Learner Privacy and Research Ethics Statement
- Dissertology welcomes research by partners (e.g. universities) into different aspects of online learning including, but not restricted to, learning design, course evaluation, data analysis, educational research and technologies, learning customisation, related to Dissertology. Research is essential to understanding and improving the Dissertology offering, and effective online learning in general.
- All research should be conducted with an ethic of respect for: the people involved, diversity of cultures and interests, the quality of research, academic freedom and responsibility, the educational and commercial interests of Dissertology and its research partners.
- This document provides guidelines to institutions and researchers in relation to research undertaken with data provided by Dissertology, or in relation to Dissertology courses or technologies. It is intended as a consensual document, to set down an agreed approach to research ethics. The sections that follow are based on the ‘Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research’ by BERA. Some parts of that document are quoted verbatim.
Responsibilities to Learner Participants
- Individuals taking part in Dissertology courses must be treated fairly and sensitively, recognising that they are engaging voluntarily with the courses with the intention of learning. They come from a wide variety of social and cultural backgrounds, with differing attitudes to research and to intrusion into their online activities.
- Research into participation in Dissertology courses presents particular challenges with regard to obtaining consent. Participants must be clearly informed that their participation and interactions may be monitored and analysed for research.
- By taking part in a free open online course, where they are informed that activities may be monitored for research purposes, participants can be assumed to have given consent for participation in research conducted according to these guidelines, so opt-in consent from each participant is not required. It follows that learners can opt out from further participation only by unregistering from Dissertology.
- Although the Dissertology platform is open to registration from anyone with internet access and learner names, profiles, and general comments and replies are made available for viewing by other users, it does not imply that learners engaging in Dissertology discussions have forfeited rights to anonymity. The contributions were made in the context of an ongoing course discussion. Research into learner contributions must always only use anonymised data.
- Dissertology never associates a learner’s comments, information or other course activity with any of their public user profile information (such as name or profile picture) in the datasets it shares with partners. Dissertology and/or its research partners confirm that they will never associate the learner’s comment or the learner’s activity with the user account and will always treat any personal data in strict accordance with data protection laws and the research ethics guidelines.
- If Dissertology and/or a research partner wants to quote a learner comment in their research, they will identify the learner and the learner’s account only for the purpose of obtaining permission. The restriction against associating the existing datasets with the learner account is still not permitted in accordance with paragraph 5 above.
- If a learner ends registration with Dissertology, there will be no further contact from Dissertology, but anonymised data from that learner’s previous interactions may continue to be used for research.
Responsibilities of Partners
- All research associated with Dissertology should be based on the principles of high standards, honesty, openness, accountability, integrity, inclusion and safety.
- Research Partners are expected to gain appropriate approval from their institutional ethics panel for all research conducted in relation to Dissertology.
- There is increasing awareness that the mandatory conditions required by ethics review panels may not be sufficient to illuminate the complexities of research in online environments. Researchers are expected to reflect on their practices, and are encouraged to seek peer review of research proposals, particularly if they involve new or unusual methods.
- All non-anonymised data received by Dissertology is kept secure, and in compliance with the company’s data management policies. This involves, for example, securing the user account with a good password, encrypting the computer hard drive, encrypting any backups of data, and restricting access only to those essential to process the non-anonymised data.
- Participants should be given opportunities to access the outcomes of research in which they have participated. This might, for example, be done by mailing those who participated in the course with a link to the research findings.
- Researchers should not bring research into disrepute by, for example: falsifying evidence or findings, ‘sensationalising’ findings to gain public exposure, distorting findings by selectively publishing some aspects and not others, criticising other researchers in a defamatory or unprofessional manner, undertaking work where they are perceived to have a conflict of interest, or where self-interest or commercial gain might be perceived to compromise the objectivity of the research.
- Researchers and partner institutions should recognise that research using data provided by Dissertology is conducted in partnership with the company. Dissertology would expect acknowledgement in research publications. It is also appropriate to provide Dissertology with a copy of research findings and papers in advance of publication, particularly if these offer any new insight or issues.
Responsibilities of Dissertology
- Dissertology should do all it can to enable researchers to publish the findings of their research in full and under their own names.
- Dissertology should not seek to prevent publication of research findings, nor to criticise researchers. The company may wish to respond in public to research findings, for example to promote favourable results, or rebut unfavourable ones.
- Dissertology should assist research wherever it is appropriate within its resources, for example by providing partners with data on their courses in forms that enable in-depth and comparative analyses.
26th February 2022