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.


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