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Action research, grounded theory and the ethical approval of projects with evolving methods George Ellison Research and Graduate School

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Presentation on theme: "Action research, grounded theory and the ethical approval of projects with evolving methods George Ellison Research and Graduate School"— Presentation transcript:

1 Action research, grounded theory and the ethical approval of projects with evolving methods George Ellison Research and Graduate School Klaus Fischer Faculty of Humanities, Arts, Languages and Education

2 Context Most research ethics committees will only approve detailed and specific research proposals and require that applicants re-apply for ethics approval if their proposal changes: “When conducting research the principal investigator must ensure that the agreed protocol is adhered to. Any changes to the protocol must be agreed with the research sponsor and, where appropriate, the research ethics committee.” UK NHS Research Governance framework “Normally projects would be expected to start no sooner than three months after the formal notification of funding from the ESRC, to allow for recruitment of staff and ethics approval within the RO. Initial payment of grant will only be made once any necessary REC approval is secured. Approval for minor changes to a project following REC review is delegated to the RO, though the ESRC needs to be informed of any changes made and of the final decision to approve or not.” ESRC Research Ethics Framework 2005 None of these guidelines specify what are ‘minor’ or ‘major’ protocol changes, or what types of changes are ‘appropriate’ to refer back to a research ethics committee for re-approval

3 Case study - background Seminar participants are asked to consider the following case study: Maria, a TESOL specialist and English teacher, is in the midst of a PhD exploring the effectiveness of English teaching in her home country of Caldovia. Her hypothesis is that the poor performance of Caldovian secondary school children in English, despite strong institutional support (ca minutes per week from age 10), is a result of the traditional teaching methods used (teacher-centred, abstract rule learning) rather than other factors such as lack of motivation or the linguistic distance between the Caldovian and English. Maria’s research aims to test this hypothesis and to improve Caldovian teaching practice in the process. She identified “Action Research” as the methodological approach that best suits her needs, and this will involve carrying out her full professional role and researching the impact of her performance and any changes/innovations she introduces. As the research progresses, its findings will be feed back into her teaching, leading to a successive alteration of her teaching method (e.g. the proportion of interactive and student-led activities) and her teaching environment to identify the most appropriate teaching approach for the Caldovian context. The effect of these changes in practice will be measured and documented using a variety of methods including interviews, questionnaires and end of year examination results, with comparisons drawn with a traditionally-taught control group in the same school. Although the relevant Research Ethics Review Panel initially had reservations about Maria’s dual role as teacher and researcher, approval was granted on the basis of her detailed consent form which assured pupils that her research would not have an impact on their end of year examinations since these are centrally organised in Caldovia.

4 Case study – scenario I Seminar participants are asked to consider the following scenario: After one year of research, the end of year examinations show a much better performance for Maria’s class than the traditionally taught parallel class. While Maria is initially very pleased, a careful analysis of student and parent questionnaires suggests that other factors, namely her own enthusiastic approach, dynamic teacher personality and superior command of English in comparison to the somewhat lacklustre approach and performance of her colleague might play a bigger role than her methodological innovations. To isolate teaching style as a factor, Maria suggests to the school that she should teach two parallel classes, applying a traditional teaching style in one and interactive teaching in the other. Does Maria need to apply again to the Research Ethics Review Panel for approval to conduct this comparison? Under what circumstances should the project receive ethics approval?

5 Case study – scenario II Seminar participants are asked to consider the following scenario: While Maria’s interactive teaching leads to a better overall result of her class in the end of year examinations, individual students of the traditionally taught class outperform the best students in her form. Knowing all the students personally, Maria suspects that the students’ personalities play a greater role in their reaction to the different teaching styles than she had estimated. In particular, more extrovert students seem to thrive on interactive teaching, while this approach seemed to work less well with more introvert students than traditional teacher-centred teaching. To test her new hypothesis, Maria decides to apply a personality test to all the students. Does Maria need to apply again to the Research Ethics Review Panel for approval to conduct these additional measurements? Under what circumstances should the project receive ethics approval?

6 Key ethical concerns Research projects in which the methods evolve in response to the project’s findings (such as those involving ‘action research’ or ‘grounded theory’) raise a two key challenges for research ethics committees: 1. Proposed methods are open-ended – applications to research ethics committees usually require applicants to specify methods in advance and in some detail 2. Proposed interventions are initially unknown – any experimental or quasi-experimental interventions need to be specified in advance and in some detail

7 Potential solutions 1.When proposed methods are open-ended (i) Can all potential methods and tools be specified in advance? If YES do so and okay; if NO (ii) (ii) Do the revised methods constitute a new research project? If NO okay; if YES (iii) (iii) Do the revised methods change the actual or potential risks to participant(s) or researcher(s)? If NO okay; if YES reapply 2. When proposed interventions are initially unknown (i) Can all potential interventions be specified in advance? If YES do so and okay; if NO (ii) (ii) Does the new intervention constitute a new research project? If NO okay; if YES (iii) (iii) Does the new intervention change the actual or potential risks to participant(s) or researcher(s)? If NO okay; if YES reapply


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