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

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4.1 Seeking ethical approvals

At The Open University (OU), the ethical review of a SoTL project is usually a two-stage process. The Student Research Project Panel (SRPP) reviews and assesses all research projects which involve the collection of information from students or alumni. It reviews the research design of a SoTL inquiry such as strategies for student recruitment, choice of research methods and the research materials (e.g. consent form, project information sheet, interview protocols).

At the second stage, the university’s Human Research Ethics Committee [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (HREC) reviews whether the SoTL inquiry has considered the ethical implications of involving human participants and whether the data management processes are as per the university’s data protection guidelines. If the SoTL inquiry involves more than 30 staff members, then an additional approval has to be sought from OU’s Staff Survey Project Panel (SSPP), which reviews applications to ensure that the project meets the university’s guidelines on surveying staff.

In addition, the OU has a Code of Practice that sets out the standards that govern the conduct of research at the OU. The OU has also been involved in the development of UK-wide guidance: Research Ethics Support and Review in Research Organisations, which is useful for researchers to have a better understanding of institutional support in ethical practice. There are also discipline-specific guidelines in the UK, some of which are listed on OU’s HREC website: Research Ethics guidelines.

It may be useful to check the equivalent committees or panels for ethical approval, code of practice and the ethics guidance documents in your institution, field of research and country. For example, the University of Toronto outlines the process of seeking ethical approval for SoTL projects on their SoTL Research Ethics website and Elon University describes the approval process by the Institutional Review Board for SoTL research: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and the IRB.

In the next section, you will consider some pointers and resources related to ethical practices in SoTL research.