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

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2.3 Protection from harm

Researchers should aim to maximise the benefit of the research and minimise potential risk of harm to participants and researchers. Risk is often defined by reference to potential physical or psychological harm, discomfort, stress or reputational risk to human participants (and participating groups, organisations and funders) that a research project might generate (ESRC, 2015).

In SoTL research, physical harm is unlikely, but it would be possible to damage the self-esteem of a student (emotional harm). This might occur if the research makes a student aware of their poor performance against other students. A student may suffer ‘social harm’ when a student learns that they have earned a lower mark than others in an activity related to SoTL research (McKinney, 2007). Another risk perceived by students who are potential participants is the possibility that their participation will in some way impact on their marks, or the way they are regarded by their educators who are also researchers (AHRECS, 2016).

The research design may have ethical issues, too, with the potential of causing harm (Grauerholz and Main, 2013). Bartsch (2013a, 2013b) suggests different possibilities for SoTL research designs that are valid, practical and ethical. Canada’s York University, in their SoTL Research Ethics Guide [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , list some of the ethical issues to look for in SoTL research design. Booklet 3 in AHRECS (2016) discusses some of the risks that can often arise in SoTL research and the strategies that can be used to minimise or negate the risks, and any potential harm.