I have recently been working with some groups that are concerned about:
- The Honours (4th) Year in Engineering satisfying AQF Level 8 eg ‘design and use research in a project’
- Masters by coursework in various faculties satisfying AQF Level 9 eg ‘technical research skills to justify and interpret theoretical propositions, methodologies, conclusions and professional decisions to specialist and non-specialist audiences.’
The AQF (Australian Qualifications Framework) is a National framework for all post-schooling qualifications, where university study falls between Level 7 (undergraduate) and Level 10 (PhD).
There are two major issues for those in the above contexts to be concerned about. The first is that the research components are sufficiently comprehensive. However, the effectiveness of a curriculum that is sufficiently research comprehensive is contingent on the second issue, which concerns the preparedness of students to engage in research. The University of Adelaide’s new strategic plan (the ‘Beakon’) addresses this issue quite nicely:
For many undergraduate students, this will take the form of an individual research project in their final year, for which the preparatory research skills and experience necessary will be built through smaller exercises in the earlier years of their course.’
Substantial time and thought needs to be given to the coherent and explicit development of research skills from First Year towards these final year research projects. So, while AQF Level 7 does not specify requirements that use the term research, it does require many of the cognitive skills associated with research, such as ‘review critically, analyse, consolidate and synthesise knowledge’, ‘exercise critical thinking and judgement in identifying and solving problems with intellectual independence’ and ‘present a clear, coherent and independent exposition of knowledge and ideas’. The incremental, coherent and explicit development of research skills is a logical way to both nurture the AQF Level 7 skills and prepare those students who are progressing towards Levels 8 & 9. Academics in a number of disciplines have found that the use of the Research Skill Development framework (www.rsd.edu.au) is a realistic way to enable and, importantly, assess this development.
Given the above preparation for Australian students, this suggests the vital place of bridging programs for international masters students first studying at an Australian University. University of Adelaide’s Introductory Academic Program for AusAid students, for example, devotes five weeks of intensive learning to the development of student academic literacies and research skills, with as much discipline nuances as resources permit.
What issues are you facing in regards to the development of research skills required by AQF levels 8 & 9 (or equivalent issues in other countries) at your institution? Give your perspective in ‘comments’ on this blog, and/or participate in the Webinar on this topic on Friday 21 May.
RSDebinars on Fridays
Webinars on topical aspects of the Research Skill Development framework (RSD: www.rsd.edu.au) are running Fridays until June 14 (times below):
S3 (24 May): AQF Levels 7, 8 & 9 and the RSD in the curriculum
Please visit the short blog on this at http://wp.me/p1Bw4B-5C beforehand to be prepared for the topic.
S4 (31 May): The 6 facets of researching
S5 (7 June): Five+ degrees of student autonomy in research
S6 (14 June): When academics integrate RSD across degree programs
See the blog on each topic on this Reskidev blog or www.rsd.edu.au from the Saturday beforehand. Feel free to comment on the blog in advance, or to share your thinking during the RSDebinar.
Log in 3pm EST, 2.30 pm SA/NT time /1pm WA time/5am Universal Time
You can go to the lobby in advance to complete a sound-check.
A headset is essential for talking.
Alternately listen through built-in speakers and contribute via chat box.
Hope to see you there
The cognitive skill set for researching, problem solving and for critical thinking are the same. Agree or disagree, contribute your perspective in the comments section of this blog or in the upcoming webinar on Friday 5am Coordinated Universal Time.
Eight years on since Kerry O’Regan and I produced the early version of the Research Skill Development framework (RSD: see http://www.rsd.edu.au) , it seems to me that the 6 facets of the RSD cover the broad territory of engagement in rigorous thinking, whatever label that thinking may have. For example, in recent times:
- The University of the South Pacific has utilised the facets of the RSD for teaching Problem Solving skills
- The University of Adelaide has used the RSD facets to clarify the processes around Clinical Reasoning for First Year Medical students
- James Cook University has used the six facets, adapted in language but not in substance, to assess Work Integrated Learning.
This made me reflect on the following characteristics of the facets of the RSD:
- They are based on the six Australian and New Zealand Institute of Information Literacy Standards (ANZIIL, 2004).
- Kerry and I broadened the standards to capture the full dimensions of research, where for example the second ANZIIL (2004) standard was ‘find information’ and we modified this to ‘find information and generate data’, and so included many forms of empirical data generation.
- Further, these were simultaneously modified to include Bloom’s et al (1956) six taxa, knowledge, understanding, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. However, the notion of hierarchy in Bloom’s was over-ridden by the emphasis on the processes of research, prioritising the logical sequence of ANZIIL standards.
- Just as important ANZIIL standards were modified by feedback from academics and students, so that they would speak a language that a broad audience could relate to.
So, given that the six RSD facets are based on two umbrella frameworks, and these were synthesised and expanded, it is not completely surprising that the RSD facets would hold, not only for the processes associated with researching, but also with problem solving, clinical reasoning and critical thinking.
This idea highlights a huge problem that spans formal education; we as educators may be talking about the same underlying processes, but the similarities of the processes are hidden from students by the use of different terminology. This means that opportunities for reinforcing skills sets across the years are minimised, even sacrificed for our own attention to detail and subject or disciplinary nuances.
For example, while evaluation is very different in the sciences compared to the humanities, both require students and professors to weigh up evidences, to be discerning about assertions made and to critique all processes, whether one’s own, or others. The RSD facet of Evaluate and Reflect is in common, whereas the details differ.
Do you think there is legitimate overlap between the cognitive processes associated with researching, critical thinking, problem solving and clinical reasoning? If so, what are the consequences for all education for making these processes explicit, in common, and reinforced over the years? If not, what are the consequences of suggesting similarity?
If the underlying skills are the same for researching, problem solving, clinical reasoning, critical thinking and work integrated learning, then students are taking the same educational cruise, same ship, but different bays.
Six consecutive weeks of Friday afternoon webinars on explicit Research Skill Development.
W1 (10 May): Graduate Attributes articulated with Research Skills
Hosted by Dr John Willison and Ms Irene Lee
See the blog on this topic at www.rsd.edu.au (3 May). Comment on the blog in advance, or share your thinking during the RSDebinar.
Go to the URL below in advance to see site layout, complete soundcheck, etc.
Log in 3pm EST, 2.30 pm SA/NT time /1pm WA time/5am GMT
A headset is essential for speaking.
Alternately listen through built in speakers and contribute via chat box.
The link to the archive of the webinar will be available afterwards.
Hope you can join us.
Finally! We have a simple articulation of the six facets of the RSD (www.rsd.edu.au) with Graduate Attributes, thanks to USP.
This is in the report of USP’s visit to University of Adelaide and Monash University, when they came to see first-hand the use of the RSD in these universities. The front cover of the report elegantly depicts the connections between their Graduate Attributes and the 6 facets of the RSD.
USP has developed a portal for their RSD resources:
It comes complete with downloadable RSD-framed assessment rubrics that they developed for their compulsary first year courses on English for Academic Purposes and Communication and Information Literacy, each providing for around 2000 students each semester:
USP is currently well-set up to evaluate their implementation of RSD across all undergraduate degree programs, so watch their space!
Monash Univeristy has used the Research Skill Development framework (www.rsd.edu.au) to help library staff and academics to be on the same page in terms of teaching and learning. See academics’ testimonials of that collaboration at:
Enabling the library staff to have a stronger involvement directly in the curriculum has made a substantial difference to student learning.
In the presentation to a whole school that I mentioned in the last blog (20 April), one academic asked about the Research Skill Development framework (www.rsd.edu.au) in terms of ‘degrees of autonomy’. Specifically, he asked about the theoretical basis of ‘autonomy’, seeing it as potentially highly value-laden.
The educational notion of ‘model, scaffold, withdraw’, is a simple continuum of student autonomy which emerged from Lev Vygotsky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The RSD describes autonomy in five levels, rather than three, because this better reflects the range of academic practice of facilitating student research skills. The five levels of autonomy in the RSD are:
Prescribed Research (Level 1) : Highly structured directions and modelling from educator prompt student research. This is where the modelling comes in- demonstrating disciplinary ways of understanding, asking and seeking. Large lectures, for example, are fantastic places to model the types of questions valued in a discipline. Highly structured activities, including ‘cook-book laboratories’ and other step-by-step procedures are ways of students engaging within the scope described by ‘Prescribed Research’; in these activities there is explicit development of the six facets of the RSD.
Bounded Research (Level 2): Boundaries set by and limited directions from educator channel student research. Boundaries, such as the banks of a river, place constraints, yet there is room for manoeuvring within these limits. Likewise, students have more scope in Bounded Research than in the Prescribed Research, yet there is still structure and guidance. Students will make choices of directions, approaches and outcomes from a limited provided range, but that choice raises the level of student responsibility for and ownership of the research process. It also limits student floundering when this is deemed by educators to be unhelpful to student learning.
Scaffolded Research (Level 3): Scaffolds placed by educator shape student independent research. Scaffolding on buildings can be used for renovations and new buildings of a variety of types. Likewise, the scaffolds placed for Level 3 provide structure, yet require a high degree of independence to work within that structure. Like in the ‘model, scaffold, withdraw’ framework mentioned above, scaffolded research is the middle ground of the RSD continuum of autonomy. Yet the jump from ‘model’ to ‘scaffold’ is frequently too large for students to accommodate (it is beyond their current zone of development), and so Bounded Research is added below Scaffolded Research in the RSD.
Self-actuated Research (Level 4): Students initiate the research and this is guided by the educator. The change of scope from Level 3 to Level 4 is qualitatively different: students themselves instigate, choose processes, determine appropriate data or information and use appropriate communication modes. However, the jump to fully open-ended research is a huge one, and so Level 4 requires guidance from educators in terms of instructions and, often, marking criteria provided in advance.
Open Research (Level 5 ): Students research within self-determined guidelines that are in accord with discipline or context. This is akin to ‘withdraw’, however, ‘degree of autonomy’ focuses more clearly on student learning than educator activity. Students determine all aspects of the Open Research, however this is not open-slather or slap-dash. Open Research is partaken in a disciplinary or cross-disciplinary context, and so the rigours of the context apply.
Unlike many educational continua, the five-degrees-of-autonomy continuum is not linear, but rather cyclic. This means that First Year students are often given initially prescribe or bounded research activities, and over the course of a semester or year, given increasing autonomy towards scaffolded and sometimes self-actuated research. If some students work successfully on Level 4 research assignments at the end of First Year (see , this does not mean that they have attained ‘Level 4′ of the RSD; it means they applied the degree of rigour required by First Year to research processes, and that their research skills have developed in a specific context. As these students move to Second Year, where the conceptual demand both broadens and deepens, and the rigour required by the educators increases, students may be better served by prescribed or bounded research early in the year. And so a spiralling through the years of increasing autonomy, and moves back to higher degree of structure has proven to be effective in some contexts. In other contexts, a more linear approach has been effective. Explore the degrees of autonomy on the interactive RSD http://www.adelaide.edu.au/rsd/framework/interactive/ .
The need for Prescribed Research activities may apply as well to First Year students as to Third Year students or PhD students. There are times when PhD students early in their candidature may benefit from a high degree of guidance, especially if studying in a discipline different to their previous studies, or in a different language. There are also times when First Year students may profit from higher degrees of autonomy. The degree of rigour expected will be commensurate with the level of study. Considering ‘degrees of autonomy’ raises teaching questions, the answers to which must be determined by the educator, whether as a lecturer of a large class or supervisor of one student.
The extended version of the RSD- the Researcher Skill Development framework (RSD7: http://www.adelaide.edu.au/rsd/framework/rsd7/), extends the original framework by two further levels of autonomy into a realm that is unequivocally capital R research, that develops new knowledge. Levels 1 to 5 may see the development of knowledge new to the studnt, but not necessarily new to others. However Level 6 is Adopted Research, where others- researchers or communities- use your approach, practices or knowledge. Level 7 is Enlarging Research, which expands, consolidates or refocuses the discipline.
Having seven degrees of autonomy places First Year students on the same continuum as university professors, so all are on the same page. And after all, that is the nature of ‘universitas scholarium et majesterium’: one rule for scholars and masters.