The time is always right to do what is right

—Martin Luther King


Ethics of SoTL research

As we design any project, it is important to remember that SoTL research primarily addresses the impact of one’s teaching practice upon learning. SoTL’s ethical challenges stem from the fact that this has the potential to create a power differential between the researchers and their learners. In situations where we conduct research in our own classrooms, these issues can be complicated by our dual responsibilities as both teacher and researcher, and by the power differential inherent in the relationship between teacher and learner. Other potential issues may arise around the confidentiality of data, the use of instructional time for research, and/or learners feeling compelled to participate in the research for fear of non-participation impacting their grades or course/certificate completion.

Useful resources:

  • Institutions of higher learning throughout Canada have adopted the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS2) as the core human research ethics guideline. The information on the TCPS2 website covers the ethical conduct of all staff (full- or part-time), post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate students who conduct research with humans, including research on teaching, learning, and student outcomes. The website provides considerable support materials.
  • Although not part of this module, Otago Polytechnic (New Zealand) encourages staff to complete the self-paced, fully online Course on Research Ethics (CoRE) as a great introduction to key aspects of ethics. The course consists of eight modules applicable to all research, regardless of discipline or methodology.

SoTL researchers should contact their institutions’ research ethics offices early in the research design phase to ask for advice about how to address any ethics issues that might arise during their SoTL research.