When academics integrate RSD across degree programs

The first Research Skill Development (RSD: www.rsd.edu.au) Project (Phase 1), funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council, considered the outcomes when individual academics running individual semester-length courses explicitly developed and assessed student research skills in content-rich contexts. The outcomes included a preponderance of positives, yet with some substantial problems identified. The study was published in HERD in December, 2012 with the title ‘When academics integrate research skill development in the curriculum’, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07294360.2012.658760#.UbG0A8rlY0M. While that study, spanning five universities and 27 courses in every faculty grouping threw up some surprising results full of potential, the fact that the academics involved were early adopters who chose to use RSD potentially biased the data to the positive.

Therefore, the current Phase 2 of the RSD project is called ‘Outcomes and uptake of explicit research skill development across degree programs: ‘Its got a practical application in my world’. The pre-colon part shows that the project focus is in multiple courses across entire degree programs. This begins to reduce the bias towards early adopters only, as program-level requires a broader base of users, sometimes by those less convinced than the early adopters.

The after-colon portion is from a graduate’s statement 16 months after completing a course reframed with the RSD: he, like the vast majority (91%) of students who were interviewed, found that the explicit development of his research skills was of fundamental and practical usefulness to his world of work. Phase 2 is all about the benefits and detriments of explicit research skill development across degree programs and evidenced in year-after-graduation contexts.

Some stand-out features include:

1. Empowerment in the workplace. One Graduate of the Bachelor of Oral Health said in interview one year after graduating:

‘Well just being able to have a bit of a voice in the staff meeting full stop; like it’s nice to be able to be listen to and particularly by the dentists.  It’s nice just being able to give your ideas, your research, what you found and their (dentists) accepting of it, so it’s nice that way. I think it (research) helps with that as well because it’s just not what you reckon.  It’s something you’ve researched

2. Deep practical relevance of research skills in the work context. Another graduate of the Bachelor of Oral Health said:

‘Before I left for Cambodia, I actually took a silver fluoride which is a product that we didn’t even actually come into contact with in the Bachelor of Oral Health here. …  I was really looking into that because I thought that might be really beneficial for Cambodia because they don’t get care often and they’re considered more rural so I was doing a lot of research with that and I ended up purchasing some and taking it over with me and I was using it a lot when I was over there.’

Strong and clear benefits of coherent research skill development throughout a degree were frequently evident, and suggest that deeper consideration needs to be given to the conceptualisation of learning at university as requiring the skills associated with researching- including for those students who will not continue to postgraduate study.

Feel free to add your comment to this blog as well as join us on Friday 14 June, when we are having a webinar on this topic. For details, go to http://wp.me/p1Bw4B-5R . Join us to discuss the implications of explicit, coherent and incremental development of research skills across degree programs, considering outcomes from Degrees in Media, Medical Science, Engineering, Animal Science as well as Oral Health.

Hope to see you there.


Author: johnwillison

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

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