Developing a Board endorsed course for HSC research proficiencies

by Nicole Yule, Head of Library Services (P-12) at William Clarke College and the Head of Faculty for the Research Studies Preliminary course.


In this current age of information overload, one of the greatest challenges for our students, during their years of schooling and beyond, is how to be discerning users of information. Unlike students in the past, who were limited to books in the school or local library, current students have access through the internet to eBooks, magazines, websites, journals, video streaming services as well as to social media which can influence their view of issues.

When facing this challenge at William Clarke College, a decision was made to ensure to equip our students with the necessary skills for their schooling and beyond with any future study or work opportunities they embrace. One way we decided to do this was to develop a 1-unit Preliminary course which focuses on developing research proficiencies and teaching students the skills they will need to succeed academically in their Stage 6 courses.

The Research studies course

Our 1-unit Research studies course is an elective students can choose to take as part of their Preliminary studies in Year 11. We believe that research is an integral aspect of academic success and the field of enquiry. A robust understanding of research is implied in most of the Stage 5 and 6 Board courses and is a fundamental component of assessment in a wide range of Stage 6 courses. It is also an essential skill for higher education. To support this need, the Research studies course is designed to assist students in:

  • acquiring deep understanding and proficiency in the research process
  • accessing quality academic sources
  • developing sophisticated academic practices.

The hope is that students will then apply their understanding and skills ethically in their studies across the broader curriculum. Although these skills are so crucial, current Board developed courses do not explicitly teach this area in depth, and yet, many Stage 6 courses have an implicit need for these skills to be demonstrated in an ethical manner. We believe that students at William Clarke College will benefit from studying research methodology, as this will raise the academic standards of evidence-based sourcing, analysis, synthesis and reporting in research tasks across Stage 6 courses.

The course has been endorsed by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) as one of their School Developed Board Endorsed Courses (SDBEC) which means that, while the course was developed by William Clarke College, it counts towards a student’s Preliminary units of study. The decision to have it endorsed is an important one, as it increases the value and credibility of the course for students when they consider their subject choices. The endorsement process involves teaching staff outlining the rationale and aim of the course, as well as the course structure, objectives and outcomes and submitting this in an endorsement proposal to NESA. More details on how schools can create school developed Board endorsed courses are available on the NESA website.

The endorsement of courses is routinely renewed by NESA. The last endorsement proposal was developed and submitted by Rebecca Jarvis (Director of Student Learning) and Nicole Yule (Head of Library Services). Both teachers have previously taught the course, which has a history of being taught by teacher librarians at William Clarke College. Teacher librarians are uniquely placed to teach a course such as Research studies because of their training and experience in research methodologies and the research process. They also have extensive knowledge regarding academic writing, source analysis and critical reading skills, and how to teach these skills to students.

When undertaking the course, students can choose any topic of interest; it may relate to other subjects or it may be a topic of unique interest to that student. Students in the past have chosen such wide-ranging topics as overcrowding in gaols, the history of jazz music, perceptions regarding the authority of a woman’s consent, gender equality in the film industry, comic books throughout history and human rights violations of prisoners. Once they have chosen their topic students are taught the research skills. To teach this course, teacher librarians do not need to be experts in the field of every area of study. However, they need to be experts in research and in equipping students to know how they can take any topic and conduct academic research.

Any NSW school can utilise this Board endorsed course with permission from the Principal or curriculum leadership.


Course structure

There are three core modules for the Research studies course. The modules follow the steps of the research process, particularly the work of Carol Kuhlthau (2004, 2012 & 2015) and Ross Todd (2007 & 2010).

Module one

Module one explores the process of developing a research focus and question. Topics covered include understanding the research process, exploring the topic, brainstorming and mind mapping techniques, developing research questions, learning about search strategies including using online databases and Google, critical reading and notetaking, APA referencing and writing annotated bibliographies.

Module two

Module two focuses on collecting and using evidence, and includes finding and evaluating information and the ethical use of this information. Topics include accessing academic sources, evaluating sources for relevant information, identifying bias in sources and oral presentations skills.

Module three

Module three focuses on academic writing and includes the synthesis of the analysed information, and the presentation of cogent argument with valid and reliable supporting evidence. Topics include academic writing skills, ethical scholarship, conducting a literature review, synthesising skills, writing abstracts, creating appendices in a report, and a personal reflection on the research process.


Students are required to complete three assessment tasks throughout the course. Each assessment occurs at the end of one of the modules and assesses learning in that area.

Module one

At the end of module one, students submit a process diary and annotated bibliography. The process diary assesses the student’s interaction with the research process, such as formulating a topic, designing research questions and conducting initial research. The annotated bibliography assesses students on their ability to gather relevant sources of information, make judgements about sources by considering the credibility, reliability and relevance of the source, and how they effectively use the APA referencing style.

Module two

At the end of module two, students submit a symposium paper on their topic, detailing their current state of research and future direction. Students then present a viva voce to their peers and a panel of teachers.

Module three

At the end of module three, students submit their final research report on their topic. This report includes an abstract, literature review, findings and limitations, as well as areas for future research.

The skills that students demonstrate in these assessment tasks are not only relevant to research studies but are also transferable to other subjects they are studying during Stage 6. Students are required to develop skills in sourcing academic sources, analysing them and then presenting them through academic writing. These skills have proven invaluable to students in all subject areas.

Value to students

Research studies has proved to be beneficial to many students in the five years it has been offered at William Clarke College. When students are considering their Year 11 subject selections, those who are planning on studying subjects which have a significant research component are encouraged to choose Research studies, either as part of their 12 units or as an additional 13th unit to equip them in their Preliminary and HSC studies.

Teacher librarians are uniquely placed to teach a course such as Research Studies because of their training and experience in research methodologies and the research process.

Students studying a range of different courses, such as those in HSIE, English, science, PDHPE and the creative arts, reported on the benefit of studying Research studies as one of their Preliminary subjects. Feedback at the end of Year 11 included:

  • I learnt how to write a literary review and how to write academically, along with the correct sourcing and layout of reports. I also learnt efficient research techniques and different places to look for relevant sources, rather than just Google.
  • I learnt how to APA reference in more detail. I also learnt how to structure a research report and a symposium paper, as these are skills I had not previously developed. Databases were not something I was familiar with before doing Research studies, and learning about them and how to use them has not only been helpful to my research project this year but will also be useful for future research in my other subjects and in University.
  • I would definitely recommend it – I have noticed a distinct advantage of students in this class in other subjects, especially in content subjects such as history, business, extension English and the like.

Students at the end of Year 12 also reflected on the benefits of studying Research studies in Year 11:

  • Learning about and being shown academic databases was extremely useful for later use in Prelim and HSC courses for research tasks and depth studies in my humanities and science subjects. [Research studies] was instrumental in finding a wide variety of valid and credible sources to obtain the highest marks possible in the tasks.
  • Being given a foundation course on academic writing skills, like annotated bibliographies and literature reviews, provided an in-depth understanding to be used in HSC tasks that required them, meaning more time could be spent on actual research instead of learning how to write the report.
  • Research studies as a course not only was highly useful in completing a variety of Year 12 tasks, like depth studies and research reports, I see it as being extremely useful in university to complete such tasks quicker and easier as the fundamentals of top-quality research are already understood.
  • Research studies has provided me with extensive fundamental base knowledge that I have utilised repeatedly throughout Year 12, from chemistry and biology depth study reports to my Extension 2 English major work journal and various literature reviews. Very helpful!

Based on this feedback and the data collected, Research studies will continue to be offered at William Clarke College, and students are encouraged to choose the subject to equip them with the necessary skills they need to succeed academically in their chosen subjects.

References and further reading

Kuhlthau, C. (2004). Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L., & Caspari, A. (2012). Guided Inquiry design: A framework for inquiry in your school. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L., & Caspari, A. (2015). GI: Learning in the 21st century (2nd ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) (2017). School developed Board endorsed courses. NSW Government. Retrieved 10 August 2019.

Todd, R.J. (2010). Leading and learning: Guided Inquiry approach: the challenges. [PowerPoint]. Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries. Rutgers University. Brunswick, NJ.

Todd, R.J. (2007). ‘Research columns two, 2007. Guided Inquiry supporting information literacy’. Scan26(2). pp. 28-30.

How to cite this article – Yule, N. (2019). Developing a Board endorsed course for HSC research proficiencies. Scan, 38(8).

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