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Annotated Bibliography

Ethics in Educational Research

Karen Halasa 

Preface

Following the production of its Code of Ethics in 1993, the AARE Executive established an ongoing Ethics Committee. The role of the Ethics Committee was to promote further discussion of ethics in the educational research community, to consider ethics matters referred by members and, where necessary, to revise the code or provide additional resources or forums concerning ethics. Since 1993, the AARE has sponsored a regional conference on ethics in educational research; has published a new collection of work on this area (Ethics and Educational Research, edited by Martin Bibby, RARE No. 4, 1997) and has given further attention to the matter of research ethics relating to research involving indigenous people, and is recommending the use of the AIATSIS guidelines in this area. The commissioning of Karen Halasa to produce an annotated bibliography for reference by members was intended to provide a further and complementary resource on ethics for members.

Responses by members to publicity about the Ethics Committee in the AARE Newsletter indicated that they often had trouble finding references on ethics matters, and, at the 1995 AGM, it was agreed to set aside a small amount of money to produce an annotated listing of relevant resources. This bibliography, compiled by Karen Halasa, is the result of that decision. Because there is a relative paucity of readily available published materials in this area, Karen's search particularly extended to conference papers presented at annual meetings of the AARE, as well as the AERA and BERA. (The bibliography was being produced at the same time as RARE 4 and does not include reference to it or the other ethics material published by AARE, mentioned in my first paragraph). Karen Halasa's report includes an introduction which discusses what she found in the literature research, and this is followed by the annotated listing. For each reference there is a one sentence overview, and thenF a more detailed summary of the paper, chapter or book. We appreciate very much Karen's diligent and conscientious work on this matter.

The Annotated Bibliography is not intended to be an evaluation of materials listed or of particular approaches to discussions of ethics; it is presented as a service to alert members to materials and writers in this area. We hope that the present listing will be revised and will grow as members tell us of other useful materials in this area. (Please send suggestions for further listings to the Chair, AARE Ethics Committee.)

Lyn Yates
Chair
AARE Ethics Committee, 1993

 

Summary of Literature Search on Ethics in Educational Research

What has become apparent during the course of this search is that although there is a wealth of material on research ethics in general, in bio-ethics, the social sciences, in psychology and so on, there is not so much available on education research in particular. For this reason the focus of this research has been recent education conferences sponsored by AARE and AERA. Of the material which has been written on ethics in education, the focus has been on qualitative methods and on questions of confidentiality, informed consent and minimization of harm. There are many overlapping concerns between a range of disciplines and some of the issues for field work in other areas - sociology, anthropology, psychology - are relevant to qualitative work in education research. On the other hand, some authors have pointed out that what might be applicable in other disciplines may not have direct relevance in education. What follows looks at the salient issues as they arise in a range of fields.

Informed Consent and the Minimisation of Harm

Informed consent is discussed in Evans and Jabucek's (1996) overview paper. They see informed consent as the key issue in research with human beings. In the paper they discuss the traditional foundation of research ethics in Kantian philosophy, and also note recent challenges to that way of thinking from postmodern philosophy. Research codes of ethics put in place a certain universality which compels every person to recognise universal rights for all persons as a constant norm. However, emerging postmodern ethical norms raise new problematic issues, going beyond traditional basic concepts of research ethics where empirical universality is assumed to be the one appropriate approach.

Kantian moral philosophy, which guides much of the writing on research ethics allows that individuals cannot be used as a means to an end but there must be a respect of persons. Research conduct is judged by the extent to which it is aligned to moral agency recognising the principle of respect of persons. It is not ethically permissible to violate participants self-purpose or self-determination. Codes of ethics are useful where there are conflicts to be faced which need to be settled. This represents guidance from colleagues and direction from institutions which both have a responsibility to act as guardians.

This view allows the flexibility necessary to judge particular research on its own merits, while at the same time paying attention to certain universal principles such as the respect of persons.

Evans and Jakupec do acknowledge the conflict between the rights of the individual to privacy and the public's right to know. A book by Punch (1986) in qualitative methods in fieldwork sets out a strong case that in some instances covert research is justifiable depending on the public benefit to be gained. He uses the analogy of the social scientist being like an investigative journalist exposing a practice or organisation. Other writers on qualitative research argue for the centrality of a special relation between researcher and researched, and consequently reject covert research as an appropriate method. Punch's line of thinking seems to have little relevance for educational research and is both explicitly and implicitly challenged in much of the other literature.

Another article, by a feminist researcher who does take as a central issue the rights of subjects and the power relations of women in society, discusses an unusual case where she decided to use material collected in a non-research context. The situation was one where Fine (1992) uses an interview between herself as a volunteer rape counsellor and an emergency room patient. Ethical dilemmas arise because no research was originally anticipated. The subject was therefore not informed and information was given in a situation assumed to be private and confidential.

In answering the question of whether researchers then have a right to use such information, Fine gives the qualified response that it depends on the element of risk involved for the subject. There is also a question of how the subject would feel, what harm would be involved, if information provided confidentially turned up in a journal article. Other authors and education researchers would claim that this kind of what amounts to covert research is never justified.

An article by Kiegelmann (1996) is written from the perspective of a research subject. The article discusses the sense of betrayal of trust involved when the author was involved as a subject of covert research while undergoing analysis by a psychiatrist. A special relationship assuming confidentiality is developed in this situation and Kiegelmann shows that it is currently an accepted practice for therapists to conduct single-subject research without getting the informed consent of their clients. The author argues that this is in itself unethical and that retrospective disclosure is no answer to the initial betrayal. Clients may be manipulated into giving consent and one case is cited where although confessing that they failed to gain informed consent, some researchers went ahead and published anyway, gaining the advantages to their academic careers that this entailed.

Kiegelmann argues that research agendas need to be disclosed. This is particularly important in situations where the power imbalance puts the research subject at a disadvantage. In the teaching of qualitative research methods this is the only ethical method.

Another complaint of Kiegelmann about the content of current literature on ethics in research is a preoccupation with the possibility of damage to the discipline (Punch is cited). More important is the actual harm that is caused to the research participants who live in the field.

Kiegelmann concludes with a complaint that the literature on how to handle ethics in qualitative research is inadequate and stresses that foremost consideration should be given to the dignity of research participants and that covert research should be avoided. Researchers need to question the ethics of their own projects from these perspectives.

Informed consent is problematic because of the power imbalance between researcher and participant. How informed can participants be?

Ethical misconduct may be portrayed as a necessary or common aspect of field work by some researchers. (Punch, 1986). Kiegelmann argues that

'...the entire framework of a research project needs to be under ethical scrutiny, not just dilemmas that arise in the field...the choice of the research topic already is an ethical decision'

There are problems with obtaining prior informed consent in the case of qualitative and ethnographic styles of research as set out by Cassell (Seiber, 1982). It is, she claims, self-contradictory to secure informed consent before research is initiated, since the direction of and conclusions drawn from research are unknown at the beginning of the research. This is consistent with Fine's justification for using data collected before any research was anticipated. Cassell argues that a better approach ethically is to judge fieldwork in the context of respect for autonomy based on the fundamental principle that persons be treated at all times as ends in themselves and never merely the means to an end. This is not meant to replace minimisation of harms but to supplement it in situations where harms are relatively few and difficult to predict. The respect for autonomy should be extended to the autonomy of the group as well as the individual; fieldworkers need to respect and even attempt to augment the authenticity and independence of the communities they study.

That informed consent is open to a range of interpretations is raised by Raffe, Blundell and Bibby (Burgess 1989). They ask how fully should respondents be informed? What opportunity should be given to withhold consent? To what extent should researchers persist in relation to non-respondents with follow up questionnaires? The authors argue that there is a conflict between ethical and technical considerations in research and that codes of ethics are generally written by professionals for professionals who are motivated not just by concerns to protect the public but to leave the field clear for other researchers.

Burgess (1989) points out that informed consent occupies a central place in ethics literature and that it has a wider application than just field relations in ethnographic work but also applies to survey work, statistical investigation and action research. It is not a universal principle that is unproblematic to use in research investigations. When discussing his own fieldwork, Burgess (1989) points to a situation where some of the observation could be construed as spying by some teachers and points out that there are many 'grey' areas and that fieldwork often has to be interactionally 'deceitful' in order to survive and succeed. It involves compromise and negotiation and demands reflective practice.

Clark (1995) claims that informed consent of those who participate in research should be secured although there is some debate about how binding this requirement should be. Underpinning this requirement is the idea that participants should be respected as persons. There are some qualifications where studies are conducted in a public place such as a school playground, where parents of children need to be consulted and where informing the participants and obtaining their consent will effect their subsequent behaviour and so, the results of the research. Where it can be demonstrated that the results of the study will generate considerably more good than harm to the participants informed, consent may be withheld but Clark claims this is difficult to envisage being justified in an educational setting.

The Relationship between Researcher and Researched - Ownership of Data

Bogdan and Biklen (1992) claim that ethics in qualitative research is dominated by two concerns; informed consent and the protection of subjects from harm. Here it is clear that in fieldwork in education the emphasis is on the relationship between participant and researcher. The issues involved in establishing and maintaining the rapport in this relationship are essentially ethical ones. Hollingsworth (1993) characterises the research relationship as collaborative, implying a mutual engagement with the research process on the part of teachers, students and researchers. Patterson and Thomas (1993) go further and claim a special relationship between classroom teachers and university-based researchers where the research needs to be designed with particular attention to including the voice of classroom teachers. This argument for a collaborative style of research places quite different ethical concerns at the centre of the research process and moves away from the older concerns about disinterested detachment on the part of the researcher. Ethical practice centres here upon the relationship between researcher and researched. Doig (1994) argues for an action research methodology which balances theory and teacher voice.

A problem which may arise in the development of collaborative control over data is what Jenkins (1993) has described in his critique of the Success and Failure and Recent Innovation (SAFARI) ethical statements. The right to know is often seen to be in conflict with the central rights of the individual. The proposed solution of the SAFARI project was joint ownership of data, where data is progressively negotiated between informants and researcher. Jenkins is suspicious of this rhetoric and believes it has the effect of seducing respondents into revelation because of the suggestion of rapport and the masking of real power relations operating.

This problem may be overcome if researchers are also teachers. Mohr (1996) claims that teacher researchers see themselves as doubly bound to ethical behaviour both as teachers and researchers. How students are treated is a measure of the quality of both teaching and researching. A teacher-researcher statement of ethics put out by the Fairfax County Public Schools Teacher-Researcher Network includes the following:

Teacher/researchers' primary responsibility is to their students. They are teachers first. They respect those with whom they work, openly sharing information about their research; consult with teaching colleagues and supervisors to review the plans for their studies, explain research questions and methods of data collection and update their plans as the research progresses; use data from observations, discussions, interviews and writing that is collected during the normal process of teaching and learning, secure principal's permission for broader surveys or letters and permission to use data already gathered by the school; may present the results of their research to colleagues in their school districts, are honest in their conclusions and sensitive to the effects of their research findings on others. Before publishing written releases must be obtained from the individuals involved in the research including parental permission for those under 18. The confidentiality of the people involved in the research is protected.

A more general point raised by Cornett and Chase (1990) is that the degree to which a study is ethical or unethical does not ultimately rest with the scientific research community, some abstract canon of ethics or even an ethics checklist. Rather it is the result of a process of continuous interaction between the researcher and participant. This process must be based on an element of trust which may be built up through the participant finding the researcher approachable, communication that is two-way, a sense that the researcher is 'human' and able to reveal personal aspects of him/herself and assurances of confidentiality. Trust is the foundation of an ethical study.

Naama Sabar (Undated) is concerned with the extent to which teacher participants in research contribute to the new knowledge construction through reflection, interpretation and explanation. Sabar goes beyond the idea that simple informed consent is all that is necessary in the relationship between research participants and researchers and argues that respondents should get information, power and the tools to use that power in saying how the information should be used.

While the guarantee of anonymity may protect participants from negative consequences, it also excludes them from public ownership of the data and input into its use. The power imbalance between researcher and teacher is thence accentuated and opportunities for a mutual collegial process lessened or missed. Although this process may be tedious and time-consuming it is essential when we think of education as a separate discipline with a code of ethics different from other domains such as psychology and sociology. Starting from this premise means that research ethics in education would include democratic and emancipatory principles by which teachers are listened to closely and involved significantly as partners.

Cultural Sensitivity

Weis (1992) explores what it means for a researcher to work in a multicultural environment, an environment often far removed from the researchers own original cultural location. The ethical imperatives for such research in this environment include know who you are before going into the field . By this the author seems to mean that the researcher should have an identity outside, within the researching institution or body or else engage in 'true community studies' where researchers actually move into the area and conduct a full community study rather than a study in a school. In the latter situation, Weis claims there is less 'fracturing of the self' which comes about as a result of imposed definitions from those being researched. This may be considered an ethical as much as a methodological issue since as a researcher 'you will be what people in the field choose to define you as and you have little control over this since you are entering their cultural totality - they are not entering yours.

A second critical imperative here is to acknowledge your perspective. In dealing with cultures not our own it is critical to be honest about where we are coming from theoretically and personally. This is important since all behaviour observed in field work is interpreted through this biographical lens, what leads one to 'see' things about others.

A third imperative is to exhibit integrity. This is both methodologically and ethically sound since people will talk to you as a researcher if they trust you. The length of time spent in the field will in part determine this relationship. It is important to establish oneself as a trustworthy member of the community before attempting to conduct interviews. Weis does not elaborate on what might be deemed ethical behaviour other than to stress that this trust must not be broken. Issues such as informed consent are not discussed but confidentiality in relation to the information shared with the researcher is stressed as central to ethical behaviour (even when the subject matter may be itself illegal or immoral). The researchers job is to record and later analyse, not pass judgement.

Osborne (1995) raises other kinds of questions about his position as a researcher in the Torres Strait. At the written policy level there is strong support for training and employing indigenous researchers to research indigenous education but Osborne believes that simple indigenisation of those who make representations is not enough and that the role of non-indigenous researchers should be one of speaking not about, not for, but with oppressed minorities.

The Ethics of Ethics Committees

Crotty (1995) argues that much of what passes for codes of ethical conduct is just professional etiquette and that to attempt to derive a code of ethics which is absolute is outmoded. Postmodernist theorists would assert that, looked at independently of context, nothing can be said to be true. Morality is a matter for conscience and, according to J. S. Mill, the law of the land is not about the enforcement of morality as such. Pluralism however causes problems for ethics committees. A new kind of ethics committee could find diversity within its ranks authenticating and enriching.

References

Bogdan, R. and Biklen, Sari Knopp (1992)Qualitative Research for Education: An Introduction to Theory and Methods, Allyn and Bacon, Boston. 

Burgess, Robert G. (ed.) (1989) The Ethics of Educational Research, Falmer Press, London. 

Cassell, Joan, (1982) 'Harms, benefits, wrongs and rights in fieldwork' in Seiber, Joan (ed.) The Ethics of Social Research: Fieldwork, Regulation and Publication, Springer Verlag, New York. 

Clark, J., (1995) Ethical and Political Issues in Qualitative Research from a Philosophical Point of View, paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco. 

Cornett, Jeffrey, Chase, Sue, Miller, Patricia, (April 16, 1990)Researcher and Participant Views of Ethics: Is Trust Enough? Presented as part of a symposium, Ethical Issues and Problems in the Conduct of Qualitative Research in Classrooms: Alternative Views from the Researcher and the Researched at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston, Massachusetts. 

Crotty, Michael, (Sept-Oct. 1995) The Ethics of Ethics Committees, paper presented at the second Colloquium on Qualitative Research in Adult Education, University of Melbourne. 

Doig, Shani, (1994) The Placement of Teacher Voice in Educational Research, paper presented at AARE conference, Newcastle. 

Evans, T. and Jakupec, V., (1996) 'Research ethics in open and distance education: Context, principles and issues' in Distance Education Vol. 17, No. 1. 

Fine, M., (1992) Disruptive Voices, University of Michigan Press, NY. 

Fraenkel, J. and Wallen, N., (1990) How to Design and Evaluate Research in Education, McGraw Hill, New York. 

Hollingsworth, Sandra, (1991) Choice, Risk and Teacher Voice: Closing the Distance Between Public Perceptions and Private Realities of Schooling, paper prepared for the American Education Research Association, Chicago, March. 

Jenkins, D., (1993) 'An adversary's account of SAFARI's ethics of case study' in Hammersley, M., (ed.) Controversies in Classroom Research, Open University Press. 

Kiegelmann, Mechthild, (April 1996) Harvard University, The Subject Writes Back, Reflections on Ethics in Qualitative Research, conference paper at American Educational Research Association, New York. 

Mohr, Marian, (1996) Ethics and Standards for Teacher Research: Drafts and Decisions, conference paper delivered at AERA conference, New York. 

Patterson, Catherine and Thomas, Dawn, (November 1993) Teachers: The Missing Voice in Educational Research, paper presented at AARE conference, Fremantle, WA. 

Punch, M. (1986) The Politics and Ethics of Fieldwork, Qualitative Research Methods Vol.3, Sage Publications, California. 

Osborne, Barry, (November 1995) Indigenous Education: Is there a place for non-indigenous researchers? Paper delivered at AARE conference. 

Raffe, D., Blundell, I., and Bibby, J., (1989) 'Ethics and tactics: issues arising from an educational survey' in Burgess, R., (ed.) The Ethics of Educational Research, Falmer Press, London. 

Rowling, Louise, (1994) Ethical Dilemmas Encountered in Researching Sensitive Issues, paper delivered at AARE conference. 

Sabar, Naama, (Undated) Teacher Researchers' Attitudes Towards Teacher-Informants: Some Ethical Implications, article submitted to the Journal of Teacher Education. 

Sammons, Pamela, (1989) 'Ethical issues in statistical work' in Burgess, R., The Ethics of Educational Research, Falmer Press, London. 

Thompson, A., (1992) 'The ethics and politics of evaluation' in Issues in Educational Research, Vol. 2, No. 1. 

Weis, L., (1992) 'Reflections on the researcher in a multicultural environment' in Grant, Carl (ed.) Research and Multicultural Education: From the Margins to the Mainstream, Falmer Press, London.

Annotated Bibliography

Bogdan, R. and Biklen, Sari Knopp, (1992) Qualitative Research for Education: An Introduction to Theory and Methods, Allyn and Bacon, Boston.

This is a textbook intended to cover the full range of issues relating to qualitative research in education and gives substantial attention to ethical issues.

Summary


Section on Ethics, pp.49-55.

Most academic specialities and professions have codes of ethics. 'Some codes are thoughtful and help sensitize members to dilemmas and moral issues they must face; others are narrowly conceived and do more to protect the professional group from attack than to set forth a moral position'.

Two issues have dominated the recent guidelines of ethics in research with human subjects:

  1. Informed consent, and
  2. Protection of subjects from harm.

Ethics in qualitative research is fundamentally different - with qualitative research the relationship between researcher and participant evolves over time. 'Doing qualitative research with subjects is more like having a friendship than a contract. The subjects have a say in regulating the relationship and they continuously make decisions about their participation. In submitting a research proposal to human subject committees for example, only a 'bare bones' description of what will occur can generally be included.'

Although qualitative researchers have not developed a specific written code of ethics, conventions have been established regarding ethics in fieldwork. Some general principles include:

  • Subjects enter research projects voluntarily, understanding the nature of the study and the dangers and obligations involved.
  • Subjects are not exposed to risks greater than the gains they might derive.

Ethics in Qualitative Research and Fieldwork

  • Subject's identities should be protected so that information collected does not harm or embarrass in any way.
  • Treat subjects with respect and seek their cooperation in research. In most circumstances, subjects should be told. Researchers must not lie or record conversations on hidden mechanical devices.
  • In negotiating permission it would be made clear what the conditions are and these must be abided by, e.g. if a decision is made not to publish the results.
  • The truth should be told when writing up report data. There should not be fabrications or distortions.

There are exceptions and complications so that in many cases the rules seem extraneous or difficult to employ. A subject's identity may be difficult to hide. Anonymity may be waived. When should researchers intervene? Obligations as a citizen as well as researcher (the example of physical abuse of residents in state-run mental institutions).

This book is essentially a 'how to do qualitative research' for students and although it gives over a few pages to discussing ethics as such, implies an ethical approach to research especially in the discussion of fieldwork and interviewing (ch. 3) and action research (ch. 7).

Section on Fieldwork

The emphasis here is on the relationship between researcher and participant, 'to achieve a fieldwork quality is the goal in establishing relations, whether the research method be participant observation, interviewing or searching documents. The issues involved in establishing and maintaining a rapport seem essentially ethical ones.

In gaining access to teachers/classrooms the following questions need to be answered: What are you actually going to do?

1. Will you be disruptive?

2. What are you going to do with your findings.

3. Why us?

4. What will we get out of this?

Participant observation requires a certain protocol, sensitivity and ethical approach.

Chapter 7 - Applied Qualitative Research for Education

In pedagogical research the investigator is often a practitioner or someone close to practice who wants to use the qualitative approach to do what he or she does better.

In action research, persons conducting the research act as citizens attempting to influence the political process through collecting information. The goal is to promote social change that is consistent with the advocates' beliefs.

By including this broad range of activities under the rubric of research, we may be enlarging our definition so that it loses meaning. Called into question here is the traditional notion of the researcher as objective. This book does not go into great detail about the underlying philosophical/ethical questions apart from pointing out that research always has political consequences.

 

Burgess, Robert G. (ed.) (1989) The Ethics of Educational Research,Falmer Press, London. (Introduction).

This is an introduction to a collection of articles by educational researchers on matters of ethics and outlines the writer's view of key issues in this area.

Summary

Ethics in educational research has been neglected in debate. Although there seem few scandals in educational research, ethical, moral and political questions abound. The agenda of topics for consideration in research practice that are provided in this book include:

  • Research sponsorship - What is the extent to which research funders influence research activity. "Is it a case of those who pay for research projects also 'call the tune'?" There are questions of power relations and the way these assist or impede the research.
  • Research relations - ethical issues concerning research relations are not confined to the use of participant observation or questions of 'open' or 'closed' research. Questions of access, power, harm, deception, secrecy and confidentiality are all issues that the researcher has to consider and resolve in the research context.
  • Informed consent - occupies a central place in the ethics literature. It has wider application than just field relations in ethnographic work but also applies to survey work, statistical investigation and action research. Informed consent is not a universal principle that is unproblematic to use in research investigations.
  • Data dissemination - key issues include confidentiality, reporting back, use of data by policy makers and in educational practice.

 

Some solutions to the problems that have been identified include:

  • Collaboration - collaborative research has been suggested although this is not unproblematic. Researchers need to consider the implications of engaging in collaborative research given the power relationships involved in terms of access to knowledge.
  • Guidelines, codes and laws - these are means whereby professional associations and governments attempt to control research activity while protecting the respondents or subjects of research investigation. Statements of codes of ethics offer guidance and provide a framework within which good practice can be adopted.

Many contributors to this volume discuss codes and statements to which they work but they are quick to point out that such statements are not universally applicable to all circumstances but have to be interpreted in relation to the project on which a researcher works.

A common theme to suggestions handling ethical dilemmas in research is the notion that there is no 'solution' to the problems identified by researchers. Researchers need to regularly reflect on their work so as to develop their understanding of the ethical implications associated with social and educational investigation.

 

Burgess, Robert, G. Grey areas: Ethical dilemmas in educational ethnography' in Burgess, Robert G. (ed.) (1989) The Ethics of Educational Research, Falmer Press, London.

This chapter looks at the difficult ethical questions involved in ethnographic work, especially the vexed issue of informed and freely given consent. There may be other pressures operating on the participants which influence their decisions.

Summary

Ethnographic data is based on a close relationship in the field. Development of this relationship is intertwined with the outcome of the project and the nature of data. It is a question of access and acceptance.

Ethical implications are openness, trust, commitment and confidentiality. The relationship implies a respect for the rights of the individual whose privacy is not invaded and who is not harmed, deceived, betrayed or exploited.

Literature on ethnography frequently ignores ethical questions. Woods (1986) outlines two basic ethical problems, the morality of doing educational research and the classic debate about the ethics of covert as opposed to overt observation.

Consent is sometimes problematic, the parameters of Burgess' research in school were not necessarily explicit, even to himself and could have been construed as spying by some of the teachers.

Sitting in on teachers job interviews, Burgess had the permission of the head and he was introduced to the candidates. None objected to his presence but ' it is dubious whether this kind of situation can be regarded as constituting informed consent given the power relations involved in the situation. What would the candidate risk in having him ejected from an interview when it was clear that the head and the governors had invited him into the situation?'

Both head and governors and the particular candidates pressed the researcher for comments on the performance and ranking of the candidates.

Issues of confidentiality: confidentiality is at risk from the very moment when the researcher is told or allowed to see something that would normally be hidden. Off the record or not for publication information - how might it be used by the researcher - why was she/he told if it was not to be used? The dissemination of data - confidentiality may be perceived to have been breached.

Some Implications for Fieldwork Practice

Professional associations attempt to come to terms with 'grey areas' by outlining codes of ethics (AAA, BSA). Many researchers have indicated the difficulties of working with codes of ethics when engaged in fieldwork '...fieldwork often has to be interactionally 'deceitful' in order to survive and succeed' (Punch). It involves compromise and negotiation and demands reflective practice.

 

Cassell, Joan, (1982) 'Harms, benefits, wrongs, and rights in fieldwork' in Seiber, Joan (ed.), The Ethics of Social Research: Fieldwork, Regulation and Publication, Springer Verlag, N.Y., pp 7 - 31.

This article discusses the inadequacy of traditional codes of conduct in relation to qualitative field research and suggests some alternative emphases.

Summary

There are four dimensions to the relations between those who study and those who are studied within the research process:

1. The relative power of investigators as perceived by subjects,

2. Control of the setting where research takes place,

3. Context of the setting where research takes place, and

4. Control over research interaction.

Cassell points out through the use of a table, that different types of research - biomedical experimentation, psychological experimentation, survey research and fieldwork - will differ in the relative control of investigator compared with those investigated.

Within fieldwork, investigators have comparatively little power over those who are studied: informants are usually free to leave the situation or to decline interaction. In fieldwork power is shared between investigators and investigated. More contentiously, Cassell claims that there is comparatively minimal level of harm associated with fieldwork, this being primarily the violation of privacy or confidentiality. 'The most serious harms in fieldwork, occur not during the process of fieldwork but as a result of its products; the research data or findings.'

Because the investigator's conceptual control diminishes and it is impossible to predict exactly what is going to happen during the course of research interaction, it becomes self-contradictory to secure 'informed consent' before the research is initiated.

Fieldwork may be judged appropriately in the context of respect for autonomy based on the fundamental principle that persons be treated at all times as ends in themselves never merely as means. This is not meant to replace the principle of avoidance of harms but to supplement it in situations where harms are relatively few and difficult to predict. This respect for autonomy should extend to the autonomy of the group as well as the individual - field workers need to respect and even attempt to augment the authenticity and independence of the communities they study.

 

Clark, J. (Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand) (1995) Ethical and Political Issues in Qualitative Research from a Philosophical Point of View, paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco.

This paper argues that in qualitative research a number of moral rules come into play and sets out what these may be.

Summary

A distinction can be drawn between moral principles and moral rules. Generally principles are few in number and would include: maximising good, minimising harm, pursuing the truth and respecting persons. Moral rules on the other hand are many in number and tied to the specific, providing prescriptive courses of action about what we ought to do. What are the moral rules which come into play in the course of qualitative inquiry?

The question of the aim of the research is paramount and the research can be justified if it offers betterment in the educational sense of the lives of the participants.

Informed consent of those who participate in the research should be secured although there is some debate about how binding this requirement should be. Underpinning this is the idea that participants should be respected as persons. There are some qualifications where studies are conducted in a public place such as a school playground, where parents of children need to be consulted and where informing the participants and obtaining their consent will effect their subsequent behaviour and so the results of the research. Where it can be demonstrated that the results of the study will generate considerably more good than harm to the participants, informed consent may be withheld but Clark claims this is difficult to envisage being justified in an educational setting.

An overriding moral constraint on researchers is that participants always be treated as persons, moral agents, never as a means to an end and that the research, rather than being neutral should contribute to the educational betterment of those being studied. More contentiously, researchers should have a grasp of the conceptual, philosophical aspects of their work. Sometimes there may be a clash between the researcher's concern for truth and the moral duty to protect the interests of the participants.

 

Cornett, Jeffrey,  Chase, Sue,  Miller, Patricia, , Researcher and Participant Views of Ethics: Is Trust Enough? presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston, Massachusetts, April 16, 1990.

This paper emphasises the centrality of the relationship between researcher and participant as a starting point for considerations about the ethics of research.

Summary

The relevant literature in the field offers conflicting advice and emphases. One of the problems with qualitative studies is that the research design is emergent and responsive which makes it difficult to provide the research view of informed consent to the participant and difficult to assess the potential negative impact on the participant.

Teacher participant's voice should be an active one in the process of formulating clearer ethical guidelines for qualitative researchers.

The four major elements of ethical consideration in the research project undertaken by the authors (who include researchers and participants) are:

1. The nature of informed consent,

2. The protection of confidentiality when thick description is reported,

3. Extended scrutiny of a teacher's perspective, and

4. The possible impact of naturalistic methods of data collection on student engagement.

An important point raised by Cornett and Chase in a previous publication is that the degree to which a study is ethical or unethical still does not ultimately rest with the scientific research community, some abstract canon of ethics , or even an ethics checklist. '.It is the result of a process of continuous interaction between the researcher and participant.'

From the institutional point of view, documents giving informed consent and ensuring confidentiality provide legal protection but are not central to the ethical relationship between researcher and participant which should remain essentially collaborative. The researcher (Cornett) in both teacher studies mentioned in this paper, implemented formalised and periodic ethics checks, but concluded that trust is the key element in judging the ethical nature of his teacher thinking investigations. Trust must be an already present condition prior to selecting a participant for study. Cornett believes that it is unethical to request the participation of a teacher in a qualitative study of practice if there is doubt about the positive ability of that teacher, in which case no covert study is warranted. Trust is the foundation of an ethical study.

 

Crotty, Michael, The Ethics of Ethics Committees, paper presented at the Second Colloquium on Qualitative Research in Adult Education, University of Melbourne, Sept.-Oct. 1995.

This paper questions the role of ethics committees in formulating codes of ethical conduct and argues that universal morality may be an outmoded concept.

Summary

Do ethics committees act ethically in imposing forms of behaviour specifically as ethical forms of behaviour?

There are two definitions of ethics one of which relates to the morality, the right and wrong of certain behaviours and the other to rules of conduct 'recognised in respect of a particular class of human actions in other words 'proper' ways of behaving for members of a profession or other group' - glorified etiquette.

If ethics as it relates to the norms imposed by ethics committees were to be understood in this second way, a code of ethics has nothing to do with morality but is a set of rules devised for members of the research community outlining appropriate behaviour for its members.

Ethics admits little certainty. Is it always immoral to do something to people without their knowledge and consent?

Morality is a matter for conscience. According to J.S.Mill, the state cannot forbid behaviour simply because it is 'immoral', since this does not necessarily involve harm to others. The law of the land is not about the enforcement of morality as such.The question of whether human rights are establishable and universal is also problematic. There are for instance issues of cultural difference. The notion that we can speak meaningfully of human nature and that certain moral logic is hard-wired is challenged by postmodernist thought which asserts that, looked at independently of context, nothing at all can be said to be true. Human rights foundationalism is seen by some theorists to be outmoded.

Pluralism, a much valued social perspective, causes problems for the expert boards, commissions and committees which are frequently set up to deal with the complex bioethical issues facing communities today.

What happens to ethics committees when liberal values are pressed to their logical conclusions? Legal and moral issues cannot be addressed as if law and morality were synonymous so committees are set up to address issues of legal interpretation. In the area of bioethics, committees advise governments on policy and legislation rather than concern themselves with individual morality.

The libertarian position need not be established as valid or true, only tenable. Researchers are not being allowed this when ethics committees issue ethical norms and brand contrary behaviour not just as non-compliant or recalcitrant or dissident but with the stigma of 'unethical' or 'immoral'.

A mature researcher can properly be expected to assume ethical responsibility for her or his actions.

A new kind of ethics committee could find diversity within its ranks authenticating and enriching.

 

Doig, Shani, (1994)The Placement of Teacher Voice in Educational Research, paper presented at AARE conference, Newcastle.

This paper argues for a greater role for teacher voice in educational research from the viewpoint of both the quality of the research and the ethical concerns generated.

Summary

Concerned about the traditional divide between educational research and educational practice, the author tries to negotiate an approach to action research methodology which does not ignore the important place of theory but at the same time places teacher voice at the centre of research concerns. The tales of teaching are often lacking in accounts where teachers attempt to objectify, qualify and quantify their own classroom practice in the name of achieving academic rigour. On the other hand, researchers have often been critical of teachers' apparent refusal to theorise. This research/practice binary needs to be overcome to allow the teacher's voice to be heard.

 

Evans, Terry and Jakupec, Viktor, (1996) 'Research ethics in open and distance education: Context, principles and issues' in Distance Education Vol. 17 No. 1, pp 72-94.

This article looks at the major ethical issues involved in education research and raises the question of what should be the basis for ethical conduct.

Summary

The origins of concerns about research ethics are to be found in medical research but this has broadened to include all research with human subjects. Bodies such as the Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) are seen as obstacles by many researchers, more concerned with the legal liabilities of the institution itself and the committee members than research.

Informed consent is the key to research with human beings. AHEC guidelines set out that people should be provided with clear, concise information about the project in which they are invited to participate, in a form which they can readily understand.

Universality is a feature of the ethical code which compels every person to recognise universal rights for all persons as a constant norm BUT emerging postmodern ethical norms are problematic and variable and go beyond basic concepts of research ethics where Empirical Universality is assumed to be the one appropriate approach. Based on Kant's moral philosophy, individuals cannot be used as a means to an end. This is an ethics of respect for persons. In order to make sense of what is ethically permissible, it is necessary to point out that general ethics is theoretical, moral philosophy is practical and a code of ethics elucidatory. Research conduct is judged by the extent to which it is aligned to the moral agency recognising the principle of respect of persons. It is not ethically permissible to violate participants self-purpose or self-determination.

There are four questions to be asked of researchers' conduct to ascertain whether research is ethically permissible:

  1. Does the researcher treat the individual as self-conscious, autonomous, free and rational?
  2. Is the purpose of the research in the interests of the research participant?
  3. Could the research data and findings be used for other than the intended purposes and is this possibility understood by the participants?
  4. Does the research potentially make the participant an instrument of the research and/or the researcher?

There are arguments against covert research and a tension between the public right to know and the protection of the individual's privacy and confidentiality. Guidelines need to be formulated for the use of secondary data where informed consent of the participants is obtained, even if retrospectively.

Researchers in open and distance education need to be aware of the principles of free informed consent. Where there are conflicts which need to be settled, guidance is required from codes of ethics, from colleagues and direction from our institutions.

 

Fine, M., (1992) Disruptive Voices, University of Michigan Press, NY.

This is a text by a feminist researcher who does take as a central issue the rights of subjects and the power relations of women in society. As a note to the main issues of her discussion she cites a case where she decided to use material collected in a non-research context.

Summary

The author adds a note to some research she reports where there is a conversation between herself as a volunteer rape counsellor and an emergency room patient. The ethical dilemmas arise because informed consent was not gained prior to the interview since no research was anticipated. The information reported does not conform to the traditional standards of ethical practices of data collection. The subject was not informed because at the time there was nothing to be informed of. The ethical considerations in deciding to publish this information include anonymity, informed consent and assumptions about privacy. The author ensures that anonymity is well guarded, retrospective consent cannot be obtained and even if a statement had been signed by the subject upon entering the emergency room which OK'd the use of relevant information, it cannot be assumed that this is informed consent. When information is provided in a context presumed to be private and confidential, do researchers have a right to use it? Fine's qualified response is that it depends on the element of risk for the subject. Confidentiality also raises the issue of how one would feel if information provided confidentially turned up in a journal article.

To utilise the methodology systematically and intentionally would involve:

  • developing informed consent procedures so that all potential informants are aware that information could be used for research purposes; (this raises a further question about whether there are some counselling relationships in which counsellors cannot simultaneously be collecting research-relevant information);
  • weighing and discussing potential risk with the informants;
  • showing responsibility towards people who provide information, not abusing information provided when people assume the exchange to be private, confidential and safe.

 

Fraenkel, J. and Wallen, N., How to Design and Evaluate Research in Education, Chapter 3, Ethics and Research pp. 32-41

This book is really a textbook for students in the field and sets out in basic step-by-step form some of the ethical issues which may be encountered.

Summary

  • What researchers consider to be ethical is largely a matter of agreement between them.
  • The basic ethical question for all researchers to consider is, 'Will any physical or psychological harm come to anyone as a result of my research?'
  • There are a number of ethical principles which all researchers should be aware of and apply to their investigations. These include that the investigator:
  • in planning the study needs to make a careful evaluation of its ethical acceptability
  • should consider whether the subject is at risk or at minimal risk
  • always retains the responsibility for ensuring ethical practice in the research
  • establishes a clear and fair agreement with research participants
  • before conducting research which requires deception or concealment, determine:
  1. that the use of techniques such as these is warranted by the value of the research outcomes,
  2. that no other means are available, and
  3. that the participants are provided with sufficient explanation as soon as possible.
  • respects the individual's freedom to decline to participate in or withdraw from the research at any time.
  • protects the participant from any mental and physical harm, discomfort or danger.
    • All subjects in a research study should be assured that any data collected from or about them will be held in confidence.
    • The term 'deception', as used in research, refers to misinforming the subjects of a study as to some or all aspects of the research topic.
    • Children as research subjects present problems for researchers that are different from those of adult subjects.

 

Hollingsworth, Sandra, Choice, Risk and Teacher Voice: Closing the Distance between Public Perceptions and Private Realities of Schooling,paper prepared for the American Education Research Association, Chicago, March, 1991.

This paper looks at the need for teachers and researchers to work collaboratively for progressive change and eschew notions of objective standards. 

Summary

Hollingsworth advocates a position for her research in connection with a broader theory of knowledge, that the test for worthwhile knowledge is not whether it is true by objective standards (whatever these may be) but whether it leads to progressive change. Consistent with this view, Hollingsworth undertakes collaborative research aimed at airing teacher perceptions. The so-called critical distance of the researcher towards her subject is seen as antithetical to the development of this perspective upon which teachers and researchers need to work collaboratively, as do teachers and students, moving from a position of received knowledge to constructed knowledge. This implies a mutual engagement with the research process.

 

Jenkins, D., (1993) 'An adversary's account of SAFARI's ethics of case study' in Hammersley, Martyn (ed.) Controversies in Classroom Research, Open University Press.

This article looks at the contradictions involved in the ethical statements of the SAFARI project where the audience's right to know is in conflict with the subject's right to anonymity and confidentiality.

Summary

Success and Failure and Recent Innovation (SAFARI) ethical statements begin with obligations to the subject, Jenkins on the other hand begins with the researchers obligations to his/her audience and own professionalism. Users of case study methods encounter two main problems - confidentiality of data and publication of data (the need to preserve anonymity). There is a paradox where subjects are offered 'control' over data and audiences are seen to have a right to know. The researcher's aim is to attain access to sensitive data and to effect its release.There is an ethical dilemma at the heart of case study research - it is more likely than other kinds of research to expose those studied to critical appraisal, censure or condemnation - others must live with the consequences of the findings. Responses include defence of the right to know (public accountability), the central issue as the rights of the individual and the third position is the SAFARI one - co-ownership of the data. Release of data needs to be progressively negotiated between case study worker and informants according to the context of publication and the audience to be informed.Jenkins sets up an adversarial view of researcher and participant. He claims that SAFARI's case study ethics is a rhetorical device to facilitate performance. He seems to insinuate that the recommendations for negotiation, control and censorship over joint data and assurances of confidentiality disarm respondents into revealing data that, because of the real power relations operating and the suggestion of rapport, they are 'seduced' into volunteering. He claims that SAFARI has produced a self-serving and manipulative device and concludes that such devices formulated to protect a hypothetical, helpless teacher may in fact serve government agencies keeping the public from knowing what they have every right to know.

 

Kiegelmann, Mechthild, (Harvard University),The Subject Writes Back. Reflections on Ethics in Qualitative Research, Conference Paper at American Educational Research Association, April 11, 1996.

Written from a very personal perspective, this paper outlines the sense of betrayal of trust involved when the author was involved as a subject of covert research while undergoing analysis by a psychiatrist.

Summary

A special relationship assuming confidentiality is developed in this situation and Kiegelmann shows that it is currently an accepted practice for therapists to conduct single-subject research without getting the informed consent of their clients. The author argues that this is in itself unethical and that retrospective disclosure is no answer to the initial betrayal. Clients may be manipulated into giving consent and one case is cited where although confessing that they failed to gain informed consent, some researchers went ahead and published anyway, gaining the advantages to their academic careers that this entailed. The author argues that research agendas need to be disclosed. This is particularly important in situations where the power imbalance puts the research subject at a disadvantage. In the teaching of qualitative research methods this is the only ethical method. Another complaint of the author about the content of current literature on ethics in research is a preoccupation with the possibility of damage to the discipline (Punch is cited). More important is the actual harm that is caused to the research participants who live in the field.Informed consent is problematic because of the power imbalance between researcher and participant. How informed can participants be? Ethical misconduct may be portrayed as a necessary or common aspect of field work by some researchers.(Punch again). Kiegelmann argues that '...the entire framework of a research project needs to be under ethical scrutiny, not just dilemmas that arise in the field...the choice of the research topic already is an ethical decision.' The author concludes with a complaint that the literature on how to handle ethics in qualitative research is inadequate and stresses that foremost consideration should be given to the dignity of research participants and covert research would be avoided. Researchers need to question the ethics of their own projects from these perspectives.

 

Mohr, Marian M., (1996)Ethics and Standards for Teacher Research: Drafts and Decisions, Conference paper delivered at AERA conference, New York.

This paper looks at the ethical considerations teacher/researchers need to be aware of in both roles.

Summary

Teacher-researchers have assumed that what they do differs from others ideas of both teaching and researching. Mohr claims that teacher-researchers see themselves as doubly bound to ethical behaviour both as teachers and researchers. How students are treated is a measure of the quality of both teaching and researching. Wong in an article in The Educational Researcher, asserts that researching and teaching are in conflict because they require a different kind of knowledge and generate a different kind of inquiry. Wilson, on the other hand asserted that teaching and researching are not two different roles but a relationship. The Fairfax County Public Schools Teacher-Researcher Network have produced a Teacher-Researcher Statement of Ethics which includes the following points:  Teacher-researchers' - primary responsibility is to their students, they are teachers first. They:

  • respect those with whom they work, openly sharing information about their research;
  • consult with teaching colleagues and supervisors to review the plans for their studies, explain research questions and methods of data collection and update their plans as the research progresses;
  • use data from observations, discussions, interviews and writing that is collected during the normal process of teaching and learning, secure principal's permission for broader surveys or letters and permission to use data already gathered by the school;
  • may present the results of their research to colleagues in their school districts, are honest in their conclusions and sensitive to the effects of their research findings on others.

Before publishing, written releases must be obtained from the individuals involved in the research including parental permission for those under 18. The confidentiality of the people involved in the research is protected.

 

Osborne, Barry,Indigenous Education:Is There a Place for Non-indigenous Researchers?Conference Paper, Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, November 1995.

This paper considers the changes in thinking about the role of non-indigenous researchers and concludes that there is a place for them in speaking with oppressed minorities.

Summary

As a researcher amongst Torres Strait Islanders, the author finds that his position is problematic and has undergone a paradigmatic shift since he first approached the work from an assimilationist perspective in the 1960s. The National Aboriginal Education Committee (NAEC) has provided guidelines for working with indigenous people and sees a role for itself in examining proposals and initiating educational research, encouraging the training of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. At the written policy level there is strong support for training and employing indigenous researchers to research indigenous education.Osborne sees some difficulties in generalising across a number of different contexts, for instance the work which has been done with African-American and feminist education may not be readily transferable to an aboriginal context.Within the field of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, specifically education, Osborne's role has gone from so-called expert (teacher), to learner, to advocate, to coworker and is now unclear both as a researcher and as a guide to non-indigenous researchers who want to research indigenous education.Simple indigenisation of those who make representations is not in itself enough and the role of non-indigenous researchers should be one of speaking not about, not for, but with oppressed minorities. There is a need to work side by side, scrutinising each other's work. There is a need for both researchers in the field of indigenous education. Both researchers need to form coalitions with other educational researchers concerned with oppressed groups (anti-sexist, anti-classist and those working with NESB students) to produce a more powerful political force comprising a majority.

 

Patterson, Catherine and Thomas, Dawn,Teachers: The Missing Voice in Educational Research, paper presented at AARE conference, Fremantle, WA, November 1993.

This is a conference paper which argues a case for including teachers' input into university-based research in education. This suggestion stems from a concern with the ethics of research in a classroom situation.

Summary

The authors contend that there is a growing concern that the voices of classroom teachers are absent from published accounts of educational research largely because education research is generated by university-based researchers. In the model this provides, classroom teachers are viewed as the researched rather than the researcher and as subjects of research. Teachers are also expected to be the eventual recipients of knowledge generated by professional researchers. The paper questions the conventional relationship of teachers and research and argues, based on a case study using a collaborative model, for an acknowledgment of the significant contribution of classroom teachers as the primary source of knowledge and understanding about teaching and learning. 'In their daily professional experiences, teachers generate their own personally constructed, pedagogical knowledge base' and it is important to recognise this.According to the authors there are two main problems with university-generated research into education. They are the reliance on standardised tests to measure student outcomes and the concept of generalisable teaching skills. Qualitative methods which move beyond these quantifiable outcomes may still place the researcher at the centre of the process, framing and mediating teachers' perspectives.To include teachers' experience it is necessary to develop a collaborative process, building a creative interactive research relationship where all participants are seen as teachers. Classroom teachers cannot be seen as the subjects of research by university teachers and confidentiality and anonymity must be maintained at all times.

 

Punch M., (1986)The Politics and Ethics of Fieldwork, Qualitative Research Methods Vol. 3, Sage Publications, California.

This is a small book on the politics and ethics of fieldwork which pays attention to one of the most controversial areas of fieldwork, covert research.

Summary

Punch presents an argument that covert research in social science is justifiable in some circumstances. Ethical issues which he raises include the idea that some research areas are 'beyond the pale' as topics of social research. Although he gives some examples, Punch points out that there is no consensus in social science about what these areas might be and likens some kinds of social research to investigative journalism where an expose of a practice or organisation has some public benefit. The definition of participant observation used here seems to entail some sort of deception. The necessity of informed consent of the participants in the research, or, that research within social science not only may be, but should be a cooperative venture, is not a primary consideration. The examples Punch gives of cases where informed consent may be disagreed with seem extreme, and similar contexts are unlikely to arise in this form in educational research. For example, he cites a situation where the social researcher is accompanying a police car when the police involved are on duty and observing a violent arrest. Obviously the suspect is in no position to be asked for his/her consent. Codes of ethics, according to Punch, cannot cover all the eventualities in field work and must therefore operate as a guide. 'My position is that a professional code of ethics is beneficial as a guideline that alerts researchers to the ethical dimensions of their work, particularly prior to entry'. More controversially he claims that to negotiate consent and access with everyone would be futile and that informed consent is unworkable in some sorts of observational research and 'that a strict application of the code will restrain and restrict a great deal of informal, innocuous research where students and others study groups and activities that are unproblematic, but where explicitly enforcing consent will make the research role simply untenable.' Punch gives no example of this kind of research. He provides an argument that authorities who are being investigated such as corrupt or violent prison authorities or governments may be lied to by researchers seeking to uncover the truth and expose it in order to promote change within these organisations. This he characterises as a kind of conflict methodology. Punch mentions cases where the deception can go too far but provides little in the way of general guidelines which might assist in making the distinction. It seems like a case of the end justifying the means.Punch considers the arguments of others (Bulmer 1982) that the rights of subjects override the rights of science but is concerned that it means closing avenues to certain types of research and he asks the question who is to perform the moral calculus that tells us what to research and what to leave alone. Questions of anonymity and confidentiality arise particularly in the case where there is an invasion of privacy and Punch points out that assurances of sociologists are not watertight and that even when pseudonyms are used, there are often other means of identification. It is also, he says, difficult to predict to what purposes the research will be put. Punch addresses the question of the damage that can be done to the discipline if confidences are betrayed and research subjects consider themselves deceived. Future researchers may be excluded. Punch rejects formalised codes of ethics and conflict methodology. His main concerns appear to be based on a particular experience he had researching the former pupils of one particular school and his problems there seem to have lead him to the position that ultimately the research belongs to the researcher - a view which has been challenged by much of the more recent literature.

 

Raffe, David, Blundell, Ivor and Bibby, John,'Ethics and tactics: Issues arising from an educational survey' in Burgess, R.G., (ed.) The Ethics of Educational Research, Falmer Press, London, pp. 13-29.

This chapter explores some of the ethical issues involved in the conduct of an educational survey.

Summary

  • Collection, storage and linkage of personal databases contain potential for abuse - the use of statistics and computers is often thought to lend an aura of infallibility to research results which may be used to silence the legitimate concerns of those wishing to speak up for their concerns.
  • Data Protection Act 1984 - The Act states that personal data shall not be used or disclosed in any manner incompatible with the purpose for which they are held (i.e. research) - appropriate security measures need to be taken against unauthorised access to, or alteration, disclosure or destruction of the data.
  • Personal data should be accurate.
  • Resource providers (institutions, funding bodies, employers) should not have rights of confidentiality.
  • Intellectual property rights should not allow research providers to prohibit the publication of results.
  • There should be a prior existence of a suitable code for conduct.
  • Where the gatekeeper has a personal relationship with data subject (e.g. parents and teachers) researchers should be sensitive to the nature of that relationship.
  • Confidentiality of data should be respected.
  • Data subjects should be told the purposes of the research and have adequate opportunity to withhold cooperation.
  • Researchers should display openness and sensitivity respecting different interests of different groups in society.
  • Researchers should avoid designs which preclude certain outcomes.
  • Researchers should disseminate findings fully.
  • Researchers should facilitate re-use of data.
  • (these points are drawn from a range of codes BSA, ISI, MRS etc.)
  • Sometimes there will be a need for the involvement of a third person where the respondent negotiates on their behalf, e.g. in answering or refusing to answer questions about parents.
  • The principle of informed consent is often overlooked when information is gathered from other records e.g. school records.
  • The practice of survey research may encourage a situation whereby ethical issues are less likely to be acknowledged in relation to those on whom the researcher is not dependent for resources or data.
  • It is impossible to achieve absolute security of data, given the existence of hackers. There are problems about the anonymity of a school.

Problems of informed consent:

  • how fully should respondents be informed?
  • what opportunity should be given to withhold consent?
  • to what extent should researchers persist in relation to non-respondents with follow-up questionnaires?
  • The principle of informed consent is open to a wide range of interpretations.

Ethical principles related to the perceived expectations of others reflects a lazy approach to ethics and may also reflect a more tactical than ethical approach (p.24). For example, when considering what information about the survey to give to sample members, maximising response may be as important a motive as the principle of informed consent.

Applying the principle of openness of the research process to its fullest extent would require massive resources - being ethical can often be very expensive.

The relative objectivity of survey data can make it difficult to suppress the results of survey research: they can less readily be dismissed as subjective or unsubstantiated.

Even surveys may face conflicts between confidentiality and openness.

Sampling frames may disenfranchise certain groups - this is an ethical as well as a technical difficulty especially. when education policy may be formulated on the results.

There is a continuing dialectic of ethics and tactics.

Codes are generally written by professionals for professionals. To overstate only slightly, they advocate caution not so much to protect the public, more because overstepping the norms would tend to queer the pitch for other professionals.

 

Riddell, Sheila, 'Exploiting the exploited? The ethics of feminist educational research' in Burgess, R.G., (ed.) The Ethics of Educational Research, Falmer Press, London.

This chapter looks at some of the ethical issues involved in qualitative feminist research, including the power relationships involved in the interpersonal relations of interviewing.

Summary

Some feminists (e.g. Stanley and Wise) have been critical of much feminist sociology which reflects an essentially positivistic masculinist world view. This compares with the idea that there are competing views of reality - the only valid research project is to attempt to understand how personal reality is constructed and no attempt should be made to move towards a larger theory. Most feminist writers are less prescriptive. Duello Klein says that the basic demand of feminist research ethics is that the work should not simply be on women but for women. Qualitative and quantitative data can be used complementarily. Real questions are how the research is to be conducted, and whether it is likely to be helpful to women.

The Ethics of Access

Most of the gatekeepers are male and Riddell does not dwell on the specifically feminist nature of her project. Question arose of how she should, as a female researcher, present herself - e.g. vulnerable and in need of male protection. Ethical and practical problems in adopting a 'semi-covert' role (danger of discovery threatening the research).

Power Relations in Interviews

Feminist criticism of the notion of the objective interview. Women may 'open up' in interviews, however, because they are socially powerless, in such a way that it is not to their benefit. The unequal power relation may be exploited.

When Riddell had the cooperation of female students she felt she should place limits on herself such as declaring the girls' toilets out of bounds, waiting until the girls approached her rather than intruding upon them at lunch time, avoiding discussion of sexual relationships. Interviewing men provided a different dynamic and power relationship with male interviewees attempting to assert themselves by controlling the terms of the interaction.

Class differences were apparent with middle class parents asking many questions about what was going to be done with the data and working class parents asking very little. 'Working class women were the group least likely to question what I was doing.' Does the researcher challenge what is happening and risk being told nothing at all? To what extent should she support her true opinions etc.

Analysis and Interpretation of Data

Who, ultimately, does the data belong to? Burgess suggests a modest form of collaboration where some subjects may be given chapters of the final stage of the research to comment upon (shouldn't this consultative process proceed throughout the research?) He suggests the headmaster but Riddell asks why the headmaster should be given precedence over everyone else?

Another complex ethical issue is the extent to which a feminist researcher should adopt a value-free stance, or whether her personal and political convictions should be involved in her data analysis. NO work can be entirely value free. There are problems for those who claim that their research is value free. 'This would suggest...that they either did not realise the implications of their positions, or else they were trying to conceal their political viewpoint.'

Feminist researchers should employ high standards of academic rigour, the researcher should ensure that both her research design and reporting are reflexive, making explicit the way in which her political commitments have influenced her selection of problems, her conduct of the research and her interpretation of the data.

Disseminating Research Findings

It is impossible for anyone doing educational research to guarantee anonymity.

 

Rowling, Louise, (1994) Ethical Dilemmas Encountered in Researching Sensitive Issues, Paper delivered at AARE conference.

This paper examines recent qualitative research on loss and grief in school communities to exemplify some of the ethical dilemmas encountered in researching sensitive issues.

Summary

Data gathering through repeated in depth interviews on sensitive issues such as HIV/AIDS, grief and child abuse, poses ethical dilemmas for the social researcher. These arise from: the interaction of the self as the chief instrument; the interpersonal context of the interview; and the sensitive nature of the topic. Some of the dilemmas include: the ontological beliefs favouring a collaborative approach to research, brought to the research by the researcher; the spontaneous intimate self disclosure of participants; the acknowledgment of interviews as a form of intervention in people's lives; the dilemma of maintaining distance in interviews but also developing rapport; and the clash of the various 'I's' the researcher brought to the research topic.

Mechanisms for coping with these dilemmas are suggested by Rowling including the use of a research journal as a form of debriefing and the development of trust in the research process by the return of interview transcripts.

 

Sabar, Naama, Teacher Researchers' Attitudes Towards Teacher-Informants: Some Ethical Implications, Article submitted to Journal of Teacher Education, Tel Aviv University, Israel.

This article is concerned with the extent to which teacher participants in research should contribute to the new knowledge construction through reflection, interpretation and explanation.

Summary

Sabar goes beyond the idea that simple informed consent is all that is necessary in the relationship between research participants and researchers and argues that respondents should get information, power and the tools to use that power in saying how the information should be used.

While the guarantee of anonymity may protect participants from negative consequences, it also excludes them from public ownership of the data and input into its use. The power imbalance between researcher and teacher is thence accentuated and opportunities for a mutual collegial process lessened or missed. Although this process may be tedious and time-consuming, it is essential when we think of education as a separate discipline with a code of ethics different from other domains such as psychology and sociology. Starting from this premise means that research ethics in education would include democratic and emancipatory principles by which teachers are listened to closely and involved significantly as partners.

 

Sammons, Pamela, 'Ethical issues and statistical work' in Burgess, R.G., (ed.) The Ethics of Educational Research, Falmer Press, London.

This chapter gives an overview of some of the ethical issues involved in statistical research including informed consent and subsequent use of statistical data.

Summary

Understanding of numerical and statistical information is important for the general population to make informed decisions which affect them - the need for awareness of ethical issues and recognised codes of conduct which can inform and guide those who analyse, interpret and publish statistical data is acute.

Misuse of statistical information about schools in the media (parental choice of schools based on examination results).

The code of practice for statisticians, set up by the International Statistical Institute(ISI) represents a set of guidelines rather than absolute rules '...organised rules of ethics are an intellectual and moral absurdity, and ...the proper function of a professional association is to encourage frequent discussion, debate and publication of ethical issues'. The ISI code considers the statistician's obligations to different groups - society as a whole, funders and employers, subjects involved in research work and colleagues.

No code of conduct can guard against flagrant abuses of researchers e.g. fabricating data. Sammons argues that ensuring high standards of statistical research depends as much on the technical aspects of inquiry. Statisticians cannot prevent action based on statistical data but they can attempt to pre-empt predictable misunderstandings or counteract them when they occur.

The statistician has a responsibility to pursue objectivity- values should be made explicit at all stages of the inquiry. In reporting the research, any ethical conflicts and resulting choices should be recounted to inform other researchers.

The employer or funder should be referred to the relevant parts of a professional code to which the statistician adheres.

Obligations to Colleagues include maintaining confidence in statistics, exposing and reviewing methods and findings and communicating ethical principles.

The good reputation of statistics is seen to depend upon the professional conduct of individual statisticians.

Obligations to Subjects

Avoiding undue intrusion - the advancement of knowledge and the pursuit of information are not themselves sufficient justifications for overriding other social and cultural values. Problems of secondary data analysis which might in some way overcome or reduce intrusion include that subjects who have provided data for one purpose may object to its subsequent use for another purpose without their consent. This is particularly the situation in the case of identified data.

Obtaining informed consent - subjects should be informed of their right to refuse or capacity to withdraw data just supplied.

Protecting the interests of subjects - in relation to the potential harmful effects of participating - another argument for keeping subjects as informed as possible.

Researcher statistician needs to assess what items of information are likely to be material to a subject's willingness to participate.

Informed consent is not a precondition of all statistical inquiry.

Maintaining confidentiality - unless informed consent has been obtained.

Preventing disclosure of identities - Statisticians should take all reasonable measure to prevent their data from being published in a form that would allow any subject's identity to be disclosed.

In utilising identified data anonymity is not always a guarantee of confidentiality.

Avoiding abuse of statistical techniques - overanalysis of data, complex statistical techniques are used by those who do not understand them, researchers should discuss their use of statistical procedures with other researchers involved in the relevant field of inquiry. Statistical zeal and sensitive individual conscience are required in the statistical researcher.

 

Weis, Lois, (1992) 'Reflections on the researcher in a multicultural environment' in Grant, Carl, (ed.)Research and Multicultural Education: From the Margins to the Mainstream, Falmer Press, London.

This chapter explores what it means for a researcher to work in a multicultural environment, an environment often far removed from the researcher's own original cultural location.

Summary

The type of research covered in the paper is specifically ethnographic or qualitative and Weis raises several key points which could be considered ethical imperatives for such research in a multicultural environment. They are -

  • Know who you are before going into the field. By this the author seems to mean that the researcher should have an identity outside, within the researching institution or body or else engage in 'true community studies' where researchers actually move into the area and conduct a full community study rather than a study in a school. In the latter situation Weis claims there is less 'fracturing of the self' which comes about as a result of imposed definitions from those being researched. This may be considered an ethical as much as a methodological issue since as a researcher 'you will be what people in the field choose to define you as and you have little control over this since you are entering their cultural totality - they are not entering yours.'
  • Acknowledge your perspective. In dealing with cultures not our own it is critical to be honest about where we are coming from theoretically and personally.. This is important since all behaviour observed in field work is interpreted through this biographical lens, what leads one to 'see' things about others.
  • Exhibit integrity. This is both methodologically and ethically sound since people will talk to you as a researcher if they trust you. The length of time spent in the field will in part determine this relationship. It is important to establish oneself as a trustworthy member of the community before attempting to conduct interviews. Weis does not elaborate on what might be deemed ethical behaviour other than to stress that this trust must not be broken. Issues such as informed consent are not discussed but confidentiality in relation to the information shared with the researcher is stressed as central to ethical behaviour (even when the subject matter may be itself illegal or immoral). The researcher's job is to record and later analyse not pass judgement.

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