RSD, the frozen conversation

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 ( and the various marking matrices (rubrics) that have been reframed by that framework ( 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.

Author: johnwillison

Senior Leturer, Discipline of Higher Education, School of Education, University of Adelaide.

4 thoughts on “RSD, the frozen conversation”

  1. I have gradually simplified my rubrics as I have become more aware of how to clarify my expectations of students work. I agree re discussion around the rubric it is something I do not do but think it is a good idea. With my undergrad student I think that they could have the discussion around the rubric in small groups in tutorials and then the tutors could facilitate discussion about the expectations of the task and how they might go about meeting them.

    1. Same here Sue for my courses. I think it takes time to really work out the core elements of assessments, and focus on these. I recently received by email a 4-page rubric that had ben freshly reframed by the factes of the RSD. I consolidated the ideas, and brought the rubric down to 1 page, same font, etc. The academic loved the consolidated version as they could see it was more communicative. Its a learned process.
      Still, I think discussions around the facets (like those at, students marking previous student work with a related rubric and students unpacking rubrics they will be assessed against are the types of strategies that help students be more aware of not only what they are being assessed on, but also why. This also paves the way (in good time) for effective peer assessment and self-assessment.

  2. Hi,
    I agree. I think a text-dense rubric can often be a barrier to engaging with the assignment as it can make the task look to daunting. In constructing my rubrics, I often start by putting in as much detail as I can and then work back (often in collaboration with academic staff) from there to simplify it for the students. I agree however, that it is extremely important to discuss the criteria with students -this can also assist in students being able to self-assess their work more accurately and thus improve self-regulated learning processes.

    1. Hi Darci
      Sometimes it is also being clear about who the audience is. If its markers only, then still they have to look for evidence in student work for each criteria, which is a pretty complex task. If its students, then not only should the criteria make sense to them in advance, so they can improve their work before submission, but especially use the feedback from rubrics to improve next itme. As you say, students self assessing and engaging in self-regulated learning.

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