Professional Action Research Ethics

In the United States professional action research is regulated the Health and Humans Services Office for Human Research Protections also known as the “Common Rule,” published in 1991: Code of Federal Regulations Title 45 Part 46 (45 CFR 46).

45 CFR 46 applies to all research involving human subjects conducted, supported or otherwise subject to regulation by any federal department or agency which takes appropriate administrative action to make the policy applicable to such research. This includes research conducted by federal civilian employees or military personnel, except that each department or agency head may adopt such procedural modifications as may be appropriate from an administrative standpoint. It also includes research conducted, supported, or otherwise subject to regulation by the federal government outside the United States. This includes institutions of higher education. Research at all universities in the United States must comply with this policy.

If you conduct research as part of your profession, please tell us about how this works at your institution. What is the process that guides ethical concerns? Click the edit icon in the lower right of the screen, and type in a text box below.

Pepperdine University - Learning Technologies Program Shared by Margaret Riel

Action research was initially designed as course projects and therefore were not viewed as needing review by the Institutional Review Board. The faculty who lead the action research series of courses are well versed in ethical issues and help the students to work within their local context to get any necessary permission or consent for their research. In most cases people are doing their job in innovative ways or working within the expectations of their contracts and do not need any extra permission. In all cases they are urged to talk with the people involved in their action research and enlist their help as co-researchers rather than treat them as subjects.

DEBATE OVER IRB and Action Research shared by Margaret Riel

When action research is part of a university program, how does the Institutional Review Board (IRB) handle action research proposals?

Universities vary in the way they approach ethical issues in action research. Oversight of action research is reviewed outside of the formal IRB review process through the formal channels of IRB or through special committees of the IRB. We placed a poll on the CCAR ( tutorials but it had a limit of only 40 responses and then it locked but here were the results:

8.7% * Ethical issues for action research are handle outside of the formal university IRB process.*

8.7% *There is a special process for IRB review of action research*

78.3% * Action researchers submit once for IRB approval in the same way as for other forms of research*

4.3% * Action Researchers need to submit designs for each cycle of action research*

A debate on the pros and cons of IRB review for action research can be found at

Constructing An Ethical Plan Shared by Linda Purrington

James, Milenkiewicz, & Bucknam (2008) identify ethics, purpose, and logic and fundamental tenets of participatory action research (PAR) . "PAR research practice is ethical when educational researchers

  • Obtain informed consent by requesting permission from students and their parents after completely outlining their data collection strategies, disclosing the intent of the research, its benefits and risks, and the parties who will have access to the information gathered.

  • Work to ensure that no subtle or overt harm is done to the subjects who allow personal information to be included in the research.

  • Hold the knowledge of personal experience in a strictly confidential manner.

  • Add to the body of knowledge about the subject under study.

  • Employ research techniques that are as valid and rigorous as possible.

  • Take action to overcome the issues they study.

  • Care about their subjects, the education they receive, their ongoing success in life, and the democratic ideals implicit in education.

  • Are completely honest during and following the research study, disclosing both pros and cons about the research. These lessons include what was beneficial and components that would be done differently if the project were to be repeated (Creswell, 2002, 2003; Goree et al., 2004; Noddings, 2003 as cited in James, Milenkiewicz, & Bucknam, 2008, pp. 28-29).

Students in the Educational Leadership Administration and Policy Ed.D. Program at Pepperdine University investigate the ethical considerations inherent in their proposed action research studies and construct an ethical plan. Following is the template we use adapted from the ethical plan procedure developed by James, Milenkiewicz, & Bucknam (2008):

Ethical Plan

(Insert Purpose Statement)

Step 1: What are your district’s/organization’s research policies

Step 2: What permission(s) are needed for you to lead/conduct your PAR study and from whom?

Step 3: What informed consent will be needed and how will you solicit informed consent?

Step 4: How will you protect subject identity?

Step 5: How will you minimize any potential risks to subjects?

Step 6: How will you maintain confidentiality?

Step 7: How will you ensure that your research techniques are as valid and rigorous as possible?

Step 8: How will you maintain honesty and avoid bias?

Step 9: How will your study potentially add to existing knowledge and benefit others?

Lamar University Educational Leadership Master’s program shared by Donna Azodi

Students’ action research studies were considered a part of the Research course requirements and they were not required by the university Institutional Review Board to complete the IRB process. However, students begin their work on their action research project in their second course in the program, Research, but continue to work on their action research study across nine courses and submit their action research report in their last course. Due to the fact that students’ action research studies span the length of the program, discussions with the university research director resulted in a revised IRB process for these students. A longitudinal overview of the action research topics was conducted, and a form IRB letter was developed specifically for the action research project that provided a checklist of expedited IRB approval categories provided by the university research director.

Students are required to address how they will provide ethical treatment of participants in their study as well as how they will ensure ethical treatment of the data collected during the implementation of the study. Students are asked to discuss expectations for ethical considerations with their campus mentor and are also asked to communicate with their district’s research department or administrator in charge of research to determine their district’s policies and procedures for conducting research on their campus. Students are also asked to review resources from their textbook as well as external websites on ethics as part of their development of an ethical research design plan. Students are also provided examples of consent forms for students, parents and colleagues and are encouraged to determine if their district has consent forms that are required for use in the district.

Ethics Resources

British Educational Research Association

Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research 2011

NAEYC Ethical Standards for Research

Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth

American Educational Research Association

Code of Ethics

If you conduct research as part of your profession, please tell us about how this works at your institution. What is the process that guides ethical concerns? Click the edit icon in the lower right of the screen, and type in a text box below.

Normal Schools in México

Shared by Laura Dino

In the Normal Schools the action research is carried out especially in the 7th and 8th semester, which are the degree programs. There are three modalities, I will talk about the Practices Report, which is where the work of action research is discussed.

According to the Ministry of Public Education (2014b):

The Professional Practices Report consists in the elaboration of an analytical-reflective document of the intervention process that the student made in his period of professional practice. It describes the actions, strategies, methods and procedures carried out by the student and aims to improve and transform one or some aspects of their professional practice (p.15).

The following process is followed:

1. In the 6th semester, a letter of reasons is drawn up to give to the Degree Committee. The letter details why they selected this form of work and what they want to accomplish. If letter provides valid arguments, the work is approved.

2. After that, an adviser will be assigned to guide you during the process.

3. In elementary schools or in kindergartens according to the degree, the tutor teachers are approached to approve the application of the research in the group, for this they carry a letter of approval and for a year the future teachers work with the children.

4. They go at least twice a week, during the afternoon, with their advisor to see how the work is being done and make improvements

5. At the end of the investigation, the work is presented to the degree program.

They have an action plan that includes the following actions:

  • Intention

  • Planning

  • Action

  • Observation

  • Evaluation

  • Reflection

The question was who is asked for permission to do it:

It comes by law from the Ministry of Public Education so that it is carried out

The Committee reviews the arguments with the purpose that the decision is correct

The group teacher authorizes to carry out the research in her classroom

These actions are restated as many times as necessary.

En las Escuelas Normales se realiza la investigación acción sobre todo en el 7º y 8º semestre que son los de titulación. Existen tres modalidades, hablaré del Informa de Prácticas, que es donde se habla del trabajo de investigación - acción.

De acuerdo con la Secretaría de Educación Pública (2014b):

El Informe de prácticas profesionales consiste en la elaboración de un documento analítico-reflexivo del proceso de intervención que realizó el estudiante en su periodo de práctica profesional. En él se describen las acciones, estrategias, los métodos y los procedimientos llevados a cabo por el estudiante y tiene como finalidad mejorar y transformar uno o algunos aspectos de su práctica profesional (p.15).

Se sigue el siguiente proceso:

1. En 6º semestre se elabora una carta de motivos que entrega al Comité de Titulación, del porqué seleccionaron esta forma de titulación, si da argumentos válidos se aprueba.

2. Después se le asigna un asesor que lo guiará durante el proceso.

3. En las escuelas primarias o en jardines de niños según sea la licenciatura se platica con las maestras tutoras para que aprueben aplicar la investigación en el grupo, para ello llevan una carta de aprobación y durante un año los futuros docentes trabajan con los niños.

4. Van mínimo dos veces por semana, durante la tarde, con su asesor para ver cómo va realizándose el trabajo y realizar las mejoras

5. Al término de la investigación se presenta el trabajo durante su titulación

Llevan un plan de acción que comprende las siguientes acciones:

· Intención

· Planificación

· Acción

· Observación

· Evaluación

· Reflexión

Estas acciones se replantean tantas veces como sea necesario


Secretaría de Educación Pública (2014b). Orientaciones académicas para la elaboración del trabajo de titulación. México, DF.

La pregunta era a quién se le pide autorización para realizarla:

Viene por ley desde la Secretaría de Educación pública para que se realice

El Comité revisa los argumentos con la finalidad que sea correcta la decisión

La maestra de grupo autoriza llevar la investigación en su salón de clases

Ball State University - Master of Arts in Mathematics Education,

Shared by Kathy Shafer

Graduate students in the MA in mathematics education at Ball State University are not required to submit their action research proposals for IRB approval. These graduate students (I will now refer to them as teachers) complete an action research study within a course sequence, as opposed to under the supervision of a thesis advisor. As a result, the course instructor is responsible for ensuring that ethical requirements specific to research activity with school aged children are followed. More specifically, as the course instructor, it is my responsibility to ensure that the project/intervention and planned data collection protocols are incorporated into the teacher’s normal instructional practice.

How do the teachers in your program learn about human subjects research?

All teachers are required to complete the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) course on social, behavioral and educational research (available online through the University of Miami). This course includes specific modules that address working with children, and research conducted in schools. Teachers must log in via a university link.

Who is responsible at the research location?

Teachers completing classroom-based research must work with administration at their local educational setting. For example, if a teacher does not routinely audio or video record class sessions or conduct interviews, the principal would probably require consent from each student’s caregiver in the form of a permission slip.

How are student data kept confidential?

In the final written report, individual student work samples, quotes from interviews, etc. are blinded through the use of pseudonyms. In a few cases, the final written reports have been used as exemplars for subsequent classes. In these cases, the final reports were blinded at all levels; the teacher and school names were changed. In cases where a teacher’s research has been published (i.e. journal, conference proceeding, book chapter), appropriate consent documentation were secured.

What issues would the teachers face if IRB approval was required at your institution?

Teachers submit a full research proposal by early December (end of the fall semester) and begin implementation of the project/intervention in January, following their winter break. First, the time commitment necessary to complete the IRB proposal documentation is extensive for novice researchers and would probably postpone a January start time. Second, even though the study qualifies for exempt status, members of our IRB do not review proposals over winter break.

Have you experienced exceptions?

Yes. In 2018, a teacher was required to gain permission from her local school board. Based on her proposal, I drafted a brief three-page narrative that outlined her study. The study was approved.

In 2014, an educator working in a university setting was required to submit a proposal to her institutional review board. This situation involved a considerable time commitment. The study was approved, however the review process caused a one week delay in implementation.

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