Threshold Concepts and Information Literacy

After a day of being introduced to the RSD framework, Jessy Polzer (UW- Stout’s Instruction/Reference librarian) talks to participants of the Student Research Skills symposium about Information Literacy, Information Literacy standards, and Threshold Concepts (

Jessy provided information about students’ and teachers’ misconceptions related to information literacy and the need to be aware of, and teach to, misconceptions about information such as:

  • Google is my research tool
  • Blogs, wikipedia, and the like should NEVER be used (depending on the purpose of the research question they may be viable sources)
  • Information on websites with .edu or .org is always credible

Jesse followed this with an example of how a teacher might help students better understand a process related to picking suitable sources that helped answer their research question and move beyond the general guidelines typically posted for source analysis.   Well done Jessy!  Thank you!

Jessy Dec2015 Trans CncptPost

Student Research Skill Symposium

We did it!  Stout’s Research Skill Symposium is underway.    John Willison led us through an exercise that introduced us to the different facets of research.  His example modeled how we might introduce the research skills to our students.  Participants are currently involved in one of two concurrent sessions.  Dorothy Missingham is leading a group through the process of optimizing the RSD into the Problem Solving Pentagon.  Other participants are familiarizing themselves with the RSD framework in a modified geocaching/infocaching activity in the library.  It is great to have everyone here and participating.  Don’t forget to visit for further updates!

From Research to Writing: The Content-Skills Continuum

In reading a May 2006 op/ed in the New York Times by theorist Stanley Fish, titled “The Writing Lesson,” one is immediately aware of a potential schism in writing pedagogy centered on the split between form and content. Fish writes, and readers familiar with sentential logic would concur, a “word’s meaning is not relevant to its function.” Fish continues, in discussion with a writing student, that “we’re not interested in content…(content is always the enemy of writing instruction).” Or is it?

In the text Writing About Writing, 2nd ed. by Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs (Bedford/St. Martin’s 2014), one reads that “in order to transfer knowledge, students need to explicitly create general principles based on their own experience and learning.” Students, they say, “need to be self-reflective, so that they keep track of what they are thinking and learning as they do it; and be mindful, that is, alert to their surroundings and to what they are doing rather than just doing things automatically and unconsciously” (vi). Moreover, “[a] writing course that takes language, writing, reading, and literacy as its subjects can help students achieve these goals by teaching them general principles” that are fundamentally rhetorical in nature.

As one considers the implications of John Willison and Kerry O’Regan’s paper “Commonly Known, Commonly Not Known, Totally Known: A Framework for Students Becoming Researchers” (Higher Education Research and Development 26/4, Dec. 2007: 393-409), one notes that student researching along a “continuum of knowledge production” (394) posits what the authors term a “Research Skills Development Framework,” a process-product continuum that potentially mediates a form/content binary.

Research skills are by most accounts grounded in particular disciplines as the literature on research methodologies attests. For Stanley Fish and the authors of Writing About Writing the discipline of writing and composition poses specific interest in students making effective rhetorical choices in writing, especially with respect to “language, writing, reading, and literacy.” For Fish, student writers should be aware of syntactical effectiveness prior to success in making semantic decisions. Often, it is the research paper in composition courses that brings language and literacy into focus through writing and reading. The focus on syntax and form, though, begs the question of how students solve specific problems of sentence and paragraph construction and development, as well the organization of compositions intended for rhetorical situations grounded in concrete generic conventions. The concern points to the often-mentioned academic conversation.

Anne Beaufort, in College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for University Writing Instruction (Utah State UP, 2007), suggests a conceptual model for writing instruction that acknowledges a quartet of structural functions–subject-matter knowledge, genre knowledge, rhetorical knowledge, and process knowledge–under the heading of discourse-community knowledge. In other words, Beaufort’s critically-informed notion of “discourse” as a mode of academic literacy squares the circle between form and content in writing pedagogy. Research processes (generating) join writing processes (invention), and take place in the rhetorically-informed context of genre. Ultimately, research as scaffolded by the Research Development Framework, a concept premised along a developmental continuum from closed to open possibilities for intellectual autonomy, provides a basis for coherence and organization that helps synthesize form and content. The net result being that student researchers improve writing skills along with subject-matter knowledge, and that synthesis of form and content leads to mindful intentions in writing and scholarship.



Climate change, research, and the writing process

In my composition classroom, we investigate strategies that apply rhetorical knowledge to understand, analyze, synthesize and evaluate researched-based academic discourses about the writing process, genre studies, and the themes of identity and climate change. Students study ways that content knowledge in rhetoric, genre, identity, and climate change shape writing processes and outcomes in effective composition and writing applications. We assess the roles of audiences, writing purposes, and the contexts that shape rhetorical situations by framing questions about effective communication and research into climate change.

My students investigate cultural identities associated with variant climate change discourses. They develop a profile for discourse community knowledge by associating environmentally-conscious consumerism, emerging climate-change discourses and activism, and consider the roles of media and government in shaping these discourses. Students study the conventions of informational and persuasive genres to better understand the rhetorical contexts that shape climate-change discourses.

Using the Research Skills Development Framework (Willison & O’Regan, 2007) and the Discourse Community Knowledge Framework (Beaufort, 2007), students apply, synthesize, and evaluate their research using scaffolded writing-processes including concept and mind mapping, rhetorical invention, exploring open-ended questions, problem solving, peer-reviewing, reflective writing, and finalizing research questions. Each stage involves intentional movement from bounded to autonomous research. Students recognize the differences in audience and purpose by understanding and applying the differing conventions of genres.

I set research skill outcomes to help students develop, focus, and analyze topics to generate effective writing of sentences, paragraphing, and document organization. An integrated approach to writing involves both reflexive writing processes (writing about writing) and content-based writing. By better leveraging subject-matter knowledge students overcome preconceptions about identity, climate change, and gain skill in writing as problem solving.

Willison and Missingham from Adelaide Australia to present RSD at Stout’s December 3 & 4 Symposium – Join us!!

Dr. John Willison and his colleague Dorothy Missingham are coming from Adelaide, Australia to lead UW-Stout’s Research Skills Symposium on December 3 & 4, 2015.  Interactive sessions will be led by Willison, Missingham and UW-Stout faculty who have experience integrating the RSD framework into their courses.  We are expecting to have a lot of fun in interactive sessions, discussions, student presentations, and poster sessions.  Don’t miss this rare opportunity to work with the pros who developed the RSD framework ( and work to apply the RSD Framework to your courses as part of sound pedagogical practices.

Please help spread the word by downloading, printing and posting the flyer RSD Symposium Flyer

For registration and details please go to:

We are looking forward to seeing you there!


Need Help on Research Project

Any comments are welcome!

Research Skill Development in Classroom

I will target 10 students in the Introduction to College Mathematics course. Typical students who take this course are second semester freshmen students. This study will gather student perspectives on learning mathematics in groups. At the end of each group quiz class students will produce a video. In this video students will comment on the process it took them to solve each problem. This research will be Level 1 because students will not have a lot of online sources to use. Pre-test will be in the form of interview during the first two weeks of classes. Interview questions will gather information on student’s learning history, family background in learning mathematics, and expectations that students have about College Mathematics course. During the last two weeks of classes final interview will summarize similarities and difference between student’s answers.

Realizing my Mission

Since my project involves a variety of courses I didn’t examine the program and specific course goals and focused on the vision and mission articulated by the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHSS). The key aspect I believe my project connects to is the idea of providing teaching that “empowers students to become lifelong learners and responsible citizens who value scholarship, diversity and the pursuit of truth.” That, to me, is what engaging in research is all about. While my project focuses on how students feel about their research skills – self-efficacy – in the classroom. I see great value in how they utilize research skills in their daily lives. Most of the time without even realizing that they are doing so. Sometimes we run up against students’ complaints: “Well, I won’t ever use these skills.” And when it comes to research we can say, “You already are!”

In one of my courses, students will see how research is an integral part of what they’d do in a communications profession, even though we don’t call it research. In another course, the research tasks are explicit and specific, yet the concepts are wide reaching. This addresses another aspect of the college vision and mission, instruction that “enhances the skills of communication, problem solving, critical thinking and appropriate use of technology.” Most of these are actually research steps although never articulated as such in the CAHSS statements.

The terms “responsible citizenship” and “lifelong learning” are repeated and they make me realize how much a part of my teaching about research, while focused on reaching career goals, can and should have a much wider impact. Pedagogical innovation (mentioned in the mission) is necessary to make sure that we are giving students the skills they need to not only get a job, but also to live their lives.

Prior Knowledge, Knowledge Organization, RSD and Students

Ambrose et al. talk about students’ prior knowledge impacting their learning.  I was thinking about this today as I started my RSD research project in my classes.  I am investigating the impacts of explicitly versus implicitly discussing class assignments’ relation to the RSD framework in my classes.  I want to look at the difference in students’ attitudes toward research and the impact on research-related assignments that occur within the context of my teaching.  Earlier in the semester I introduced the RSD Framework to two sets of students.  I walked both sections through the RSD Framework and provided an example of how the RSD Framework was applied.  Today I followed up with a question asking students how a particular assignment correlated with the RSD.  In both cases I had silence, blank stares, some students not recalling I had handed out the RSD Framework or that they had completed an introductory assignment using the framework.  A discussion regarding what level of the RSD Framework the assignment was aligned to revealed a misconception about the levels of autonomy.  In the assignment, I generated the way students recorded information in a chart as well as laid out step-by-step how to proceed through the assignment.  Many students identified this assignment as Level 2 research (which I can agree with) because there was some flexibility regarding sites used for finding information and the use of technology to find information.  However, some students saw their ability to go online and use the Internet  to answer the question as a level 4 research.  From the conversation in class it seemed that there was not a lot of thought given to the credibility of the sources used.  There is a misconception regarding the idea of “initiative” and their willingness to go explore as they wanted to and the idea that the research question itself was designed by someone else.  The second misconception was the idea of problem solving.  Students were able to create a mind map that synthesized elements of their assignment findings.  As the instructor, I constructed the criteria – write a paragraph and draw a concept map – with specific rubrics that dictated how and what was reported.  Students looked at the RSD framework and the idea that they could draw a mind map in whatever fashion they wanted as level 4 research.  The idea that they could draw a mind map however they wanted to was to them “freedom” and “independent” thinking.  The feedback that I received from students help me understand that students may have accurate but insufficient prior knowledge (pg. 18).  I will be asking students in class to continue to reason/think about the level of research the course assignments have in order to continue to get them to think about research.  I have also come to understand that for me it is very easy to see how my assignments align with the RSD framework.  For students this connection is, understandably, not as easy.  I will continue to refer to the RSD framework to help them build connections.

Another observation that I made as I was teaching was the need to connect this information to the students.  Why should they care?  So what?  Perhaps their silence is as much about not connecting the RSD with what they need/want to know and not due to a lack of understanding.  We talked about general education and the purpose of general education and the benefits of general education in an earlier session.  I don’t believe students are seeing the connections between general education, the research/inquiry process, and the rest of their lives.  This will be the next teaching/learning issue to address.  How do I make the RSD meaningful to the students at an introductory level?   We shall see as the semester progresses.

Ambrose, S. Bridges, M. DiPietro, M. Lovett, M., and Norman M. (2010).  How learning works.  San Francisco, CA:  John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Does our RSD project align with Institutional, College, Program, or Course Goals?

This semester we will be concentrating on our final projects at the assignment, class, and program level.  Part of our projects and IRB will include assessment.  In an attempt to be thoughtful about what and how we assess, it will be good to clarify the goals we might be trying to address.  Our next goal is to complete the IRB and get ready to assess our projects.  The first step in this is to figure out how our activities align to our assigned courses, programs, colleges, and the university.  Please complete the Goal Alignment Worksheet and submit it to this blog or to our off-line dropbox by our next meeting.

applying a framework to the development of skills associated with research