Andy Hobson & Andy Townsend
School of Education
University of Nottingham
“I have never known an interviewer to be completely honest with his respondents … Neither does any researcher ever have adequate insight for a perfect representation of his identity; it is always a matter of greater or lesser misrepresentation…
The researcher must also keep in mind that no method can ever be completely safe for himself or his respondents … The ethics of social science are situation ethics” (Humphreys, 1970).
1. Introduction to research ethics and the PGR ethical review process
2. Ethical issues in practitioner and action research
3. Considering ethical issues and dilemmas in research
In advance of undertaking fieldwork, students are asked to:
…it is always a matter of greater or lesser misrepresentation… The ethics of social science are situation ethics” (Humphreys, 1970).
“My own view is that the MAIN CRITERION for educational research is that it should be ethical… [E]very researcher [should] place it foremost in the planning, conduct and presentation of his / her research. Ethical considerations override all others” (Wellington, 2000: 54; original emphasis).
“This revision of the Association’s Ethical Guidelines (for Educational Research) builds on the 1992 statement in two significant ways. First it seeks more fully to recognize the academic tensions that a multi-disciplinary community generates when dealing with the complex research issues that characterize education contexts. Secondly it seeks to include the field of action research” (BERA 2004, p.3; emphasis added).
beyond that not a great deal is said about practitioner research in general or action research in particular:
“Researchers must take the steps necessary to ensure that all participants in the research understand the process in which they are to be engaged, including why their participation is necessary, how it will be used and how and to whom it will be reported. Researchers engaged in action research must consider the extent to which their own reflective research impinges on others, for example in the case of the dual role of teacher and researcher and the impact on students and colleagues. Dual roles may also introduce explicit tensions in areas such as confidentiality and must be addressed accordingly.” (BERA 2004, p. 5)
“…a group of teachers engaging in a process of action research as part of curriculum renewal should inform the school management of their intentions.” (BERA 2004, p. 9)
1. Where pupils will be involved as participants in a doctoral study, how (if at all) ought the informed consent of those pupils be secured? For example:
2. Can we justify the use of ‘reasonably fully informed consent’ (Cohen et al, 2000: 51) – i.e. the deliberate withholding of some information about the research? If so, under what circumstances?
3. What does the researcher do if s/he discovers that research participants are engaged in illegal activities and/ or behaviour which is likely to cause harm to themselves or others?
4. Should research participants be given the option of not having data relating to them anonymised? If so, under what circumstances?
Q5a Ethical issues and dilemmas research
5(a). Can we ever justify the use of covert techniques such as covert participant observation?
5(b). If covert research / deception is considered justifiable in some circumstances and employed, must researchers seek to gain participants’ consent on a post hoc basis?
Q6. How much and what kinds of ‘harm’, if any, should be tolerated in relation to the conduct of educational research?
Q7. Are the ethical considerations of the participation of pupils, colleagues etc, any different for action research than other forms of research?
Q8. A teacher wants to trial a new teaching method as part of a practice-based research project. What does the supervisor do if they feel the new teaching method would not benefit pupils?
Q11. What are the ethical implications of the use of visual data (e.g. photographs, video) in the presentation of one’s research findings?