Researchers Seek Ethical Guidelines for Higher Ed Studies

June 17, 2014

Higher education needs new ethical guidelines for responsible use of online learner data, a group of faculty members, researchers and legal scholars argues. The group, which convened earlier this month to discuss the challenges of using learner data in research, presented a two-point document on Monday that the Stanford University associate professor Mitchell Stevens described as a "starting place" for a national conversation.

"Virtually all modern societies have strong traditions for protecting individuals in their interactions with large organizations, especially for purposes of scientific research, yet digital media present problems for the inheritors of those traditions," the convention document reads. "Norms of individual consent, privacy and autonomy, for example, must be more vigilantly protected as the environments in which their holders reside are transformed by technology."

The group affirmed that education research should be guided by two guidelines: The "open, participatory and transparent processes of data collection and analysis that provide empirical evidence for knowledge claims" and the "sharing of data, discovery and technology among a community of researchers and educational organizations committed, and accountable to, principles of ethical inquiry held in common."

The document was fashioned after the Belmont Report, a product of the 1976 conference on ethical research with human subjects. Attendees included not just faculty members and administrators at research universities, but also representatives from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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