, it has gained loyal industry partnerships and a future waitlist of client projects. To encourage students to deliver a quality product, the capstone course is intentionally designed as a competition. The teams compete for the best project, as judged by a panel of volunteer faculty, industry professionals, and the client representative(s). Teams are required to present to the client and faculty in several agile-like “sprints” over the course of the semester, and they are made aware of their general competitive rankings compared to the other teams. This competitive process has inspired former alumni of the IS program to return to campus to professionally mentor student teams in the competition. One partner in particular – KPMG – also contributes prizes to the winning teams at the end of the competition, offering further motivation and visibility for well-performing students beginning their future careers. We believe the secret to the capstone’s lasting success lies in how well faculty have leveraged a departmental culture of collaboration, rigorous assessment, positive goodwill and valuable support from alumni, as well as the competition between teams for the benefit of the client. In this presentation, we will discuss how the IS capstone course has evolved over time from merely an advanced programming course to the award-winning showcase it has become. We will also reflect on how we pivoted the course online due to the global COVID pandemic while still maintaining forward momentum and how we plan to shift back to in-person instruction. We provide reflections from both students and instructors of the course (past and present) as evidence of its continued success. This work in progress will be of interest to instructors of similar IS capstone courses in other programs as well as industry professionals looking to partner with an IS program in a similar manner.