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Learning to teach: an introduction to classroom research
Learning to teach: an introduction to classroom research

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2.1 Ethics and research design

A research project in an educational setting will involve collecting data and it will almost certainly involve other people as participants. How these people are treated matters, which means that there will be ethical issues to consider. The issues are not usually difficult to resolve, but may emerge and change as the research proceeds.

Ethics is about how you behave; it is about honesty, integrity and sticking to the rules. However, it is also about the integrity of the research process; ensuring that you have enough, reliable data from which to draw conclusions, reporting the evidence accurately and being open about your assumptions and the limitations of your conclusions.

Ethics is complicated as the issues are often linked. For example, you plan a set of in-depth semi-structured interviews with some teachers, lasting for about an hour. It may become apparent that this is considered to be an imposition (teachers are busy people!). You may act in a way to avoid this imposition and settle for shorter, more structured interviews. However, this will subsequently affect the quality of the evidence that you can collect and you may have to find some alternative data.

Universities often produce lists of principles or ‘ethical guidelines’ that researchers are supposed to follow (for example, see the BERA guidelines [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , 2011). However, the issues are often interconnected and it is difficult to be confident that you have thought of everything.

In the next activity, you will be introduced to a structured way of thinking about the ethical issues. The analysis will help you to decide how to behave, but it will also support your research design. It will highlight the issues you need to think about. Applying the framework will help you to anticipate problems and therefore identify actions that will help you to avoid difficulties and improve the quality of your research (Stutchbury and Fox, 2009).