April 11, 2016

Research Ethics: An Underdeveloped Discipline?


The discipline of research ethics is the study and application of research procedures in a way that promotes a moral obligation to protect the welfare of the participants, and in a way that identifies and manages their rights to privacy. This process begins the moment we make contact with an individual through the research process of interacting with them, though managing the data that we collect from them, and right the way through the reporting process. Ethics needs to be considered early into the research process and most definitely before you start developing your data collection and data analysis methods because ethics can influence the design of the methods and indeed your whole design. For example if you are developing a questionnaire you must make sure that your questions are not offensive and are carefully constructed in a way that does not identify the individual and does not manipulate the individual in giving a particular or desired answer. This can lead to a type of bias known as a methodological bias, but that is something to talk about at another time.


In general it can be stated that research ethics is a fairly stable and a fairly developed area of concern but in some ways it is quite underdeveloped particularly when it comes to research that involves participants interacting with technology; particularly when these participants shall be at a distance. An ethical problem has cropped up in my research in that I realised that there does not appear to be any strict ethical guidance on the way in which online groups should be dealt with. In general, ethics within Educational research is well defined in contexts where participants shall be dealt with face to face, but in online collaborative contexts it is quite different.


Many questions present themselves and these questions really revolve around the way in which participants are invited to take part in online research and therefore seek permission to use their data whilst respecting privacy. In the collaborative settings there appears to work ongoing as researchers strive to determine the best ways in which to contact and seek permission from online participants but there appears to be much to do. Therefore anything that I propose as a solution to current ethical problems could contribute towards the wider understanding and application of research ethics.


In a sense it is both a challenge and an opportunity: it is a challenge because if I cannot find anything suitable in relation to the context of research, I shall have to develop my own guidelines. These guidelines will obviously be based on existing educational research guidelines and existing educational research guidelines that involve technology, but will be an extension on these guidelines. This is a challenge but remember that with all challenges it should be viewed as an opportunity: an opportunity to contribute, an opportunity to develop, an opportunity to apply, and an opportunity to reflect on any mistakes that are made.


Of course it would be easier if there was a set of guidelines already in place but in another way it wouldn’t really make you learn anything. At Ph.D. level you have to be willing and ready to develop, apply, redevelop, reapply in a near constant cycle till a solution suits the context. It is not simply a case of developing a solution and then applying it: it is about thinking through several possible solutions and where possible using a solution to experiment with its suitability. This is an excellent opportunity to progress and develop. Obviously there is always a risk: when you are developing anything new there is a risk of things not working, but if you are clear with your agenda and clear with your direction, things should be alright. Just make sure you give yourself the time to think through what you are doing.


So, an opportunity to develop on an existing set of guidelines has presented itself and like with all opportunities for developing and contributing, this shall be welcomed with open arms!


Untill next time, thanks for reading!


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