Ethics for gathering data
Consider several ethical issues related to the collection and storing of data from human participants when planning your assessment.
Most assessments comply with minimal risk and, therefore, you should explain to each participant that the assessment will not expose them to any harm (emotional, mental, and physical) that is greater than what they would normally experience in their daily lives. For any situation that could expose participants to greater risk, you need to decide whether to eliminate or reduce this risk(s) or to terminate testing.
You should provide information to participants about the purpose of the assessment, how their responses will be used, and any possible consequences of their participation. To ensure participant comprehension, you can have participants complete a consent form or agreement contract after discussing the assessment procedures thoroughly. 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 respondents when deciding how much information to provide for informed consent.
Informed consent for an instructional technology survey
[Organization/individual name] is conducting an assessment of [product name] to decide if the department should adopt this technology for instructional use. 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 status in the program.
For usability testing, test monitors should explain purposes in detail with each participant. If you are using any type of recording device, you should let participants know that this is part of the test. It may help to mention that recording is a very common procedure for usability tests. The test monitor should also emphasize that the product is the object of assessment and not the participant themselves. Finally, if the product is under development, you should require a non-disclosure form to prevent participants from discussing the product with others.
Willingness to participate
Let participants know that they have the right to leave at any time during the assessment procedure, including taking breaks.
Anonymity and confidentiality
These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Make clear to respondents 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 respondents to be more honest in their responses. Anonymity is not possible when interviewing or conducting focus groups or observations.
- Confidentiality means the investigator knows the identity of respondents but promises not to reveal it. The best way to ensure confidentiality is to use a random identification system instead of easily recognizable identifiers such as names, social security numbers, or birth dates. Although the investigator can link the identification numbers with respondent identities, the investigator promises to keep this information private and secure. When reporting qualitative data, be sure to delete or disguise any identifying information.
Once collected, it is important to protect and secure data containing respondent 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 respondents later to link responses to other data sources, keep the key that links respondent identities with identification numbers in a secure place away from the data.
You may offer a reasonable amount of compensation, or incentive(s), to increase subject participation. “Reasonableness” of an incentive should be based upon the time involved, inconvenience or risk(s) to the participants, and should not be so large to represent undue influence. If you decide not to offer compensation, make sure your participants are informed of this decision prior to their participation.
When offering compensation, follow these guidelines
- Clearly specify the amount and type of compensation, and the requirement to earn it prior to the assessment. This information is usually written in the informed consent/authorization document.
- Avoid offering incentives in a manner that will influence participant responses. For example, if you are using your own students as participants, make sure the compensation is separate from the grading of student work. Offering voluntary extra credit available to all students is usually appropriate.
- Inform participants that all participation is voluntary and compensation is not contingent upon completing the assessment. Compensation to subjects who withdraw from the study should be made at the time they would have completed the study, had they not withdrawn. Nonparticipation or early withdrawal should not result in a penalty or punishment.