Optimising Problem Solving (OPS): a re-engineered version of the RSD

August 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Tutors of a First Year Mechanical Engineering Communications course at the University of Adelaide have ‘re-engineered’ the Research Skill Development (RSD) framework with language and configuration that fits the ways that engineers work, think and speak.

The tutors are themselves students in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th Years and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering.

Their framework is called Optimising Problem Solving, or OPS for short. It has several brilliant features, which the RSD current representation does not have:

1. Simple
2. Visually captures core elements of Problem Solving Processes
3. Great for direct use with students in the classroom
4. Shows how communication is an integral part of the problem solving process, not just end-on in products like reports.

You can see the full sized downloadable OPS (version 2) at http://www.adelaide.edu.au/rsd/framework/frameworks/


The tutors are looking forward to using this with First Year students in the week beginning 4 August 2014. Some of them will probably write some guest blogs on Reskidev in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, have a look at OPS and maybe comment on:

1) How effectively does OPS capture problem solving, from your perspective?
2) Under the OPS title is a byline beginning ‘when in doubt…’ that shows that the OPS process is not linear or even cyclic, but there is some direction that can be given to students. What do you think of the guidance provided by the byline?

The RSD website is www.rsd.edu.au

OPS also helps me to see how similar the skills underlying problem solving and researching really are. Great if you comment on OPS, so that the tutors get feedback on this work-in-progress

Framing assessment across degrees with the RSD: HERDSA in HK:

In a standard three-year degree, students encounter somewhere between 20 and 70 assignments, depending on discipline and university, from which they may receive some sort of feedback. How effectively can students see that these individual assignments fit together into a forest of learning?

Recent criticisms of assessment rubrics justifiably point out their problems, such as not providing feedback in a form that students use, and making students reliant on assessors rather than becoming increasingly autonomous learners, as noted by authors including Boud and Sadler. However, these problems are not necessarily endemic to rubrics, but rather to the current idiosyncratic use of rubrics providing feedback that is ‘too specific to a single episode of assessment rather than generalisable to the learning experience as a whole’ (Adcroft, 2011).

In our Office of Learning and Teaching project that looked at the benefits of using the six facets of the Research Skill Development framework (www.rsd.edu.au) as a common frame for assessment criteria across multiple and diverse assignments in a variety of courses across degrees. The efficacy of this approach was determined through interviews with 50 graduates, about one year after completing one of five undergraduate degrees. The use of the RSD facets in this way enabled many students to make connections between otherwise unrelated assessments and was perceived by graduates to be helpful in the development of attributes needed by them in a globalised world. A caveat is that RSD-framed rubrics are like ‘frozen conversations’ that need the warmth of human interaction to defrost them.

Visit the RSD website at http://www.rsd.edu.au to see a range of RSD-informed rubrics, under ‘Discipline examples’ that show RSD framing in a variety of contexts.

What role could the RSD play in your programs assessments, course by course? Please leave a comment.

Categories: Uncategorized

U Wisconsin Stout: Of the six facets of research, which has primacy?

In the U Wisconsin Stout presentation, we discussed the six facets of the Research Skill Development (RSD) framework (www.rsd.edu.au):

Embark and Clarify
Find and Generate
Evaluate and Reflect
Organise and Manage
Analyses and Synthesise
Communicate and Apply

If you had to prioritise one facet over the others, which one would it be? Why that one?

What may be potential uses for the RSD in your context?

Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse…

Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse while all the others were making ships. -Charles Simic, poet (b. 1938)

The idea of world’s best practice may at times provide a glut of ships-in-a-bottle. By the time I finish my ship, the oversupply makes it redundant. The way this seems to manifest in higher education is that by the time we follow a ‘world’ trend, the practice or initiative is no longer so highly regarded and the field has moved on to some different, more improved practice of focus.

However, maybe we need students who think ‘there are a lot of ships being built. Do we need another ship, or do we need something to help the ships out when they get in trouble?’

When students embark on the voyage of research, they may need to learn this through safe and common strategies with lots of structure and guidance (as per Prescribed Research Level 1 in the RSD: www.rsd.edu.au). However, do we also provide for students to think outside the ‘bottle’, or to imagine a different inside? (This is more akin to the RSD’s Level 4 Self-actuated Research or Level 5 Open Research).

Do we provide a range of active learning experiences where there are both safe and sure processes learned, as well as risk taking and adventuring?

The Levels on the RSD describe ‘extent of student autonomy in research’. Which of the five levels do you think is useful to begin with students in your context?

“I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.”

When Duke Ellington, the great jazz pianist, composer, and conductor (1899-1974) said:

“I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.”

I think that he was onto something that we can learn from in formal education.

I have run a lot of workshops for academic staff and professional staff on the six facets of the Research Skill Development framework (RSD: www.rsd.edu.au) in Australia and overseas, and I have looked at a lot of assessments across a number of universities. One stand out feature is that the facet of the RSD ‘Organise and Manage’ is typically under taught, under-developed and under assessed, resulting in minimised feedback for students to improve this complex set of skills.

Yet, without the ability to organise information in discipline appropriate ways, it is very difficult for students to do high level qualitative or quantitative analysis. Likewise, without the ability to manage resources, deadlines and sometimes teams, it is difficult to produce conceptually powerful work.

I have found quotes by famous people that connect to each of the other facets, but this Ellington quote is one of the few I have found that connects well to organise and manage. Interesting for me, then is that the current single-word descriptor of the affective (emotional and motivational) side of this facet is:


The Duke lead a rather large “team” of musicians with strong individual differences to produce great, harmonious music at the forefront of his field. His craving for a timeline is indicative of someone who yearns to wreak order on the choas of individual brilliance, pulling it all together harmoniously. Organisation and management then for the Duke served creativity, rather than restricting it.

I wonder if we can learn the Duke’s lesson in formal education, where the teaching, learning and assessment of organising and managing enable students to see the harmonies of data and in their teams, and so to engage in highly creative work that is scholarly in nature.

Do you have any good quotes around ‘organise and manage’? It would be great to build up the stockpile for these.

Do you agree or disagree that ‘organise and manage’ is under-done in formal education? Please add your ideas on this.

See another take on this facet at http://reskidev.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/what-do-i-do-with-all-this-information/

RSD presentations at the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) Conference, Washington DC 28 June- 1 July 2014

February 27, 2014 Leave a comment

If you are going to this conference, or were not planning to but may reconsider after visiting http://www.cur.org/conferences_and_events/cur_conference_2014/…

… consider dropping in on Cathy Snelling’s presentation: ‘Enhanced alumni: nurturing global citizenship using a scaffolded research skills framework’

or my presentations:

Graduates’ perspectives on of the development of all students’ research skills across undergraduate degrees


‘I love it.’ Student motivators to engage in the development of their research skills in the curriculum.

Hope to see you there


Introducing your students to the RSD facets: Module 1 of ‘Using the RSD’ series

February 17, 2014 2 comments

The first module in the ‘Using the RSD’ series is aboout how you may introduce your students to the RSD facets by experiencing these for themselves in large class settings. The module has five examples, with one example explained in detail and another showing footage of students engaging in deriving the facets of the RSD. It runs for about 20 minutes.

The module is called ‘Introducing your students to the RSD facets’ and available here:


This is the first module because, after interviewing graduates we found:

- understanding RSD-based rubrics was difficult but important
– there was a risk that rubrics could remain as ‘frozen conversations’ rather than helpful documents
– numerous encounters, including the ‘deriving activities’ described in the module are important for long term research skill development.

The above evaluation is found in the report on RSD emebedded across whole degree programs.

If you watch this module, you could comment on ideas that you have on what stimulus you might use in your context, and how you could organise the learning tasks so that students come up with differentiated lists. I for one would be interested! The more discipline-specific examples that we can gather, the better armed we will be to help students develop richly their research skills in multiple contexts.

John W


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