13 November 2017

One Size Does Not Fit All - Encouraging Participation without Coercing Participation

We take up from where we left off on November 8th when anthro everywhere! blogger Jennifer Long continued her overview of her new pedagogical research project in collaboration with Ms. Silvie Tanu Halim at the W. Booth School of Engineering Practice & Technology. All posts that begin with 'One Size Does Not Fit All' describe a project which explores mature and non-traditional students' educational experiences and seeks to understand how these perspectives differ depending on our medium of instruction: online (synchronous, asynchronous), or face-to-face.

We left off on Nov 8th providing a final overview of our survey questions about educational experiences and preferences. Today, we're going to discuss how blogger Jennifer Long invited students to participate in their survey.

As discussed in previous posts, the target population of our research are our own students. To be more specific, they are Ms. Tanu Halim's students. To conduct this research, Ms. Tanu Halim and Dr. Long had to submit an ethics proposal to our university's board of ethics for research projects involving human beings. This is standard practice for any researchers working with consenting individuals. Unsurprisingly, our research board wanted to understand how we'd be mitigating the pressure students might feel if their own instructor is asking them to take part in research.

First, as researchers, we had to outline how our research was voluntary, as in, our participants would not be negatively effected by choosing not to take part. Therefore, our letter of consent included the following text:

Your participation in this study is strictly voluntary. This study is not an assessment component for this course; therefore, your responses will not be evaluated in any way during this study. As such, your grade for your class will not be negatively impacted if you choose to withdraw or not participate in the study. 

We also outlined the potential risks facing students if students chose to take part. For this project, we identified the potential of both psychological and social risks. The following is the text describing how we will try to mitigate these risks:

Psychological risks:
Participants are informed in the online invitation and Letter of Information that this study is voluntary. If worried about the social risk, students are informed in the invitation text and Letter of Information that they can access the survey and choose not to participate while still contributing to the 70% participation threshold. 

Social Risks:
Further, if participants wish not to answer particular survey questions, they will have the option to skip any question they are not comfortable answering. 

As described in the psychological risks, we're awarding everyone in the class a bonus mark once we've hit a 70% response rate threshold. To maintain anonymous responses, we've decide to dole out these bonus marks to everyone as we're not collecting their identifying information. This could however make some students feel forced to take part and therefore, we've included an option where students can click on the survey and then decide not to take part (selecting 'no' to the consent screen). In so doing, these click throughs to 'non consent' still count toward the 70% threshold.

There has been some debate regarding how much incentivizing participants will influence the responses researchers receive.  As becomes evident, Ms. Tanu Halim and I had to walk a fine line of trying to entice students to participate (online surveys suffer from low response rates) and overstepping our boundaries as instructors by influencing our students to take part.

Another step we're taking to encourage realistic responses and experiences is to collect this information anonymously.  In taking this approach, we're hoping that our students are able to willingly take part and provide us in-depth information about their learning experiences and preferences in ways that are meaningful to them. Further, if we don't know who took part, we can't give preferential treatment to anyone.

Finally, when inviting students to take part in our survey, Dr. Tanu Halim left the room while Dr. Long provided a brief explanation about the research and its project plan. This 'script' is outlined again in our ethics proposal, as a means to avoid undue coercive behaviour. This approach allows students to ask questions and speak to any concerns they may have away from the eyes and ears of their professor. Blogger Jennifer Long told the students about the study and where to find the link, but students have the choice to take part at a later point in time and not, for example, under Dr. Long's 'watchful eye'. This would present few options for some students.

Check out future posts to learn how the researchers will collect and analyse their data.

Want to use any ethics phrasing for your own work?
Please cite this source as follows:
Long, J., & Tanu Halim, S. (2017, November 13). One Size Does Not Fit All - Enouraging Participation without Coercive Participation [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://anthrolens.blogspot.ca/2017/11/one-size-does-not-fit-all-encouraging.html