Pedagogic Research and Ethics: Some Pointers for Pedagogic Researchers



In all research planning and execution, ethical issues should be considered. Not least is this the case in pedagogic research and development where data on our students’ experience and performance are essential evidence of good practice or of the need for change. This short paper describes an approach to consideration of pedagogic research ethics that has been adopted by the Business School. It is based on the experience of practitioners.

Glauco De Vita and Teresa Smallbone


As stated in the University Code of Practice ‘the integrity of any research depends not only on its scientific rigour, but also on its ethical adequacy’ (2000, p.1). Ethical issues are many and often quite complex. While all research should be guided by a set of fundamental ethical principles to ensure protection of the rights and well being of participants some issues are likely to be specific to, or at least of special importance for, particular fields of study or professional areas. The full Code of Practice is at

Below we highlight what we see as the most important ethical issues that are likely to be confronted within the context of pedagogic research, and offer some suggestions on how, if applicable, they could be addressed.

The timing of the ethical review of an intended pedagogic project

An ethical review should be undertaken during the planning phase of a project since such evaluation might require: (a) a change in the intended information gathering procedure (i.e., the research method); (b) a change in the intended participant pool (e.g., a different cohort of students); and/or (c) anonymity for participants from whom information is to be gathered.

Pedagogic research projects involving the collection of primary data

All pedagogic research involving the collection of primary data by staff (e.g. interviews, focus groups, questionnaires) requires the completion of an ethical review form which must then be approved by the University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) before the data is collected. This takes time and so it is important that those responsible for research ethics within a particular school are contacted at a very early stage for advice.

Pedagogic research projects involving only analysis of existing data

Pedagogic research projects involving analysis of existing data obtained for the evaluation of learning and teaching, for Quality Assurance purposes, or as part of the normal teaching relationship between a tutor/lecturer and student do not need to go through UREC as long as such data are anonymous. Examples of existing data originally gathered for such purposes include those originally obtained to support advice to students, or to diagnose appropriate interventions, and to develop teaching and learning skills through what are considered standard practices within our profession, e.g. observation, assessment, intervention, evaluation, monitoring.

A pre-existing, power, or dependent relationship between the researcher and participants

Whenever there is a pre-existing relationship between a researcher and potential participants, it is the researchers duty to ensure that measures are taken to deal with the feelings of obligation that potential volunteers might have. There must be a very good reason for recruiting research participants from among your own students. Using your own students as the basis for a research project because it is convenient for you is not an acceptable reason. The researcher must make it clear that participants will not gain advantage nor be disadvantaged if they choose to take part or not to take part. This issue is of particular importance in the context of pedagogic research, where students may perceive that their decision will affect their relationship with the university or school, or with the individual tutor/lecturer, or affect the outcome of their assessment. The way research is conducted must clearly demonstrate to students that there is no personal advantage or disadvantage in participation, other than the long-term advantage to all students of future practice informed by evidence.

Informed consent

Obtaining their informed and voluntary consent to participation in pedagogic research and development should protect the rights and interests of students. This typically entails ensuring that students are given and understand information about the following.

  • the purpose of the research
  • what the study will involve for participants, including possible sequences or stages of the information gathering process
  • options, including the option to withdraw at any time without giving a reason
  • what specific use will be made of the information provided
  • possible benefits, disadvantages or risks involved in taking part
  • conditions of confidentiality, privacy, and anonymity
  • details of any funding and/or commercial interests in the research
  • what will happen to the results and how a copy of the research to be published can be obtained
  • details of the approval of research, and how to lodge concerns or complaints. For example the following statement could be added to an agreement form:

‘This research project has been approved by the University Research Ethics Committee. If you have any concerns about the above study, please contact the Chair of the University Research Ethics Committee, Oxford Brookes University, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane, Oxford OX3 OBP or at’

How to demonstrate that informed consent has been obtained

For all pedagogic research, except when written or email questionnaires are used, signed consent forms must be obtained from students. For written or email questionnaires, return of the questionnaires by the students is taken to indicate their consent, whether the returned response is anonymous or not. A sample consent form is given below (Appendix 1).

A participant information sheet containing the information listed in the above section, ‘Informed consent’, should be provided for each participant. This should be given to everyone who takes part, whether they are answering a questionnaire, taking part in a focus group or interview, being observed in a participant observation study, or in any way contributing to data.


Glauco De Vita is a Principal Lecturer in Pedagogic Research and a University Teaching Fellow. Teresa Smallbone is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Deputy Chair of the University Research Ethics Committtee.

Contact Details

Glauco and Teresa work at Oxford Brookes Business University Business School and can be contact by email:;

Appendix 1

Oxford Brookes University


Title of Project:

Name, position and contact address of Researcher:

Please Initial Box


I confirm that I have read and understand the information sheet for the above study and have had the opportunity to ask questions.


I understand that my participation is voluntary and that I am free to withdraw at any time, without giving reason.


I agree to take part in the above study.


If appropriate:I agree to the interview / focus group / consultation being audio/video recorded


I agree to the use of anonymised quotes from my interview/focus group/consultation in publications from this study

Name of Participant



Name of Researcher



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