3.1 Involvement of students
Although the goal of a SoTL inquiry is to improve student learning from the insights of conducting research, the research programme itself may intrude on students’ learning. For example, students may be asked to fill out surveys or participate in interviews during term-time to provide data for the research project, and these extra demands may add significantly to the workload for a module (MacLean and Poole, 2010).
The SoTL researcher should aim to place little or no extra burden on students (Dewar et al., 2018). By giving careful attention to design, many assessment tasks for SoTL evidence can be embedded within the module’s assignments. Ideally, the evidence for SoTL inquiries should emerge from learning activities or evaluation processes built into the module.
Students may feel coerced to participate because of the authority of the educators. Further, they may view the combination of teaching and a SoTL inquiry by their educator as a distraction and with the potential to interfere with their marks. Therefore, the educator and SoTL researcher should present the costs and benefits of participating in the SoTL inquiry to the students by making explicit reference to their position of authority where appropriate (MacLean and Poole, 2010).
It is important to assure students that there won’t be any penalties for choosing not to participate in the research project, and that their choice to participate or not participate won’t affect their marks (Martin, 2018). For the same reason, it is important to keep incentives (e.g. gift cards, shopping vouchers) for participation modest (Chick, 2019). Any incentives being offered shouldn’t pressurise students into participation.
Viewing students as collaborators and contributors in improving teaching practices will help ensure student interest and involvement in the SoTL research (Burman and Kleinsasser, 2004).
You may consider inviting a student or a group of students to work with you as co-researchers. Students as co-researchers will be able to uncover ethical concerns from the student perspective and help to conduct empirical research with students. With student researchers on board, there will be a distance between the educator and the student participants and this might make student participants more comfortable as compared to when the educator is directly involved in seeking consent and collecting data. The student researchers, in turn, will develop and enhance their research skills through their involvement in a SoTL project.
Activity 5 Ethics of involving students as partners in SoTL
As you are watching the following Center for Engaged Learning video (from 00:17 to 02:04), think about the ethical challenges of involving students as partners.
Gary Poole (the speaker) discusses the issues that institutional ethics committees are normally concerned about when reviewing SoTL projects, especially when a practitioner involves their own students in research. The committees are concerned about: will the inquiry be biased?; will students feel coerced?
However, Gary feels hopeful that SoTL researchers are getting better at explaining about how SoTL research is conducted to ethics committees: ‘We’re changing our prepositions, we’re working with students, we’re not experimenting on students. And we’re not just collecting data from students...’
Gary explains that SoTL practitioners are learning from participatory action research methods, and students are being engaged as partners in SoTL projects without ‘contaminating’ the methodology.
Participatory action research (PAR) is research involving collaboration between groups of people with a legitimate personal interest in solving a problem that affects them directly. Together they define the problem, learn how to study it, design the research, analyse the outcomes and design and execute the necessary actions (Lewis-Beck et al., 2011).