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Strategies to Enhance Student Learning in a Capstone MIS Course

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Abstract

The information systems marketplace is changing rapidly requiring students to be well versed in skills that go beyond traditional IT skills. To achieve this, management information systems (MIS) instructors in MIS programs across the country need to design courses that reflect these changes. Failure to incorporate these changes in the MIS program will lead to graduating MIS students who are not competitive in the marketplace. While curriculum changes are often times a time consuming process, the capstone course in an MIS program can be used effectively to reflect these changes. This paper highlights different strategies that can be used in a capstone MIS course to help students synthesize, analyze, and apply knowledge acquired over different courses in the program.
Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology Volume 3, 2006
Strategies to Enhance Student Learning
in a Capstone MIS Course
Anil Kumar
Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, MI, USA
anil.kumar@cmich.edu
Abstract
The information systems marketplace is changing rapidly requiring students to be well versed in
skills that go beyond traditional IT skills. To achieve this, management information systems
(MIS) instructors in MIS programs across the country need to design courses that reflect these
changes. Failure to incorporate these changes in the MIS program will lead to graduating MIS
students who are not competitive in the marketplace. While curriculum changes are often times a
time consuming process, the capstone course in an MIS program can be used effectively to reflect
these changes. This paper highlights different strategies that can be used in a capstone MIS course
to help students synthesize, analyze, and apply knowledge acquired over different courses in the
program.
Keywords: Capstone MIS course, student learning, systems approach, assessment, integrated
learning
Introduction
The capstone course in any program of study provides a student the opportunity to synthesize,
analyze, and apply knowledge acquired over different courses in the program. This course en-
hances the overall education experience of students by helping them understand the big picture,
i.e. how knowledge acquired from all the courses in their curriculum converges together. For ex-
ample a management information system (MIS) student learns several concepts and acquires mul-
tiple technology skills in different courses that are a part of the MIS program and then learns how
to apply all these concepts and use the skills to design and develop an information system.
Knowledge integration and application in a capstone MIS course can be a challenging task. An
instructor designing the capstone course needs to ensure that critical components from all the
courses in a program are integrated.
Designing a capstone MIS course is challenging due to factors such as the need to integrate busi-
ness concepts and technology concepts & skills, the diversity of IT skills and the rapid rate of
change in the IT industry. Scholars (Lopes & Morais, 2002; Neville & Adam, 2003) have high-
lighted the need to provide an integrated
(business and information technology)
experience to information technology
students in a capstone course. Neville
and Adam (2003) state that this enables
students to develop skills that they can
use immediately to “contribute to the
organizations that hire them.” Lopes and
Morais (2002) point out that IS courses
need to be “frequently updated to re-
main effective” due to the nature of the
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Strategies to Enhance Student Learning
328
evolution and advancement in the IT industry. Noll and Wilkins (2002) highlight the diversity of
skills needed by the IS industry and the fact that a generic IS program cannot provide these skills
to students. They recommend “distinct concentrations” such as “programming, analyst and user
support” that provide diverse skills to students.
MIS capstone course studies highlight using the project experience as a pedagogical approach to
teaching the capstone course. Studies like Myers (2003) and Tuttle (2001) provide useful insights
from using the project-based approach to increase student learning in a capstone IS course. Tuttle
(2001) does go beyond the project experience and describes the course structure, methodology
and student feedback. These studies fail to take a comprehensive view of the MIS capstone ex-
perience and this is the gap the present study is trying to address. Students need to learn about the
integration and convergence of not just the MIS curriculum but the complete academic experi-
ence. They need to learn how to successfully synthesize, analyze, and apply knowledge acquired
in an academic program in the capstone course. This will help them gain an advantage in the
highly competitive MIS marketplace, leading to successful careers in the MIS discipline. MIS
programs across the nation can highlight these success stories leading to increased student en-
rollment in the MIS programs. The challenge for educators is to design a capstone MIS course
that provides students the opportunity to learn and succeed in their chosen field. This paper shares
strategies that have helped students synthesize, analyze, and apply knowledge in a capstone MIS
course. The author is a MIS faculty and has taught the MIS capstone course at both the under-
graduate and graduate level for several years in a Midwestern university.
Strategies for Teaching a Capstone MIS Course
A capstone course in any discipline requires that students are provided the opportunity to synthe-
size and integrate their knowledge acquired over several years. This creates unique challenges for
the designer of the course as one has to ensure that students walk away from this course with a
good understanding of how knowledge acquired from all their courses in their curriculum fits to-
gether and how they can apply this knowledge to design and develop an information system.
Using the Systems Approach
It is critical to start the capstone course by a discussion of the systems approach to designing and
developing information systems. The systems approach encourages students to look at different
courses as elements that need to interact rather than be studied as individual courses. As Friedman
(2005) points out “the world is moving from a place where value was created in vertical silos of
command and control to a world where value is increasingly going to be created horizontally by
how you connect and collaborate – how you synthesize this with that… It’s great to have people
who can forge dots, it’s even better to have people who can connect them.” The ability to under-
stand how different courses are building blocks (dots) in the process of acquiring integrated (con-
necting) MIS knowledge can help students understand and relate the diverse concepts and skills
used to design and develop information systems.
Using the systems approach the course content was divided into several modules. Concepts dis-
cussed and learned in a course module were reinforced by a project milestone helping students
apply the concepts. A project management approach was used for managing these projects where
each student in the group was made responsible for managing the project for a milestone. This
exposed students to the challenges of managing an Information System project. The capstone pro-
ject was designed keeping in view the systems theory approach to designing and developing an
information system.
Kumar
329
Using a Student-Centered Rather than a Teacher-Centered Ap-
proach to Enhance Student Learning in the Classroom
A student-centered teaching approach was used to actively engage students in the learning proc-
ess. Student learning is the focal point of my teaching and in pursuing this effort the goal has
been to answer how will students learn rather that how do I teach them? A conscious effort was
made to increase student involvement in the classroom to promote student learning. Instead of
using a teacher-centered approach where students receive information passively and tend to lose
interest, a student-centered approach was used. To achieve active participation in the classroom,
class lectures were made available to students on Blackboard a week before class. The students
were expected to read the assigned chapters and presentations and come prepared to class. Class-
room time was used for discussions and problem solving exercises to learn the theory and con-
cepts of MIS. This strategy facilitated the transition to student-centered learning and also ensured
active participation from students.
This approach enhanced the overall learning experience for the students as indicated by their
comments provided as part of the end of the semester evaluations:
“Presents the material in a way that helps us learn, by asking questions and getting our
thoughts instead of just lecturing.”
“He structured the class around the students. It was the only class I enjoyed coming to.”
“Good open discussions. Good use of examples. It was good that he was open to student
suggestions.”
“I liked how the teacher got us involved through group discussions and presentations.
The class was lively and as a result I was very motivated in attending every single class.
The teacher is very approachable and makes students comfortable.”
“Lots of questions and interactivity during lecture.”
To use the student-centered approach a significant effort was made every semester to know indi-
viduals in the class. This was achieved by using several ice-breaking activities in the first class to
know more about the students-their names, hobbies, background etc. In the first class I shared
experiences with them and encouraged them to do the same. This process is critical and often
leads to motivating students. Motivated students tend to be more receptive to learning. When de-
signing the course make sure that the first class meeting is planned for developing the rapport
with students. This prepares students to interact actively with the instructor and other students
leading to an environment that promotes active learning in the classroom.
Use Multiple Assessment Methods to Ensure that Students with
Diverse Learning Styles have an Opportunity to Demonstrate
their Learning
Every semester students were required to complete a questionnaire at the beginning to identify
their learning styles, and multiple course assignments & projects were designed to accommodate
diverse student learning styles. The Grasha-Riechmann Student Learning Style Scale (Hruska-
Riechmann & Grasha, 1982) that identifies six types of student learners, Independent, Collabora-
tive, Dependent, Participative, Competitive, and Avoidant was used to identify student learning
style. This was done with a view to ensure that students with diverse learning styles in my class-
room had an opportunity to demonstrate their learning. A critical part of the assessment process
was to provide ongoing feedback to students about their performance. This enhanced student
learning as they were always aware of the progress they were making and could focus on things
that they needed to improve.
Strategies to Enhance Student Learning
330
Students’ ability to comprehend concepts of management information systems design and devel-
opment were assessed using a two-phased approach. Initially classroom discussions were used for
assessing student understanding of concepts and their ability to demonstrate this understanding
orally in a group setting. As a follow up measure to reinforce their understanding individual stu-
dents were asked to write up a reflective paper for each course module completed in class. This
reflective paper required students to answer questions on the different concepts discussed in the
module. For example, the module on logical design required them to discuss the significance of
modeling (data and process), and students were required to discuss the concepts using examples
from their project. In addition, students were asked to create a concept map that allowed them to
depict pictorially how concepts in each module were related to each other. The concept map en-
abled students to see the big picture from an integrated learning perspective. Instant feedback was
provided to students in the classroom during discussions. Reflective papers were graded and re-
turned to students with comments before the next class period. All course grades were posted on
Blackboard and students were able to track their progress throughout the semester.
The following end of semester student comments indicated that usage of multiple assessment
methods promoted student learning.
“The whole project milestone idea was great and it made me have a first-hand develop-
ment of a system. The reflective paper was also good.”
“Gives examples. Sits down w/students & explains the material. Posts documents on
Blackboard. Uses email to communicate with students.”
“By dividing the system work into Milestones and also asking students write reflective
papers make it easy on me to really know what is going on step by step.”
Integrate Technology to Promote Student Learning
Technology usage was a critical component of my teaching. Technology was used as a tool to
support and promote active student learning. Blackboard (BB) was used as a course management
system to support student learning. All course materials such as course syllabus, course content
presentations, assignments, announcements, student grades etc. were made available to students
on BB. Further, BB group communications features have been used consistently to promote ac-
tive student learning. Students have been required to interact with their peers electronically to
exchange ideas on different topics being discussed in class. This promoted collaboration within
and among groups in the class and prepared students for the real-world where electronic collabo-
ration is highly desired.
Numerous technology tools such as MS-Project, MS-Visio, MS-IIS 6.0 web server, MS Office
Suite, MS SQL Server, Oracle, HTML, MS-FrontPage, Active Server Pages, Cold Fusion,
Dreamweaver etc. were used in the class to help students develop skills required for designing
and developing computer-based information systems. Students used these tools to develop sys-
tems that simulate real world organizations. Examples from previous semesters include: day care
registration & information management system, student flea market system, and entertainment &
dining information system for a small community among others. Students were encouraged to use
technology tools extensively to enhance their learning and provide an opportunity for them to
manage and operate technology for their projects. For example, at the beginning of the semester,
all systems development software was provided for free from Microsoft through the University
Alliance. It provided the students the opportunity to practice working with the software in their
own time outside of class throughout the first half of the semester and finally use it to implement
their systems in the second half of the semester. Partnering with the College of Business Admini-
stration technology department, students were provided access to virtual MS-Windows servers.
To enhance the learning process students were provided the opportunity to build and maintain IIS
Kumar
331
6.0 web servers to host their systems. A unique feature of this process was that these web servers
were developed and maintained by students using virtual server management tools. All students
in the course were given administrative rights to these virtual servers and responsibility for run-
ning, maintaining and security was delegated to the students. This unique feature enabled students
to understand how organizations create an IT infrastructure to manage their systems and the asso-
ciated challenges that MIS professionals face in managing them. Though technologically frustrat-
ing at times, the students enjoyed the “power” they had in managing their systems. The MIS de-
sign and development projects used for application of concepts in the capstone MIS course need
to address the complexity of the process, yet should be simple enough so that students can com-
plete them in a semester’s time.
Integrating Student Learning, Assessment & Feedback and
Technology Usage to Enhance Student Learning
The key to my teaching strategy was the integrated approach that was used to design the capstone
course. Student learning, assessment & feedback and technology usage were integrated for course
design to achieve alignment with the mission of the University and the College of Business Ad-
ministration. The integrated approach was implemented by first listing the three components, i.e.,
student learning outcomes, assessment procedures & feedback, and technology usage and then
ensuring that these three components were aligned with each other and supported each other. The
benefit of using this integrated approach was that the focus of the course was on achieving stu-
dent learning outcomes.
Student comments indicated that they liked the integrated learning approach that was used in the
classroom.
“Lectures are interactive. Extensive use of Blackboard helps too. Instructor also involves
students in design of class & making decisions about assignments, tests, quizzes etc.”
“The format of the class was excellent-discussions were well paced. Papers/case analysis
to test knowledge is more “real-world” than testing.”
Collaborating with Students on Multiple Research Projects
I am a strong believer in encouraging my capstone course students at both the undergraduate and
graduate level to conduct quality research as part of their academic career. In pursuit of this goal
during the past three years I have co-authored peer review journal articles, research monographs,
and presented multiple papers at International conferences with my students.
Inviting Recent Graduates to Speak to Capstone Course
Students
In an attempt to help capstone students understand the IS industry environment, recent MIS
graduates were invited to speak to the class. This helped calm students’ fears about entering the
workplace and prepare them for the transition. Speakers that have participated have come from
companies such as Deloitte Consulting, Eli Lilly, EDS, and Dow Chemical etc. These speakers
were in addition to senior industry professionals that have visited the capstone classes from time
to time to talk about job potential in the IS discipline.
Strategies to Enhance Student Learning
332
Conclusion
As discussed in the previous sections, this paper highlights multiple strategies used to actively
involve students in the learning process leading to enhanced student learning and engagement in
their capstone MIS course. Students, individually and in groups, always participated in both class-
room and online discussions. The prompt feedback provided to students on their performance
helped them assess their own knowledge on a specific topic before moving to the next topic in
class. Technology was integrated as a critical component of the classroom to extend the learning
environment beyond the traditional classroom. Since students learn in different ways it was en-
sured that multiple opportunities were provided to students to demonstrate their learning. I be-
lieve that using these innovative approaches has challenged the students to set high expectations
for them to excel in the classroom. Student opinions indicate that they liked the challenge and the
high expectations set for them in the course and their performance in the form of grades, research
publications, and international conference presentations etc. indicates the success of these innova-
tive approaches.
References
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Keefe (Ed.), Student learning styles and brain behavior. Reston, VA: National Association of Secon-
dary School Principals.
Lopes, F. & Morais, P. (2002). Lessons learnt from the teaching of IS development. Journal of Information
Technology Education, 1(2), 103-112. Retrieved from http://jite.org/documents/Vol1/v1n2p103-
112.pdf
Myers, M. (2003). An IS capstone project: The Mywick property management system, Journal of Informa-
tion Systems Education, 14(3), 235-239.
Neville, K. & Adam, F. (2003). Integrating theory and practice in education with business games. Inform-
ing Science Journal, 6, 61-73. Retrieved from http://inform.nu/Articles/Vol6/v6p061-073.pdf
Noll, C.L. & Wilkins, M. (2002). Critical skills of IS professionals: A model for curriculum development,
Journal of Information Technology Education, 1(3), 143-154. Retrieved from
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ond Annual CCSC on Computing in Small Colleges Northwestern Conference, 42-49.
Biography
Dr. Anil Kumar is an Associate Professor in the Business Information
Systems Department at Central Michigan University. He has published
more than 40 articles on global IT management, technology-mediated
learning and IS education. His current research focuses on globaliza-
tion & technology, and technology-mediated learning. Prior to his aca-
demic appointment, he spent several years working in the IS industry.
He is active in several professional organizations and serves on the edi-
torial board of the Journal of Global Information Technology Man-
agement and the International Board of Reviewers of the Journal of
Information Technology Education.
... Many academic programs in the broad field of information systems offer a capstone experience for their students, and many of these faculty members share the discourse on how best to facilitate such a course for their diverse populations (Astani, 2006;Brandon, Pruett, & Wade, 2002;Gupta, & Wachter, 1998;Harper, Lamb, & Buffington, 2008;Hashemi, & Kellersberger, 2009;Janicki, Fischetti, & Burns, 2006;Kumar, 2006;McGann, & Cahill, 2005;Morgan, & Aitken, 2006;Schwieger, & Surendran, 2010;Shih, LeClair, & Varden, 2010;Surendran, & Schwieger, 2011;Tuttle, 2000Tuttle, , 2001. After more than a decade of discourse on the topic, there is still very little agreement on how best to design, develop, and deliver an information systems capstone experience for undergraduate majors. ...
... An alternative approach has been to structure the course around student presentations of case studies, situation analysis reports and team projects (Brandon et al., 2002;Gupta & Wachter, 1998). Still other courses have emphasized the use of guest speakers and student research projects (Kumar, 2006). Yet another approach is for students to develop an ePortfolio to demonstrate their competency across the curriculum (Shih et al., 2010). ...
... A fourth and final theme to arise from the literature is an emphasis on undergraduate information systems students interacting with professionals already practicing in the field (e.g., Astani, 2006;Brandon et al., 2002;Kumar, 2006;McGann & Cahill, 2005). Whether students are soliciting requirements from real-world clients or interviewing seasoned professionals, the contact between a student and professional is a valuable component to a capstone experience. ...
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... The real-world projects come from the institution and local not-for-profits. Kumar (2006) The paper focuses on the recommendations of using a systems approach, focusing on student-centered activities, using multiple modes of assessment, providing research opportunities, and inviting guest graduates to speak about the course. McGann and Cahill (2005) A description of a comprehensive course that covers real-world client projects, traditional readings and case studies, project management, individual development assignments, research readings, electronic portfolios and a career readiness emphasis. ...
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The meaningful integration of theoretical knowledge and industrial practice in Masters level programmes is now more than ever vital to ensure that graduates have the required competence in IT and that they are ready to contribute to the organisations that hired them within a short timeframe. It is also crucial in ensuring ongoing industrial support for academia because Information technology (IT) is regarded as a fundamental component in the success of organisations. This has led to a growing demand for IT specialists, sometimes with hybrid skills, to design, develop, implement, and support IT infrastures in both the public and private sectors. However, in recent years there has been a shortfall of IT graduates, with essential experience entering the job market. In order to keep up with demand, educational institutions must adopt innovative programmes to increase the skill-set and knowledge base of their IT graduates. One such programme, under the auspices of University College Cork, is a Masters course in Management Information and Managerial Accounting Systems (MIMAS). The programme focuses on IT to suit the needs of industry while also combining IT with other theoretical subjects like managerial accounting and the design of management control systems. One key element of the teaching experience is a business simulation where students create software companies and bid for a large scale development project. As part of this, they experience of broad range of tasks and problems inherent in commercial software development. The business game is designed to encourage students to make use of as much of the theoretical elements taught in the degree as possible and is mediated by the teaching staff through the intermediary of a purpose-designed computer system. Our experience indicates the immense value of such practical components in an IT oriented degree programme. It also shows that the application of new technology in training and education will only truly benefit students when it is associated with high quality material and a high degree of student motivation.
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This paper describes a project suitable for use in an upper division course requiring the completion of analysis, design and implementation of a software system. It is especially useful for illustrating multiple cycles through the development process, as well as for integrating key concepts from a number of fundamental knowledge clusters in a typical undergraduate IS program of study. These knowledge clusters include database management, project management, programming principles, and system analysis and design. In the pilot class, students employed use case analysis as well as standard object-oriented techniques such as class diagrams and sequence diagrams. Students followed a modified version of the Team Software Process, with special attention paid to the postmortem following each of two cycles. Teaching tools included the use of a special email address allowing students to converse with the "client."
Conference Paper
This paper describes the current form and organization of Humboldt State University's CIS 492: Systems Design and Implementation, the capstone course for the Computer Information Systems (CIS) major. Since Spring 1998, this course has combined a team programming experience on a large-scale database project with discussions of a software engineering classic, Frederick Brooks Jr.'s “The Mythical Man Month”[1]. Students seem to find this combination valuable, and it is hoped that this paper can impart some useful ideas to others in designing a CIS/MIS capstone course.
Article
Thesis (M.A.)--University of Cincinnati, 1972. Bibliography: leaves 70-72. "Grasha-Riechmann student learning style scales": leaves 85-[88].
Student learning styles and brain behavior
  • Keefe
Keefe (Ed.), Student learning styles and brain behavior. Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.