I wish to do research about teaching and learning - are there special ethical issues involved?

What does the TCPS2 say about research with human participants and how does this apply to SoTL?

TCPS2 is based on the basic moral imperative of human dignity which serves as a foundation for three core principles of Concern for Welfare, Respect for Person, and Justice.

            Concern for Welfare– researchers must be concerned with the individual well-being of their participants. They must measure the relative risks and benefits of research and ensure that the risks outweigh the benefits. They must also be concerned that the individual’s privacy is respected. 

  • As the risk to the participant increases, so too does the need to ensure that the student’s privacy is respected as well as their ownership of work.
  • As the risk to the participant increases, so too does the need to ensure the voluntary nature (including the lack of coercion) of the consent to participate.

            Respect for Persons– researchers must respect an individual’s autonomy. Research participation must be voluntary. Participants must be asked to consent to taking part in the research project and must be able to make that decision after being fully informed about the project, and in a manner which is free from undue influence or coercion.

  • Fully informing students means making sure they have access to all the consent information prior to consenting to research and throughout the research.
  • Passive consent is only possible in very low risk research and must be justified by the researcher.

            Justice– researchers must consider the balance of power between researchers and participants and must ensure that the balance of power does not result in undue influence or coercion. Researchers must consider whether the participant is fully capable of giving consent freely. Some populations are considered ‘vulnerable’ because they may not be free to give consent. Classic examples are prisoners, people in institutions such as extended care homes or hospitals and students. These people may not feel they are completely free to decline to participate in research, or to participate and remain protected from unwanted consequences. Researchers must mitigate these circumstances by introducing special protections.

  • Students are a vulnerable population 
  • The instructor/researcher is in a position of ‘power over’ students. 
  • Students should not be asked to ‘trust’ that the instructor will not use information gathered for research, or a bias due to participation or non-participation, when grading a student in a course.
  • The instructor/researcher (including TAs or anyone in a position to influence grades) should not have access to knowledge of research participation nor have access to identified data until AFTER the grades are in.

See the Human Ethics website for information about how to apply.

Best Practices for SoTL Research

  • Don’t do research in classes that you teach.
  • If you must do research in your own class, ask a neutral 3rd party to obtain consent and hold data until the grades are in.
  • Students own their grades and their work. Permission must be sought from the student for access to either.
  • Class lists from previous years are not available for the purposes of recruitment. Permission must be sought from the Registrar to access student’s personal information for the purposes of research.
  • If you must give course credit as an incentive for research, and you will not be using the Sona system to recruit, you must provide a comparable alternative which students can do in place of the research option.The alternative should take approximately the same amount of time and effort as the research project would take. Tracking both the incentive and the alternative must be done by a neutral 3rd party, with the instructor simply receiving a list of student numbers identifying which students should get the course credit (not why) just prior to grade submission.
  • If you are giving course credit as an incentive, this must be discussed in your course outline.
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