Researching as a conceptual jewel: Six facets of the RSD

When we interviewed graduates one year after they completed a three-year undergraduate degree in which there has been explicit development of their research skills, the graduates provide a rich array of context-specific descriptions of the skills associated with research. The contexts where we have interviewed include the diverse working environments of B. Media and B. Oral Health graduates, and the research labs of honours students in Medical Sciences.

The webinar on this topic was run 31 May, 2013, and the archive is available at

(40 mins- audio, text and ppt).

Focusing on the first Facet of the Research Skill Dvelopment framework (  that was used to make the development of skills explicit in undergraduate degree programs:

Embark and Clarify: Respond to or initiate research and clarify or determine what knowledge is required, heeding ethical/cultural and social/team considerations.

In their working environments, graduates described this facet in such terms as:

‘determine what angle I was going to take with the story’

‘pick up their key inquiry and just work on that’

‘we’ll brainstorm some ideas’

‘my research is completely off my own design’

How students embark after completing their undergraduate degree depends on the working contexts in which they find themselves. For all, the point of embarkation on research is much like a voyage with destination not clear or certain.

In their undergraduate studies, whether the beginning is initiated by the educator, who sets tasks that require research processes, or instigated by students posing questions, hypotheses or aims, the point of embarkation is tricky and requires clarification. One graduate said: ‘But you know, the most difficult part is develop argument of question, which kind of research question you need to do.’

Like any voyage, research requires setting out, sailing on the seas of discovery, only to come to a new port, where once again stock is taken and re-embarking on the next stage of the voyage is necessary. In research we frequently come back to the ‘beginning’, the research question, hypothesis or purpose to clarify, fine tune and to ensure that we are really heading in the right direction. Embarking and re-embarking are difficult processes, vital if students and graduates are to employ successful research processes in their diverse contexts.

This does raise the questions: how often do students see embarking and clarifying modelled by educators? How often have they been able to practice ways to embark, and received feedback, in a variety of contexts? How often have students initiated research, with some scaffolding,  so they can make mistakes, learn and see their research skills mature and the degree of rigour they apply to research processes soar?

One of the main mentalities of the Research Skill Development framework is that each of the six facets need to be fit to the nuances of context and discipline. Six semesters minimum of undergraduate study provide many potential contexts for encountering a diversity of approaches to embarking and clarifying. Likewise the other facets need to be simultaneously and mutually developed:

Find & Generate

Evaluate & Reflect

Organise & Manage

Analyse & Synthesise

Communicate & Apply ethically

The word ‘Facet’ is used for the RSD, as it implies six different but intersecting sides of the same jewel, difficult (impossible?) to separate one from the others. ‘Facet’ also suggests a non-linear process, where one or more facets may be emphasised, but all come into play at the same time.

In the webinar on the 31 May we will explore each of the facets, looking at graduates’ own descriptions:

(5am Universal Time)

Pre-empting that conversation, you might ‘comment’ on the ways that students employ each of the above facets of research in your context.

Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) Levels 8 to 9 and Research Skill Development

I have recently been working with some groups that are concerned about:

  • The Honours (4th) Year in Engineering satisfying AQF Level 8 eg ‘design and use research in a project’
  • Masters by coursework in various faculties satisfying AQF Level 9 eg ‘technical research skills to justify and interpret theoretical propositions, methodologies, conclusions and professional decisions to specialist and non-specialist audiences.’

The AQF (Australian Qualifications Framework) is a National framework for all post-schooling qualifications, where university study falls between Level 7 (undergraduate) and Level 10 (PhD).

There are two major issues for those in the above contexts to be concerned about. The first is that the research components are sufficiently comprehensive. However, the effectiveness of a curriculum that is sufficiently research comprehensive is contingent on the second issue, which concerns the preparedness of students to engage in research.  The University of Adelaide’s new strategic plan (the ‘Beakon’) addresses this issue quite nicely:

For many undergraduate students, this will take the form of an individual research project in their final year, for which the preparatory research skills and experience necessary will be built through smaller exercises in the earlier years of their course.’

Substantial time and thought needs to be given to the coherent and explicit development of research skills from First Year towards these final year research projects. So, while AQF Level 7 does not specify requirements that use the term research, it does require many of the cognitive skills associated with research, such as ‘review critically, analyse, consolidate and synthesise knowledge’, ‘exercise critical thinking and judgement in identifying and solving problems with intellectual independence’ and ‘present a clear, coherent and independent exposition of knowledge and ideas’. The incremental, coherent and explicit development of research skills is a logical way to both nurture the AQF Level 7 skills and prepare those students who are progressing towards Levels 8 & 9. Academics in a number of disciplines have found that the use of the Research Skill Development framework ( is a realistic way to enable and, importantly, assess this development.

Given the above preparation for Australian students, this suggests the vital place of bridging programs for international masters students first studying at an Australian University. University of Adelaide’s Introductory Academic Program for AusAid students, for example, devotes five weeks of intensive learning to the development of student academic literacies and research skills, with as much discipline nuances as resources permit.

What issues are you facing in regards to the development of research skills required by AQF levels 8 & 9 (or equivalent issues in other countries) at your institution? Give your perspective in ‘comments’ on this blog, and/or participate in the Webinar on this topic on Friday 24 May.

The webinar on this topic ran on 24th of May and the recording is available

Researching, problem solving, critical thinking: same ship, different bay.

The cognitive skill set for researching, problem solving and for critical thinking are the same. Agree or disagree, contribute your perspective in the comments section of this blog or in the upcoming webinar on Friday 5am Coordinated Universal Time.

Eight years on since Kerry O’Regan and I produced the early version of the Research Skill Development framework (RSD: see , it seems to me that the 6 facets of the RSD cover the broad territory of engagement in rigorous thinking, whatever label that thinking may have. For example, in recent times:

  • The University of the South Pacific has utilised the facets of the RSD for teaching Problem Solving skills
  • The University of Adelaide has used the RSD facets to clarify the processes around Clinical Reasoning for First Year Medical students
  • James Cook University has used the six facets, adapted in language but not in substance, to assess Work Integrated Learning.

This made me reflect on the following characteristics of the facets of the RSD:

  1. They are based on the six Australian and New Zealand Institute of Information Literacy Standards (ANZIIL, 2004).
  2. Kerry and I broadened the standards to capture the full dimensions of research, where for example the second ANZIIL (2004) standard was ‘find information’ and we modified this to ‘find information and generate data’, and so included many forms of empirical data generation.
  3. Further, these were simultaneously modified to include Bloom’s et al (1956) six taxa, knowledge, understanding, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. However, the notion of hierarchy in Bloom’s was over-ridden by the emphasis on the processes of research, prioritising the logical sequence of ANZIIL standards.
  4. Just as important ANZIIL standards were modified by feedback from academics and students, so that they would speak a language that a broad audience could relate to.

So, given that the six RSD facets are based on two umbrella frameworks, and these were synthesised and expanded, it is not completely surprising that the RSD facets would hold, not only for the processes associated with researching, but also with problem solving, clinical reasoning and critical thinking.

This idea highlights a huge problem that spans formal education; we as educators may be talking about the same underlying processes, but the similarities of the processes are hidden from students by the use of different terminology.  This means that opportunities for reinforcing skills sets across the years are minimised, even sacrificed for our own attention to detail and subject or disciplinary nuances.

For example, while evaluation is very different in the sciences compared to the humanities, both require students and professors to weigh up evidences, to be discerning about assertions made and to critique all processes, whether one’s own, or others. The RSD facet of Evaluate and Reflect is in common, whereas the details differ.

Do you think there is legitimate overlap between the cognitive processes associated with researching, critical thinking, problem solving and clinical reasoning? If so, what are the consequences for all education for making these processes explicit, in common, and reinforced over the years? If not, what are the consequences of suggesting similarity?

If the underlying skills are the same for researching, problem solving, clinical reasoning, critical thinking  and work integrated learning, then students are taking the same educational cruise, same ship, but different bays.


The webinar on this topic ran on 17th of May and the recording is available

RSDbinar 10 May: Graduate Attributes articulated with Research Skills

Six consecutive weeks of Friday afternoon webinars on explicit Research Skill Development.

W1 (10 May): Graduate Attributes articulated with Research Skills

Hosted by Dr John Willison and Ms Irene Lee

See the blog on this topic at (3 May). Comment on the blog in advance, or share your thinking during the RSDebinar.

Log-in details:

Go to the URL below in advance to see site layout, complete soundcheck, etc.

Log in 3pm EST, 2.30 pm SA/NT time /1pm WA time/5am GMT

A headset is essential for speaking.

Alternately listen through built in speakers and contribute via chat box.

The link to the archive of the webinar will be available afterwards.

Hope you can join us.


Graduate Attributes articulated with Research Skills (thanks to University of the South Pacific)

RTEmagicC_RSD.pngFinally! We have a simple articulation of the six facets of the RSD ( with Graduate Attributes, thanks to USP.

This is in the report of USP’s visit to University of Adelaide and Monash University, when they came to see first-hand the use of the RSD in these universities. The front cover of the report elegantly depicts the connections between their Graduate Attributes and the 6 facets of the RSD.

USP has developed a portal for their RSD resources:

It comes complete with downloadable RSD-framed assessment rubrics that they developed for their compulsary first year courses on English for Academic Purposes and Communication and Information Literacy, each providing for around 2000 students each semester:

USP is currently well-set up to evaluate their implementation of RSD across all undergraduate degree programs, so watch their space!


The webinar on this topic ran on 10th of May and the recording is available

Monash University RSD portal

Monash Univeristy has used the Research Skill Development framework ( to help library staff and academics to be on the same page in terms of teaching and learning. See academics’ testimonials of that collaboration at:

Enabling the library staff to have a stronger involvement directly in the curriculum has made a substantial difference to student learning.