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Ethics for gathering data

Consider several ethical issues related to the collection and storing of data from human subjects when planning your assessment

Informed consent

You should provide information to students about the purpose of the assessment, how their responses will be used, and any possible consequences of their participation. When informed consent procedures have the potential to change the behaviors of those being studied, the validity of the assessment can be threatened. Although there isn’t always a clear way to resolve such a conflict, the American Psychological Association (APA) recommends considering the potential harm to students when deciding how much information to provide for informed consent.  

Example

[Organization/individual name] is conducting an assessment of [course name] to improve the course. We value your feedback and would greatly appreciate you taking a few minutes to complete the survey below. Your responses will remain anonymous and be evaluated collectively with information from other sources. Your participation in this study will not affect your course grade.

Anonymity and confidentiality

These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Make clear to students which term applies to them as part of informed consent.

Anonymity means you cannot identify respondents based on their responses. Anonymity makes follow-up difficult but can encourage students to be more honest in their responses.  This is the recommended approach when collecting feedback from students.

Confidentiality means the investigator knows the identity of students but promises not to reveal it. The best way to ensure confidentiality is to use a random identification system instead of easily recognized identifiers such as names, social security numbers, or birth dates. Although the investigator can link the identification numbers with student identities, he promises to keep this information private and secure. When reporting qualitative data, be sure to delete or disguise any identifying information.

Data security

Once collected, it is important to protect and secure data containing student identifiers in a locked file or room. Secure electronic data by keeping it password protected and limiting access. Remove identifying information from electronic databases and replace it with an identification number. If you need to identify students later for grade recording, keep the key that links student identities with identification numbers in a secure place away from the data.

If you are analyzing student products, remove names and other identifiers whenever possible. Continue maintaining data security even after the study is complete or destroy your data by deleting or shredding it. Student data that contains identifiers must be disposed of according to university policy. [more]

Page last updated: Sep 21 2011
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