Yesterday I presented findings of interviews with 14 honours students, 7 PhD students and 10 academics in a school that began using the RSD (Research Skill Development framework) with First Year students in 2005, and have been using it with Honours students (4th Year) in the last two years. The title of the presentation was ‘RSD, the frozen conversation’. This is because the most striking feature in the analysis of the interview data across the three different groups was that the RSD (www.rsd.edu.au) and the various marking matrices (rubrics) that have been reframed by that framework (www.rsd.edu.au/examples) were text-dense and often hard to penetrate. Expecting students or academics to make sense of them could at times be likened to hitting them over the head with a block of ice. The students who really benefited from them at a deep level were those that had had substantial conversations with their supervisor about what these criteria meant, which were opportunities to defrost the rubrics.
The Head of School stood up at the end and noted that it was the same for him; he was given a rubric to assess oral presentations just before an event, and had great difficulty using it. He noted that a half-hour conversation before hand was exactly what he needed to make sense of the whole assessment process.
I observed that, given the increase in use of the RSD in second and third year in the school, students will come to their honours year with the conversation being defrosted on the way. As the use of the RSD spirals through the years of their programs, there will be more explicit development of skills, with students -and academics- increasingly aware of how to make the conversation about assessment fluid and alive.