Read about the ethics of observing your practice which includes observing ‘others’. You are not undertaking formal research nor reporting directly on your observations (which would require consent). You are only asked to critically reflect on the process of your observations. However it is important to understand your professional ethical responsibilities.
Access and read BERA 2011, Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research.
Read Hill, M. (2005) Ethical considerations in researching children’s experiences.
Contribute to Discussion Forum DF1: Ethics. Make a posting in response to the following questions:
- What questions do the readings raise for you in your setting?
- How will you ensure sound ethical practices in undertaking enquiry into practice?
Reading about and reflecting upon the concept of ‘participant observation’ and the requisite ethics that should be considered has been very interesting. As a Headteacher, I am very used to ‘management observations’ (watching the processes and product of a lesson) but not with the suggested immersion required of participant observation.
Using participant observation as one vehicle for undertaking research into practice, the BERA guidelines and the Hill chapter both provide insights and raise questions, to of which I will explore in detail.
How do I include pupils in the process? Hill states, ‘Both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and current thinking about participatory research and consultation suggest researchers should seek to maximise opportunities for children’s input at each stage’ (2005, p67). Article 12 of the UNCRC is explicit in its expectation that all children have ‘the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them’. The BERA guidelines expect adherence to the spirit of the ethical considerations, such as informing participants of the research process and obtaining consent. Whilst consent is not required for our participatory observation, adhering to the spirit of the guidance suggests that we should still be informing the children (and teachers) about the purpose of the observation and, going further, invite pupils’ input. Hill also challenges us to consider the involvement of ALL pupils and observes that children with a disability ‘are often absent from research other than that focusing on disability’ (Hill, 2005, p.68). I need to reflect further on how I inform and include all pupils in this process.
How do I avoid tainting the observation by my presence in the classroom? Referencing Fine and Sandstrom (1988), Hill describes three levels of explaining a research project to participants. These levels and the related challenges connect with Delamont (2012) and Gordon et al (2005) who both reflect on the impact that a participant can have on the normal that they are trying to observe. When explaining a research project in too much detail, one risks influencing the outcome of the research. Likewise, when attempting to be a participant in a classroom, one risks influencing the environment and behaviours. Gordon et al reference Foucault (1980) who points out that gazing can be an exercise of power. In both explaining a research project and participating in a classroom, we run the risk of asserting that powerful gaze detrimentally. I need to think carefully about how to avoid, or at the very least, minimise the influence that my presence has in a classroom I am a participant observer.
In answering the second part of this task – How will you ensure sound ethical practices in undertaking enquiry into practice? – I am drawn to Hill’s summary (2005, p.81) in which four considerations are offered. Firstly, in relation to welfare, I need to be clear about the purpose of my enquiry and the benefit it will have on pupils and teachers. Secondly, I need to consider the protection of my teachers so that my enquiry process doesn’t not cause them unnecessary burden or stress. This also applies to my pupils who could experience ‘pressure to perform’ when working with the Headteacher. Thirdly, my provision of meaningful contribution from all involved (pupils and teachers) must be explicit and tangible. Fourthly, and finally, the choice and participation options I provide for pupils will help ensure I meet the expectations of Article 12 of the UNCRC whilst also ensuring I adhere to the BERA guidelines teachers and pupils alike.
As to how this all plays out is yet to be seen.
BERA (2011) Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research at https://www.bera.ac.uk/researchers-resources/resources-for-researchers. Accessed 15th September 2018.
Delamont, S., 2012. Traditional’ ethnography: Peopled ethnography for luminous description. In: S. Delamont, ed., Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp.342-353.
Gordon, T., Holland, J., Lahelma, E. and Tolonen, T. 2005 Gazing with intent: ethnographic practice in classrooms. Qualitative Research 5(1), pp.113-131.
Hill, M. (2005) ‘Ethical considerations in researching children’s experiences’ in S. Greene & D. Hogan (eds.) Researching Children’s Experience. London: Sage.