Key Issue: Boundaries between formal-informal, public-private, home-school, real-virtual etc.
Scenario: Where do you stop?
Research question: What use can undergraduate university students make of social networks to support their formal learning?
Description: This is a project funded by a National Teaching Innovation Grant and run by a university lecturer who is concerned that their topic is perceived by students to be a particularly ‘dry’ one. They are interested in developing their teaching to make more use of collaborative learning opportunities enabled by students using mobile phones to access social networking sites at a time and place convenient to them. They have set a task to be completed on line through, say, Facebook, where students work with each other on a set task.
Questions to be considered:
- Who should be asked for consent and how should they be informed?
The research participants and their ‘friends’ who will see the activity online or just the participants? What about friends of friends? How to raise awareness amongst the participants’ friends’ of the research?
- When is a discussion ‘on task’ and thereby included and when is it ‘off-task’?
Even a discussion centred on a set task may contain personal information and references to outside events or people. However, is that not so much a contamination of the data but important data in itself?
- Becoming a member of the community?
What are the pros and cons of having the lecturer as a ‘friend’? What are they to do on coming across unexpectedly personal information?
- How to anonymise the data?
Other issues that may arise:
Use of pseudonyms online – identifying the actors in this situation
Other similar situations:
Any research involving a mobile device that is used in personal as well as work contexts is likely to lead to access, wittingly or unwittingly, of personal information unrelated to the project. A participant may be unaware when giving consent to the research of the extent of the personal data stored on the phone.