Higher Education, like Primary and Secondary Education, is to some extent polarized between direct instruction and inquiry modes of learning. However, these polarising perspectives can fall on the same educational continuum, if one asks ‘how much autonomy is appropriate at the moment?’ The Research Skill Development framework (www.rsd.edu.au) addresses this question by describing a continuum of autonomy comprising 5 degrees of student autonomy, from the highly structured ‘Modelled Research’ (Level 1) to the highly autonomous ‘Open Research’ (Level 5).
The webinar on this topic was run 7 June 2013, and the archive of this (audio, text and ppt) is available https://fop-connect.adelaide.edu.au/p7k8ebwrnrp/.
A recent email from an overseas colleague who recently encountered the RSD observed that the striking feature of the RSD is its scope- from primary to PhD. He went on to say:
‘If you were to be asked, do you think the framework suggests an expected research skill level each student?
I answered ‘No’- there is no level of the RSD fixed with level of schooling. This is because most educational ‘levels’ consider degree of ‘betterness’ –deeper levels of understanding, more complex context, etc. The levels of the RSD are completely different, describing degree of student autonomy; it concerns how much scope students are given. That means the RSD asks educational questions like ‘how much scope does this class need for effective research, right now? What is my educational aim over the next x weeks/months/years? Do I need to give low levels of autonomy/high levels of guidance for maximised development of research skills, then give higher levels of autonomy for student- inspired application of these skills? So First year courses may be given a lot of structure and guidance- Level 1- early in a semester , then progressively given increasing research scope in the same context towards level 4 or 5. Possibly the next semester of year, starting new context, they should be given Level 1 autonomy. Some PhD students do require a high degree of structure and guidance when they embark on developing new knowledge. The RSD framework is therefore conducive to conceptualising a spiralling curriculum.
A second question the colleague asked: ‘Is the framework coupled with assessment tools just to gauge the current level of students?’
‘The current level’ is bound up in the content, context, the year level and especially the main hidden factor in education- the degree of rigour required. Therefore a student working successfully on a task with scope at level 4, may need more structure and guidance eg Level 1 in a new context.
His final question was ‘ As teachers, what is or are our roles as students go through the framework? Do you think it advisable to let them discover what research is?’
Different educators have different pedagogical stances on this. Crudely speaking, level 1 and 2 are in keeping with an objectivist position (more didactic and focussed on acquiring content and practicing skills) with directed learning seen as premium. Levels 4 and 5 are more in keeping with a (social) constructivist mindset- where discovery learning is king. RSD doesn’t pre-value any of these positions- just puts them on the same continuum, so that all may educators consider their place in their students learning.