3.1 Involving others
Getting to know your students is often highlighted as a particular benefit of practitioner research and many students are happy to participate.
This section looks at how you might use direct and indirect approaches to ask students to participate in your research.
It also briefly mentions the procedures in place for approaching students to participate in research at the Open University, and the broad ethical issues involved. These are covered in more detail in the Open University research practicalities section.
Formal procedures for involving Open University students as participants
If, as an Associate Lecturer, you wish to involve your own current students in a small research project with the intention of understanding and/or improving your own practice this is considered to be part of your continuing professional development and so you are free to do so without seeking permission. It is, however, a good idea to inform the Module Team Chair and your Staff Tutor/Regional Manager of your intention, in case any issues arise as a result of your project. They may also be interested in knowing about the findings of your project.
If you are a member of staff with no direct access to students, such as a member of a Module Team, and wish to ask students to participate in research, you will need to seek permission from the Student Research Project Panel (SRPP). The same applies to Associate Lecturers who wish to research former students or students in another tutor group. As an Associate Lecturer applying to SRPP, you may well need the permission, support, and possibly even the sponsorship, of the relevant Module Team.
Approaching OU students to participate in research
If you are an Associate Lecturer then the most obvious way to approach students to participate in your practitioner research is simply to ask directly. There are a few issues with this, such as whether students will feel they have the right to say no, but you are probably best placed to gauge who, when and how to ask.
If you do not have direct contact with students, such as being a member of a Module Team, then the Open University sampling office can provide you with the details of relevant students. It is worth considering that you may only get a 25% response rate from students, perhaps even less if you are asking them to travel to Milton Keynes or a regional centre. The SRPP application form has a section for requesting a sample and there is more information about SRPP and sampling in the OU research practicalities section, below.
It may also be possible to approach an Associate lecturer directly for the names and PIs of students in their tutor group. In this case, however, you will still need to apply to SRPP to seek permision to contact them.
A final way of contacting students is to ask for volunteers through module or subject websites. It is a bit of a moot point whether this also requires permission so if you are using this approach as a back up method it is probably worth indicating this on any application you make to SRPP.
Issues in having OU students as participants
The first issue is that there is an obvious imbalance of power between students and their tutors and lecturers, and students may feel obliged to take part in research or to respond in particular ways. It is therefore vital that students are properly informed about the nature of the research and put under no pressure to take part. Anonymised methods of data collection may assist this but may not be possible within a tutor group.
The second issue involved in working with students is that any change should not benefit or adversley affect one group of students in relation to another. Students who choose not to take part in any research should similarly not be penalised. This means that the way the research is conducted and the methods for informing and recruiting students should be consistent and unambiguous.
Finally, care does need to be taken in both the timing of the research and how much time students are being asked to volunteer. This will be raised by the SRPP process but it is worth considering in advance what you are expecting them to do, how long it should take them and when you are expecting them to do it. Students are generally happy to volunteer but it is good practice not just to asume this, to inform them of what volunteering will entail and also to avoid important deadlines such as TMAs and exams or EMAs.
Although in some cases participants are paid for taking part in research activities, there can be ethical issues raised in doing so. In practitioner research participants generally come forward voluntarily and so there is usually no payment. However, when participants are asked to spend considerable amounts of time or to travel, such as coming to Walton Hall or a regional/national centre, it is often appropriate to compensate them for their time. This could be in the form of book token and reimbursement for their expenses. Sometimes, entry into a ballot to win a higher value prize may also be offered as an incentive to take part, although again this may raise some ethical concerns.