The impact of the research protocol on the participants has to be considered carefully. The research must be conducted in a way that does not diminish the quality of each participant’s experience. This includes ensuring the privacy of the information to be collected and using that information in ways that are consistent with the free, informed and ongoing consent of the research participants. It is under the premise of welfare that the potential benefits and foreseeable risks are assessed and communicated to the potential participants.
In a nutshell, it is under this principle that privacy, free and informed consent, and quality of the participant's experience are considered.
SoTL ethical standards and strategies derived from this principle
In the context of SoTL, holding students’ educational interests is paramount. Students enroll in a course to gain knowledge and skills; the research should be designed in a way that does not intrude excessively on the quality of the educational experience. In fact, research design should aim to enrich the learning experience of all students. It would be unethical to subject students to a condition of research if we have reasons to believe it does not optimize their learning.
The following strategies can help alleviate these concerns:
- Minimize instructional time wasted due to the study itself, for example when providing information about the study, collecting consent forms and debriefing
- Coordinate with department and faculty to ensure that students are not inundated by requests to participate in classroom studies.
- Alter the learning environment the least possible. For example, we should engage students in activities designed first and foremost to enhance learning, not to solely to answer a research question
The right to privacy is also a matter of welfare. Students must be guaranteed that their information will be kept confidential.
The following strategies are often used to ensure their privacy:
- Remove personal identifiers and specific location of the research. For example, you may not want to name York University but use an expression such as a ‘university in the greater Toronto area’;
- When results are disseminated, they should be discussed in a way that protect student identity. Aggregate data whenever possible so that students cannot be singled out based on their answers. Consider carefully if and how to use quotes. For example, if you quote the only Asian student in your class, you may want to label this person as “part of a minority/cultural/ethnic group’ rather than being of Asian descent;
- Secure the data in a locked file cabinet and/or a password protected computer or cloud storage;
- Provide access to the data to the research team only. Whenever possible anonymize the data first.