Recruiting students as participants
The National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (the National Statement, 2007) sets out the importance of informed consent to participate in research.
Allowing free and informed consent
Lecturers or tutors wanting to recruit their students need to be mindful of the ethical considerations outlined in Chapter 4.3 of the National Statement – People in dependent or unequal relationships.
You need to plan how you will avoid or minimise any risk of coercion (students feeling undue pressure to participate in research). This is an ethical concern because of the pre-existing teacher-student relationship. Students may feel that refusing to participate in a research project would affect their grades or their relationship with their lecturer/tutor.
Consider strategies such as:
- Waiting until after grades are released to collect data
- Asking a third party who is not involved with assessing students to do the recruitment and/or data collection
- Asking students to contact you if they are interested in participating, rather than directly inviting the whole class
- De-identifying data or quarantining identifying data so the researchers don't know which students participated and which did not
How to recruit
When inviting students to participate in a research project, you need to make it very clear that the research is separate to any class activity, that it is completely optional, and that there will be no negative consequences for choosing not to participate.
When asking students to participate in research, they should be given:
- Information about the project sufficient for informed consent
- Clear assurance that participation is voluntary, and their choice will not affect their grades or their relationship with their lecturer/tutor
- The option to withdraw at any time possible (usually, participants are able to withdraw at any time until publication of the research) without penalty, with clear instructions on how to do this
- A way to access information about the research results once the research is complete (e.g. a link to a Dropbox folder where you will later upload the published study)
Research into teaching and learning
Data collected in the course of teaching and learning (such as enrolments, attendance, marks) presents a rich source of information that may be of interest to researchers. You may want to share insights you have gained both to improve course delivery, and to contribute to wider education research.
Analysing education data
- What data you want to use and what personal information of theirs will be included
- Where it will be stored, how long it will be kept, and who will have access to it
- How they can withdraw or opt out of the research project
You do not need to seek consent for reuse of data from massive open online courses (MOOCs) conducted through edX, as the edX terms of service explicitly allow for course data to be used in research. However, research conducted on these sites or with data from these sites may still require PSP and/or ethics approval – please contact the Ethics Office to find out what is required.
Research in class settings
If your research is part of a class you are teaching (e.g. A/B testing where students are randomly assigned to different groups given different methods of instruction), then it is even more important that your planned recruitment method/s (see above) are designed to mitigate any pressure to participate that students might feel.
You must also offer an alternative option. Students must be able to NOT participate in the experiment without giving up the ability to remain in the course.
Please review the AHRECS Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Research Ethics Manual for information about designing and conducting research within an education setting.
Publishing student research/IP
Students should be credited as co-authors on any publications arising from their original research, and their research should not be published without their consent.
Using a student’s specific assessment content in another context (such as posting a video they made to a public forum or the schools webpage) also needs explicit consent from the student and may require a commons licence or IP assignment. See the ANU Intellectual property policy for more information.