4.2 Ethical issues

Ethics are a vital part of any practitioner research project. Although investigating your own practice may not seem to wrought with ethical dilemmas it is important, nonethless, to be aware of the issues that your change in role from practitioner to practitioner researcher many raise.

The OU has a research ethics website which has some useful information about the role of ethics in research, including the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) which grants approval for research involving humans, including practitioner research. See the next section for more details on HREC.

There is also quite a bit of guidance from the fields of psychology and education which is relevant to practitioner research.

Here, however, are a few pointers about how ethics relates to your own practitioner research.


Particularly if you are an Associate Lecturer you need to consider how your change in role from tutor to practitioner researcher may be perceived by students. Your students may, for example, feel obliged to take part in your research or to provide you with the answer they think you are looking for.

Advantaging or disadvantaging students

Your research should not benefit one group of students over an other. If you are piloting a teaching method or a form of assessment which may help students you should nonethless ensure that students not participating do not suffer in terms of their learning experience or their performance.

Confidentiality and use of data

Participants in your research, whoever they are, should be told what will happen to the data that will be collected on them. In particular, they should be informed of:

  • issues of confidentiality and anonymity
  • how long the data will be kept
  • up to what point in the research process they have the right to withdraw from the research

Informed consent

Informed consent is key to research ethics. As a researcher you need to ensure that potential research participants are provided with sufficient information to enable them to make an informed decision about whether or not to participate in the research. As indicated above, this includes not just the purpose of the research and the involvement of the participant, but how the research data will be used.

There may, of course, be some cases where participants cannot be told everything about the purpose of the research as this would adversely influence how they behave or the data they provide. An example might be research where you hope that students will be better able to regulate their studies of there is a 'little and often' assessment methodology.

Quality of research

A final ethical requirement placed on the researcher relates to the quality of the research. This might seem obvious but it is important for participants to know that their contribution has not been wasted.

As a result, quality may imply that the research is rigorous in terms of its process and methodology. It could also mean research which is completed rather abandoned or where the findings of the research are communicated to the participants.

Last modified: Tuesday, 4 Mar 2014, 16:31