This principle refers to the obligation to treat people fairly and equitably. This includes considerations around avoiding bias when sampling from a larger population and not exposing participants to a research protocol that could disadvantage them in some way. It is also under this principle that potential participants cannot suffer negative or unfair consequences if they opt out of the study.
In a nutshell, participants and non-participants should not suffer adverse consequences to their participation or lack thereof, and in all cases be treated in a just and fair manner.
SoTL ethical standards and strategies derived from this principle
Potential participants are sometimes offered incentives to take part in a study, both to help with recruitment and as a way to compensate them for their time and effort. In the context of SoTL, incentives can pose an ethical problem if the students that opt in benefit in ways that those who opt out do not. If participation marks are offered for out-of-class activities related to the study, for example, this creates an unfair advantage to gain better marks only for those who accepted to participate in the study and/or are available outside of class for the purpose of the research.
- If you are providing incentives, offer alternative opportunities for the students who choose not to participate in the research project
Some study designs propose the use of control or comparison groups in order to better evaluate the effectiveness of a technique over another. This can be done only when the literature is not clear on better practices, as it would be unethical to withhold beneficial treatment from a subset of students.
- Consider carefully the use of control or comparison groups if some of the teaching methods tested in different subgroups have the potential of yielding less positive outcomes than others
In addition to fair and equitable treatment of all students, including those who decline participating in a research program, it is also fruitful to consider who benefits from the research being undertaken. An instructor may engage in SoTL to improve personal practice and the learning experience for students. The instructor may further profit from the endeavor when the research is disseminated publicly. It is unknown, however, if or to which extent the students taking part in the study will benefit directly.