Ethics approval for student research projects to use in teaching
Nearly 3 years ago, I posted here on Culture Matters about my attempts to get ethics approval for students to do research projects as part of the classes I was teaching. In that post, I linked to 4 different ethics applications I’d written for student research project, each of which used different research methods, from convenience sample street surveys of mobile phone users to participant observation in a virtual world to an oral history project of international students’ experiences at university to a commissioned observational study of how students use social space on campus.
Since then, I’ve gotten ethics approval for an additional 3 student research project that are used in 4 different anthropology classes at Macquarie:
- an illness narrative project being used in both a graduate and an undergraduate medical anthropology class (this was a collaborative effort with Dr Aaron Denham, who teaches one of those classes);
- an ethnographic writing project based on participant-observation in students’ everyday lives for an upper-level undergraduate research methods/ writing class; and
- a food social mapping project for one of our most popular undergraduate classes, Food Across Cultures.
I have posted the entire ethics applications (linked above) for others to use. These things take a surprising amount of time and effort to write, and it would make me feel better about the time I spent working on these ethics applications if I knew that they were making things a bit easier for other people! So please feel free to cut and paste: nothing in them is proprietary.
If you’re at Macquarie, then you’re really in luck, since you can just cut and paste into the most current ethics application form on the Research Office’s website. Unfortunately, most institutions have their own unique forms for everything, so teachers at other universities might find it a bit more work to translate from my ethics application to theirs — but the basic ideas are there, including:
- techniques for designing a participant observation research project that is unique for every student, that avoids any high-risk (and thus tricky to supervise when you have a whole classful of students) research areas (hint: no drugs, no illegal activity, including dumpster-diving), and that also navigates the tricky terrain of getting informed consent from people to write about them when their lives are inextricably intertwined with the students';
- how to recruit friends and family members to participate in an illness narrative project without putting any implicit pressure on them to do so (i.e. no “Mom, I need to interview you about the time you had cancer so that I don’t fail this class”) and that describes how students will talk about their research projects in class without revealing their informants’ very personal information; and
- elaborate scripts that students can use when approaching a restaurant manager, for example, to get permission to write about their eating experience, and really straightforward and easy-to-understand informed consent forms.
If you end up using one of these as the model for one of your own student research projects, please let me know how it goes! In particular, I’m interested in knowing what ethics committees at different institutions do and don’t find acceptable in student research projects, so if you get hassles about a particular research method, participant population, or participant recruitment technique, shoot me an e-mail and tell me about it (lisa.wynn[at]mq.edu.au). I’d love to compare your experience with my own.