Senior Capstone Projects 2021
New Media majors can be confused about expectations for their capstone. This is partly because new media are always changing, but also because New Media courses cover so many topics, including older media such as film and print design. Your capstone instructor made this rubric to help you determine how close your idea is to a valid capstone, and if accepted how it will be graded.
Your instructor will rate each of the following criteria on a scale from one (weak) to three ( strong), then add up all the points. Your capstone idea will be accepted if it passes a certain threshold.
This rubric should be more flexible than many you’ve encountered, since it doesn’t require your idea to excel on every criterion. Bach wrote masterful counterpoint with unremarkable melodies, and Mozart wrote masterful melodies with unremarkable counterpoint, but we consider them both great composers. Don’t think of this rubric as a set of mandatory check boxes but an assessment of whether there is sufficient strength in enough criteria for your capstone to excel.
Working with the up-to-date hardware and software is probably the most easily understand new media criterion. In 2000 that would have included making a website or interactive DVD; in 2020 it might include augmented reality or blockchain. As an example, when drones were still a new technology in 2014, Jesse Hinman proposed creating a class to teach high school kids how to use them; he wasn’t hacking the drones or using them to make art, but he did engage local teachers and eventually got a gig at Wiscasset high school and a spot on the local TV news.
Yet you can also make a successful capstone using older technologies if it excels in other criteria. In 2004 Mark Seiler showed exceptional technical merit by producing a highly original vinyl record of remixed Beastie Boys tracks whose timing was mathematically engineered for DJ scratch battles.
One of the most popular definitions of new media is that it embodies a many-to-many dynamic, as described in Vin Crosbie’s essay “What Is New Media.” In a one-to-many (broadcast) model, the same content goes to all recipients, with the originator maintaining complete control over that content. In a many-to-many (new media) model, individualized information can be delivered to many people, each of whom shares reciprocal control over the content.
That said, it can be hard to adapt ideas inherited from broadcast media to a many-to-many dynamic. Sometimes this conceptual effort results in truly innovative and democratizing capstone ideas; other times it results in slapped-on participatory embellishments, like comment sections or humdrum social media accounts. Nevertheless if you push this idea it can make your New Media capstone more social and engaging.
Deploying your capstone to a particular audience for testing and refinement embodies an agile approach that usually results in a stronger project. But there are levels of engagement; a student who merely has the capstone class test her VR set up would not get as high a rating in this category as a student like Annie Hepburn who worked with a state park in Kittery to design and test her VR kiosk. New media senior Elysa Woodhead several years back proposed developing a curriculum to teach seniors how do use the Internet; although it seemed an uninspired idea at the time, by the end of the semester she had already taught one paid class to a dozen residents of a nursing home and had a waiting list for her next course.
A project may not be as grounded in a specific community yet promise an ambitious social benefit if it goes beyond convenience or incremental change to imagine a broader social disruption or regeneration. For example, a recurring theme in past capstones has been building a calendar application for UMaine events. While the current options could certainly be more convenient, a more expansive idea might come from asking how a calendar app might help students make better choices about how they spend their time, for example to become more mindful or improve their mental health.
A useful concept from NMD 200 is “appropriate technology,” that is, choosing existing technical solutions wisely and making good choices about new ones. Students across the New Media program don’t think carefully enough about the downsides of their inventions. Benefiting society also means not unintentionally rupturing the social or natural fabric of our world. So although they use the same techniques, a social media campaign for an endangered local economy or ecology may have more social benefit than one for the latest corporate gizmo.
Originality is one of the biggest bugaboos for capstone students. Professors often demand it, and 20-year-olds understandably find it hard to think up a project that hasn’t already been done by some company or another researcher or artist. However, if you have enough strength in other criteria, that can make up for a low level of originality. For example, if research shows someone has already thought of and implemented a similar concept, there’s usually some way to tweak that concept to make it your own.
A hybrid approach is a core premise of the New Media curriculum. You’re exposed to a lot of different topics and media not just because you may go into those disciplines someday, but also because you should be combining ideas and techniques from different classes in your capstone. This is one of the biggest problems with students who just want to make a film or website, but it could be solved by combining, say, video footage with techniques from physical computing to create an installation, or by creating a website based on ideas from machine learning.
For example, Ryan Page’s main interest was music but he’d taken classes in physical computing. He created an nine-speaker audio installation that made listeners more aware of their 3D sonic environment, and ended up with more original music than if he had simply made a stereo track in GarageBand or Logic. Sam Lynch loved photography and decided to make it more accessible for everyday moments like hiking or driving a car; he created a capstone that let someone take photos with their glasses.
Personal growth or connection
Personal growth or connection to the topic is nothing specific to new media, but ideally your capstone idea should build on what you have learned while requiring you to flex intellectual, creative, or emotional muscles you have not yet developed. This is one of the reasons we encourage students to minor in something other than the predictable New Media-related subjects like Film and video, Graphic Design, or Business. The digital revolution is changing every field, so we encourage you to bring a passion or curiosity about bees, foreign languages, or snowboarding to the mix.
Your capstone idea should build on what you have learned while requiring you to flex intellectual, creative, or emotional muscles you have not yet developed. This is one of the reasons we encourage students to minor in something other than the predictable New Media-related subjects like Film and video, Graphic Design, or Business. The digital revolution is changing every field, so we encourage you to bring a passion or curiosity about bees, foreign languages, or snowboarding to the mix.