MSIM Capstone Project:
Save lives and become a super-hero
by Cadi Russell-Sauve
Having heard too much about portfolios from the MLIS crowd, I became curious about the other Masters program and their culminating Capstone Project. I sat down with a couple of nearly-graduated MSIMs to talk about their projects. What was first characterized as idle curiosity soon became fascination as internships, projects, posters, accomplishments and failures were explained to me. Let me start at the beginning.
I met up with Rachel Elkington over a cup of coffee in MGH commons one late morning. She was full of exciting news: a job interview call with Zaaz as wakeup call, stories from conferences in Miami, and a nearing completion Facebook application that could save lives. Yes, save lives. MSIMs are super-heroes!
She told me about the MSIM experience. How you have to complete an internship to gain professional experience and then do a capstone project about something completely unrelated to show off and synthesize academic and professional skills. The internship itself is either done full-time over the summer or part time (yes, 20 full hours a week) over fall and winter quarters. The internship counts for 4 credits.
While a great experience, Rachel told me she felt a little isolated from the school while she was doing hers. She spent more time in the real world than in the lab! What a shame…
The internship is to be completed before MSIMs embark on their capstone projects, the accumulation of the iSchool experience. “Students may pursue a research-oriented or an interactive design-oriented capstone” says the iSchool website. “The capstone experience is student-directed, meaning that students take responsibility for identifying and defining a problem to work on, developing the approach and methods needed to address the problem, carrying out the investigation, and presenting findings in both oral and written forms.” The capstone, a 3 credit course, can be completed in groups or individually, based on preference.
The class meets twice a week. On Tuesday guest lecturers, practitioner in the field, come to discuss the week’s theme. This provides insight into the profession and also provides an opportunity for networking. While not every lecture is relevant to and individual’s experience, the MSIMs I spoke with thought they were beneficial to the experience. Thursdays are reserved time to work on projects and get faculty help and input.
So enough background, on to saving lives!
Rachel did her internship for One Economy Corporation in Portland. She worked on the Public Internet Channel. This is an “informing, engaging, public-purpose multimedia experience that inspires and empowers its viewers to actively take steps to improve their lives” (one-economy.com). She spent fall and winter quarters improving the service under mentorship.
She continued the theme of improving lives in her capstone project. She created a Facebook application prototype called HomeSafe. “When a person is going on a trip with a degree of risk (camping, hiking, etc) they can add HomeSafe and invite individual friends to be designated contacts for that trip.” The adventurous person leaves their contact information and itinerary. If the person doesn’t check in by the designated time, HomeSafe sends an alert to the designated contacts who then check up on their friends or contact authorities to make sure that friend gets home, safe.
“There are a lot of great projects. The presentations this year will be great.” Rachel goes on to explain how important this project was for her. “There is the follow through of project management. This is a self-directed experience and you have to be motivated. At the end you have deliverables to show at interviews.” She pulls out her computer and shows me some really neat looking things that make my brain spin. No wonder employers are courting her.
On the other hand: “My capstone was a failed project. I was not able to accomplish my objective,” Bryce Smart told me. “I learned a lot from my mistakes. I bit off more than I could chew.”
Bryce attempted to create online leadership training for the local Boy Scouts district. He has been involved with the Boy Scouts first as a participant, and more recently as a coach. Unfortunately, that leadership position came with no training. He had personal experience to fall back on, but knows other volunteers out there might not be so fortunate.
He wanted to create a training portal that was online for the convenience of busy volunteers who could then learn at all they needed at their own pace, on their own time, and in their own home. Most of the materials have already been created by the Boy Scouts, they are just costly to produce and distribute. Placing training materials online will allow the Boy Scouts to increase access by volunteers and save money on printing costs.
The design was great. Unfortunately, Bryce ran into some tech difficulties. First, there were server problems. Rather than taking a couple hours to resolve, they took a couple of weeks and required a steep learning curve. Then he had to learn new languages to implement new tools. His project management process went out the window, and his stress level rose.
He decided attacking a whole system was not the most efficient way to proceed with projects of this magnitude. Rather, defining a task-by-task based approach would have been better. Bryce realized knowing limits is important. As is knowing how to balance different aspects of the project. And rather than sprinting to get things done, and burning out, he recommends slowing down. And always getting a full night sleep.
While Bryce’s capstone didn’t exactly go as planned, he did learn a lot. Particularly about the importance of process and productivity: “I questioned why there are such rigid schedules. Now I know. Without, you burn out. It is important to take a task-based approach.” And fortunately he learned the benefits of task management in a safe environment. He’s even hoping to publish a paper on failed projects, how to avoid them, and how to circumvent burnout.
Even though he views the project as a failure, Bryce has created a site for the Boy Scouts and plans on following up to make sure they have a working prototype. He has already landed a job with T-Mobile, the company where he did his internship.
The practical skills MSIMs gain through this process and the relatively safe class room environment of the Capstone allow for both professional and academic development. The experience provides real, practical results that employers look for. The capstone seems to be working well in providing both practical and educational proficiencies.