Wiley-BJET seminar 2014


New Technologies and Ethics in educational research

For those who engage in research in learning technology there are codes and guidelines for best practice in research ethics from professional bodies such as the British Educational Research Association and the American Educational Research Association.  These cover the researchers’ responsibilities to the participants in their research, to their sponsors and the wider community and to those who publish and disseminate their work.

It has become increasingly apparent that the technology used by researchers is moving at a faster pace than the ethical guidelines.  In particular, the accepted procedures to ensure the anonymity of the participants in educational research (the subjects) do not take sufficient account of the power of learning analytics.  Learning analytics or educational data mining is a powerful tool for exploring large sets of learner-produced data, combined with analysis models to discover information and social connections in people's learning.  These techniques enable researchers to overcome some of the limitation of small scale research studies by combining data sets from a number of studies and discovering information that has greater statistical significance.  However, as with other powerful tools, there can be unexpected – and undesirable – consequences.

The aim of this one day seminar organized by the British Educational Research Association was to explore the consequences of developments in information and communications technologies on the ethics of research, publication and the sharing of data.



Luciano Floridi is Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford, Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, and Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford. Among his recognitions, he was the UNESCO Chair in Information and Computer Ethics, Gauss Professor of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, and is recipient of the APA's Barwise Prize, the IACAP's Covey Award, and the INSEIT's Weizenbaum Award. He is an AISB and BCS Fellow, and Editor in Chief of Philosophy & Technology and of the Synthese Library. He was Chairman of EU Commission's "Onlife Initiative". His most recent books are:  The Fourth Revolution – How the infosphere is reshaping human reality (OUP, 2014), The Ethics of Information (OUP, 2013), The Philosophy of Information (OUP, 2011), The Cambridge Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics (editor, CUP, 2010), and Information: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2010). Abstract:  In education research, the analysis of large datasets (Big Data) has become a major driver of innovation and success. However, the use of Educational Big Data (EBD) raises serious ethical problems, which may threaten the significant opportunities it offers. The risk is that of a double bottleneck: ethical mistakes or misunderstandings may lead to distorted legislation, which may cripple the usability of Big Data in educational research and practice. In this talk, I clarify what the nature of Big Data is and how it leads to a group of ethical problems that are either unprecedented, or at least utterly renewed. In the end, I shall argue that we should invest in the development of a national framework for the ethical use of EBD.


Ethical leadership of educational technologies research: ‘Primum non nocere’

The vast global expansion in web-enabled research data collection and analysis over recent decades has provided educational technology researchers with a rich field of new opportunities to develop both quantitative and qualitative social research using a variety of methods in innovative ways. From using web surveys to big data collections, social media analytics and unobtrusive netnographic observations of blogs, wikis and virtual communities, social sciences researchers everywhere now have multiple opportunities to use digital methods to collect and analyse data. Yet awareness of the continuing human need to apply traditional principles of research ethics to digital research studies has not always caught up with the technical capabilities and availability of new online datasets. Ethical research leadership regarding the collection, use and analysis of new technologies-enabled datasets in education is therefore needed to develop and refine digital research ethics principles and codes of practice. These emerging protocols will guide researchers and protect research participants, so that the research ethics standard derived from medical practice that research should, in the first place, ‘do no harm’ (primum non nocere) is maintained in productive ways.

PD Dr RALF KLAMMA: RWTH Aachen University, Germany

Do Mechanical Turks Dream of Big Data?

With the advent of data collections on a planetary level, also the role of researchers producing, processing and analysing such data sets is debated as heated as in the early days of nuclear research. It seems that the Dr. Strangelove image of scientists has turned into a faceless mass of mechanical Turks hiding behind agencies and large research networks. So, it is time to peek behind the curtain to disclose the network nature of modern science. A basic ethical obligation is to get enough knowledge to make informed decisions. So, we visit some recent incidents of big data debates in higher education and mass surveillance. In particular, we are questioning the role of computer science as producer of dual use weapons of mass surveillance. Ironically, computer science is not only part of the problem but also part of the solution. We discuss some interesting socio-technical approaches of giving back the power of data transparently into the hands of the owners.

FIONA MURPHY:  Publisher for Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wiley Journals

Getting to Grips with Research Data: A Publisher’s Perspective

Publishers have long had a tangential relationship with research data – selected highlights are routinely included within primary research articles, supplementary material can be uploaded into journal caches – but to date we have not taken an active role or responsibility for its accuracy, formatting, implications or safety. However, transformational new technologies, together with changes in funding policies and researcher behaviours, are pushing us towards an evolution in our thinking and practices concerning data especially as it relates to peer review, publication, permissions and licensing, citation and accreditation, preservation, standards and linking.  Ideas and expertise for action are beginning to emerge amongst key stakeholders, but new information and insights are still accruing, and various agencies and communities continue to grapple with these complex challenges. As an industry, publishers are not yet at the point of being able to roll out definitive advice, infrastructures or codes of practice on a wide-ranging basis. However we can facilitate debate and support progress in understanding and strategic planning amongst our partners, and we recognize the importance of so doing in the interest of building a robust research communication ecosystem for the future.


The participants agreed to work together to develop an updated set of guidelines for educational research with the aim of publishing them by the end of 2014.

5 years 8 months ago