Students as research participants
The National Statement guidelines pay specific attention to situations where a dependent relationship exists, or may exist, between researchers and research participants.
A common example of a dependent relationship based on an imbalance of power and authority occurs where a university staff member seeks to recruit university students into a research project.
The University’s general position is that teaching time may be used for appropriate evaluation of courses, programs, services and functions of the University. In addition, where there is a clear educational benefit to the students involved, research activities may be conducted in class time with the prior approval of the Head of School, consultation with the course coordinator, where appropriate, and with the agreement of the lecturer.
It is acceptable for students to be approached either before or after the end of a class, for the purposes of introducing a research project and inviting their participation. This should only be undertaken with the prior approval of the Head of School, the course coordinator, where appropriate, and the lecturer.
Where students are being approached before or after the end of a class, there must be no coercion from academic staff involved in the teaching unit.
The introduction of the research project to students should be undertaken by a person who does not have teaching and/or assessment responsibilities for the students in question and, in addition to other information about the research project aims and procedures, the students must be advised of their right to decline to participate and be reassured that non-participation will in no way prejudice their course assessment or standing within the University.
Research involving dependency relationships between students and teaching staff (and between all other examples of dependent research populations) must receive ethics approval from an appropriate ethics review body.
Advice for academic staff
The following principles should be considered by staff researchers seeking access to students as research participants:
- No student should be coerced to participate in a research activity. The consideration of coercive influences should include;
- the allocation of ‘marks’ for participation;
- implying the potential for ‘special academic consideration’ for participation;
- implying potential disadvantage associated with non-participation;
- issuing an invitation to participate without a clear consent procedure for informed consent;
- distributing instruments during class time in a manner that makes non-participation difficult.
- Wherever possible, the initial approach to students should be undertaken by a ‘third party’ not involved in the teaching and/or assessment of the students.
- Anonymity in the design of research involving student participants is the preferred approach wherever possible. In other circumstances, strictly maintained confidentiality of identifiable information is required.
- Academic staff should not require, or allow, their own raw research data to be processed by students as an assessable or required task if there is an intention to publish the resultant analysis.
- Academic staff should not claim sole ownership of data that has been collected (or partially collected) by students as part of an assessable, or required, teaching activity. All student involvement in the conduct of such research should be fully acknowledged in reports and publications arising from the research.
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