Personal Action Research Ethics

According to the Federal Policy of the United States under the Department of Health and Human Services, the Common Rule (45 CFR 46), "Research means a systematic investigation, which includes the development of research, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to the generalizable knowledge ".

However, personal action research refers to applied research aimed at improving one's own practice or practice of one's organization. Personal action research can be done in public schools, medical institutions or other organizations to improve the services provided. Therefore, the Common Rule does not apply to this type of action investigation. This raises questions about what ethical standards do apply and how we, as action research educators, guide our students in this area.

If you prepare professionals to conduct a personal action research after completing their educational program, what kind of instruction do you provide to guide them in the ethics of conducting action research to improve their practice?

by Jennifer Robins

To prepare practicing teachers to conduct action research after they graduate, I give you the following instructions:

I present the teachers with the rigorous ethical guidelines for professional researchers. The university subscribes to the Institutional Collaborative Training Initiative (CITI) program that offers a short course on Human Subjects research for Social-Behavioral-Educational Research (SBE).

Next, I have teachers review professional research on their research question to select an intervention that seems appropriate for their situation. This avoids a trial-and-error approach to improve the practice. It has the side effect of improving your perceived professionalism in the eyes of parents, colleagues, and administrators when discussing research with these stakeholders.

I emphasize that teachers should not embark on action research without the consent of their administrators. School administrators are generally familiar with the policies of a specific school district with respect to action research. They are also sensitive to any potential harm that may come to students. This has positive side effects as well, since it demonstrates the teacher's commitment to improve his or her practice and can also be used to obtain resources and time for the action research project.

A key difference between professional action research and personal action research is the need for informed consent from parents or students. Since the intervention chosen by a teacher is one that has been shown to improve the practice, it falls under the concept of routine educational practice. Informed consent is not necessary for routine educational practice. However, in the event that the administrator or school district does not agree that the intervention is is a routine practice, the administrator will provide additional guidance.

Unlike professional researchers, teachers are advised to refine their intervention in real time. If an intervention is not getting results, teachers are advised to first check the fidelity of the intervention: how close are they to the design of the professional research project they base their intervention on? If your method seems correct but it does not work, it should be abandoned. The school year is too short to waste students' time on unproductive innovations. If the method is a resounding success, teachers are advised to consider expanding the intervention to other students. Student success is more important than maintaining a rigorous control group.

Reporting the results of the personal action investigation is an important step. Teachers are encouraged to analyze the results with a university partner if they have one or with colleagues or their administrators to determine if their interpretation of the data they collect seems sound.

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