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Research ethics in emerging forms of online learning: issues arising from a hypothetical study on a MOOC
Esposito, Antonella

JournalThe Electronic Journal of e-Learning
Volume 10, Issue 3, Pages 286-296

This paper is concerned with how research ethics is evolving along with emerging online research methods and settings. In particular, it focuses on ethics issues implied in a hypothetical virtual ethnography study aiming to gain insights on participants experience in an emergent context of networked learning, namely a MOOC … Massive Online Open Course. A MOOC is a popular type of online open course, that provides free content and expertise to anyone in the world who wishes to enroll. The p urposes of this article are to briefly outline recent debates on online research ethics approaches and then to explore competing views on ethical decision‑making when researching in a globalized, online and open learning setting. Considering the challenge s of this new elearning inquiry context, issues as the underlying research ethics models, the roles of researcher and participants and the integrity of the research process are discussed in their interplay with the evolving ethos of the ethnographical met hodology being adopted to investigate participants views. Elements drawn from a hypothetical design of a qualitative study are here utilized to identify an empirical instance that shapes and is being shaped by research ethics decisions. The study aims to answer the following question: what are the affordances (opportunities and challenges) of online open courses as they emerge from the participants perspectives? This paper considers the potential operationalization of the above research question and d iscusses both theoretical and methodological issues arising from applying research ethics to this specific case of Internet inquiry. In this sense, ethical approaches in online research contexts as well as main ethical decisions are discussed and justifie d, envisioning a submission to an institutional ethics review board before undertaking the ethnographical study. Topics such as privacy concerns in a public online setting, choice between overt and covert research, researcher as observer or participant, n arrow or loosely defined application of the informed consent and anonymity are outlined, presenting a range of different options. This article intends to show that ethical decisions are an iterative procedure and an integral part of the research design pr ocess. Moreover, it endorses the opportunity to produce localized and contextualized ethical decision‑making. To this end, it takes into account the guidance available (research ethics literature; narratives of ethics procedures applied to empirical case s); the ethics debates within the ethnographical tradition and the nature of the setting being researched (the specific format of the networked learning instance being examined). The discussion here proposed orientates ethical decision‑making towards a n overt and participant research approach, an informed consent intended as a public notice and a consideration of participants both as authors in the online setting and as human subjects embedding unexpected privacy sensitiveness. However, such decision s are considered as many starting points to build a research ethics protocol intended to a degree as a work in progress, in a problem‑solving approach guided by the practical wisdom of participants emerging over time.rch has been fertile in producing stud ies on pedagogical change and innovation through technology in Higher Education Institutions, namely the integration of the social media in pedagogical practice. However, there is a lack of studies on the integration of the social media in the particular field of lectures. In this context, commonly practiced, the teacher faces a wide audience and feels the need to activate mechanisms of direct instruction, for reasons of economy of time and because it is the most dominant pedagogical model. As a result th ere is a communication paradigm 1.0 (one‑way communication, one‑to‑many, low or non‑existent interaction). In this study, exploratory and quantitative in nature, an approach to the thematic of the exploration of the social media in order to upgrade the cognitive communication from 1.0 to 2.0 (many‑to‑many, interaction between all the participants) in lectures was made. On the approach to the problem, we explored a PowerPoint presentation with the integration of the micro blogging tool Twitter, as a ba sis for addressing the characteristics of cognitive communication 2.0. For data collection a questionnaire was designed, based on literature, and intended to evaluate several dimensions of the resource used, namely: i) pedagogical issues, ii) technologi cal aspects, iii) cognitive learning; iv) interactions in the classroom; v) positive behavior in the classroom and vi) negative behaviour in the classroom. The results indicate that students recognize the potential of this tool in the dimensions asses sed. Twitter integration in PowerPoint allowed the teacher and the students to read each others views and each had the opportunity to contribute to the debate. It also allowed the release of multiple choice questions to the audience, with answers via Twi tter and projection of results via PowerPoint. This way, a true cognitive communication 2.0 took place.

Keywords internet research ethics ·  · MOOC · situated ethics · virtual ethnography

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