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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM

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2.1 Informed consent

Informed consent entails giving sufficient information about the research and ensuring that there is no explicit or implicit coercion so that prospective participants can make an informed and free decision on their possible involvement (ESRC, 2015).

When seeking consent, written information about participation should be provided in a comprehensible and accessible form, and time should be allowed for the participants to consider their choices and to discuss their decision with others if appropriate.

A primary objective is to conduct research openly and without deception. The consent form should, therefore, be accompanied by a project information sheet that outlines the purpose of the research, who is undertaking and financing the study and how it will be disseminated and used. The project information sheet includes contact information should participants require additional information or wish to retract information or withdraw participation at any point. It also explains how anonymity and confidentiality is afforded. A consent form should be signed by research participants to indicate consent.

The outlines of a project information sheet and consent form are available on the UK Data Service’s website: Consent for data sharing [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and samples are available on the OU’s HREC website: Human Research Ethics Review Process.

In SoTL research, as in other research projects, you must obtain informed consent from the participants. Essentially, the people participating in your research have the right to give or refuse to give consent to participate. In order to give meaningful consent, they must be adequately informed about the inquiry: rationale of the inquiry and possible consequences; what their participation will involve; and how much time they will have to spend and when.

In SoTL, consent can be an ongoing process (Burman and Kleinsasser, 2004). The consent process is not about simply ‘getting permission’ but communicating and establishing trust with your participants (Hutchings, 2003). ‘Process consent’ is an active informed consent that takes place throughout the research cycle (UK Data Service, 2020). It involves educators discussing the SoTL project regularly with participants; this way, consent to participate is reaffirmed regularly as the project progresses.

In some SoTL research, informed consent may seem unnecessary; for example, when the data being used was a part of end-of-module survey collected as a part of the module requirements, or when you are using learning analytics for which there are institutional policies about use of this data. However, if you are planning to present or publish the research (and not just use it for module improvement or for evaluating a study programme), you will need informed consent. Thus, it is always useful to check the statement of consent or policies under which the data was collected in the first place.