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Diagnostic Exercise

This page shows how the RSD framework can be used to redesign an assessment task that is not achieving its aims, and make it more effective.

  • Pre-RSD Diagnostic

    Eleanor Peirce and Mario Ricci developed the original Human Biology diagnostic exercise in conjunction with lecturers in the Public Health course. The diagnostic was run during a workshop in Orientation Week.

    Students were asked to view a cartoon and write a paragraph responding to issues raised by the image. The aims of the task were to discover what the students' concept of a 'health issue' was, and to identify those with problems in the area of writing skills - particularly grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the ability to organise and communicate their ideas. 

    However, the exercise had some flaws that made it less effective than it was intended to be, especially in the areas of structure, complexity, marking and relevance to students. 

    While it helped lecturers identify students who had poor writing skills, it did not give those students any incentive to seek help. The exercise needed to be modified to give it more structure, make it more achievable and understandable, and make it easier to mark. It also needed to be followed up with proactive strategies to get students the writing support they needed.

  • New Ideas

    Eleanor, Mario and their colleagues in Public Health made a first round of changes to the diagnostic assessment, drawing on some RSD principles to structure a new task. They replaced the cartoon-response exercise with a research-oriented task in which students were asked to read two articles about the human skeleton and generate a set of structured notes drawing on both sources. This meant that students were finding or generating needed information using a specified methodology and organising it appropriately (RSD Facets B and D), rather than producing an unstructured response to an ambiguous stimulus. 

    However, this version of the exercise also had some problems. Students' responses began to concentrate on the Human Biology issues raised by the articles, excluding the Public Health perspective. Furthermore, the exercise, which was now focussed on research skills, was not as effective in diagnosing key writing skill deficits as the previous version had been because it lacked a substantial writing component.

    Mario and Eleanor therefore worked with John Willison to develop a third version of the diagnostic.

  • Current Diagnostic

    In the current diagnostic exercise, which runs in Orientation Week for both Human Biology and Public Health students, Mario and Eleanor again used the RSD framework to make the task more effective and relevant. In this revision, they focussed on RSD Facet C - 'critically evaluate information/data and the process used to find/generate it' - which had been missing from the earlier versions. They used it to supply the lack of a structured writing task.

    Their first stage in redeveloping the diagnostic was to redefine it as a closed inquiry with some guidance or structure available to students (a Level 2 task). They also revised its aims, from discovering what student concepts of 'health issues' are to identifying the extent of students' research and writing skills (which they defined as: recognising key information in two related texts, extracting it, and organising it using a coherent format). As part of the process of providing structure for the task, Eleanor and Mario co-wrote a background/rationale paragraph that directly states the task aims; this became the introduction to the exercise.

    Building on the successful comparison/note-taking task from the 'bones' exercise, Mario and Eleanor chose two short articles on the topic of 'obesity', one of which presented a Human Biology perspective and one a Public Health perspective. They developed two related tasks from these. The first task asked students to make a set of notes from the two articles, using a relevant title and headings, and indicating sources. This was designed to assess and develop students' skills in RSD Facets B, D and E (their ability to find or generate needed information, organise it, and synthesise new knowledge from it). The second task asked students to write a short passage assessing the quality of the source articles. This task aimed to develop skills in RSD Facets A, C and F (their ability to determine a need for knowledge or understanding, critically evaluate the information or data they generated, and communicate their knowledge effectively).

    Working with John Willison, Mario and Eleanor also developed a detailed marking rubric for the task, using the RSD framework. They presented this to students along with the exercise, to ensure that the students had a clear understanding of what was expected of them and would understand why they received the grades they did when their marked work was returned.

    The assessment now effectively addressed the issues raised by the original version. 

    In addition to altering the format of the diagnostic, Eleanor, Mario and John Willison put measures in place to ensure that students who need support with their writing skills have access to it. Rather than students being referred to the Centre for Learning and Professional Development (on the far side of the campus) in their own time, staff members from the CLPD now go to the students, and work on developing key writing and research skills with all students as part of a session in Week 2 of Semester One.

  • Further Developments

    In order to continue the development of students' writing and research skills, Eleanor and Mario also worked with John Willison to create an assessment task that used the same structure as the diagnostic but expanded both the task itself and the expectations it placed on students. This is Lit-RSD Task 1, a literature-based research and writing task.

    Lit-RSD Task 1 runs in the first half of Term 1. In it, students are asked to read six source articles on the subject of 'bones' (part of a musculo-skeletal system study topic) and produce a set of structured notes synthesising and referencing ideas from these sources, then use those notes to develop a coherent piece of writing that communicates key concepts from the readings accurately. It also deals more substantially with the conventions and culture of academic referencing (the 'ethical, social and cultural' component of Facet F).

    John, Eleanor and Mario structured the task so that it would allow students more research autonomy than the diagnostic exercise did: it now gives them the opportunity work at RSD Level 3, researching independently within the limits imposed by the 'closed' nature of the task. It thus both reinforces the skills identified and developed in the diagnostic exercise, and allows students to develop them further.

    Download the PDF copy of Lit-RSD Task 1.

    Also see:

Research Skill Development

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Dr John Willison
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john.willison@adelaide.edu.au

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