Frequently Asked Questions
The following questions were asked by a variety of lecturers from the disciplines during RSD workshops.
- Q1: Why is ‘student’ in the title? (of ‘Student research skill development seminar')
While the facets of research are the same for all researchers, whether student or academic, the focus here is on students' sequential development of the skills associated with research in their discipline throughout a course or program, whether for those researching the commonly known (eg Years 1 and 2), the commonly unknown (Year 3/Honours/Masters) or the totally unknown (PhD and above).
- Q2: Why five levels?
Fully closed inquiry (Level I) and fully open inquiry (Level V) were necessarily polarised extremes, while Level III was the midpoint between them – independence within a closed inquiry. The gaps between Levels I and III and Levels III and V were large, so we inferred, and subsequently found in practice, that there needed to be intermediary levels between them.
- Q3: What about student self-assessment according to the RSD framework?
This approach has been used successfully with beginning Masters by Coursework students in Agricultural Science. In this setting, it promotes student awareness of their own skills and deficiencies, and has definite potential. However, we have also found limitations with self-assessment in a more general 'Introductory Academic Program', where international students found it difficult to situate themselves in their target discipline.
- Q4: This is like the scientific method. Isn’t this process what we as academics do already? In what way is this RSD framework novel?
The RSD approach is similar to the scientific method, though adaptable to disciplines outside the sciences. The novelty is in its ability to make explicit to students what is otherwise implicit. Also novel is the framework's capacity to enable the quantification of student research skills and the tracing of their development.
- Q5: What about starting with research (open inquiry) first?
There are good reasons to begin with an open-ended inquiry and then to look back at the activity and to determine areas of concern, and to proceed from there with the structure of Level I or Level II inquiry to guide areas of weakness.
- Q6: Does each facet need to be equally weighted in assessment?
Not necessarily. In a Science subject, for instance, you might choose to weight Facet B (data gathering/generating) more heavily, depending on what you are trying to achieve, whereas in a Humanities subject you might weight Facet E (synthesis, analysis, application) more heavily. In Science, however, there is sometimes a tendency to de-emphasise the importance of literature research skills in comparison to experimental research skills. RSD can assist you in remembering and including all elements of the research process.
- Q7: Isn’t this similar to the process of PBL?
Yes. But one issue with PBL is that students can become dependent on someone else framing the problem for them. RSD as a concept has an explicit notion that students learn to frame their own questions, hypotheses or project aims – skills that many take a long time to develop. Moreover, PBL in medicine often has a 'gold standard' to uncover/discover, meaning frequently that one answer is more correct that other answers. In RSD approaches, the more 'open-ended' the research, the less likely that there will be a 'most correct' answer.
- Q8: Isn't research more of a linear process, rather than the recursive movement between facets that you describe?
While the scientific research method is often a linear process, the research process itself is often anything but linear--and in non-science disciplines, even the research method can be far from linear. The process of developing a scientific procedure can be messy – reading articles, identifying gaps in the literature, considering others' approaches, considering approriate technologies to gather data, etc. It is only once a method has been piloted, refined and then prescribed that it can be followed as a linear sequence. One of the reasons for the existence of the RSD framework is that the Sciences generally, and maybe Health Science too, have had an overemphasis on the method of data generation – Facet B – which often is linear, whereas all 6 facets, and the movement back and forth between them, are critical to the research process in its entirety.
- Q9: The detail within the matrix – is it necessary?
It may be that the detail proves useful for some lecturers, disciplines or students, but not for others. For Human Biology at the Univerity of Adelaide, for instance, the detailed descriptions helped to get Eleanor and Mario started, but after a while the details became less useful and the top levels – the descriptors of the facets and levels of autonomy – become more important.
- Q10: Would you need multiple sets of marking criteria for each assessment; one for Reseach Skills, another one for Group Work, one for Communication, and so on?
No. Academics use RSD-generated marking criteria to focus on the areas that they are concerned with assessing in their context of inquiry. Communication, group work etc are components that are frequently addressed in the research process, and as such they are assessable within the bounds of the RSD approach. This highlights the fact that 'Research Skill Development' may be utilised as an umbrella concept for a course or program, informing some of the major components of the program. For example, by explicitly facilitating students' research skills, one can map how this simultaneously develops a university's Graduate Attributes.
- Q11: Is the next column (ie Level 6) 'transferability'? Because that's what universities are about.
For most students, transferability is an important aspect of Facet 5 (Application), and Facet 6 (Communication). For students and academics researching into knowledge new to humankind, there is an extension to the present 5 levels describing autonomy, where Level 6 and Level 7 describe the degree of innovation or transferability: the RSD 7 framework, which deals with researcher development.
- Q12: What is the relationship between the explicit development of research skills and the development of graduate attributes?
The University of Adelaide's 8 Graduate Attributes – which are fairly typical of Australian university statements--map readily onto the RSD. 'Teamwork', for example, is explicitly assessed in Facets B, C and E of an Oral Health group Wiki assessment, while 'use of technology' maps readily onto Facets B, D, E & F, depending on the assessment.
- Q13: Are the research skills generic?
Not really. We have found that students who develop research skills in one context are not necessarily able to transfer them directly into another context – and that it may not be appropriate to do so. It requires time, work and preferably scaffolding by a lecturer or tutor to transfer elements of research skills learned in one context to other disciplines, or to further study which has increased academic requirements. Some students, however, have stated that the process of explicitly developing research skills within a structured framework has helped them to be aware of their skills needs in other disciplines, to self-manage them, and to internalise them.