Because the study is in its data collection phase, the standards of practice that apply include respecting the site and disrupting it as little as possible, ensuring all participants receive the benefits, avoiding participant deception, respecting potential power imbalances, avoiding participant exploitation, and avoiding the collection of harmful information (Creswell 201). The institutional Review Board (IRB) is concerned with reviewing submitted research plans with the view to protecting against human rights violations. The reasoning of the IRB is clear that, in continuing with the data collection phase of the study, I should create mechanisms to evaluate the potential risk to participants. Consequently, the obligation of my role as the researcher includes ensuring minimal risk to participants, identifying the level and type of participant involvement, guaranteeing maximum confidentiality to participants, and assuring that participants can withdraw at any time during the research process (Brevik 8-10).
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The harm that may result due to the lack of information on potential risks and absence of confidentiality assurances include exposure of sensitive information without the authority of participants, identity exposure, and deception of participants. It also includes lack of authenticity and credibility of the research report, misconduct and impropriety on the part of the researcher, and incapacity to promote the rights of participants as autonomous beings to guarantee that they are treated with justice, beneficence, and respect (Gordon et al. 25-26). The department and the University are affected by my decision not to wait for IRB approval because they will be perceived as taking part in a research process that has not been sanctioned by the relevant body. Lastly, to address the standards of practice and ethical concerns, it is prudent to develop a full-proof mechanism that acknowledges the protection of human rights and provides a window of opportunity for participants to state they’re informed consent.
Several differences exist if the study is to be replicated in an online learning environment. Unlike in traditional contexts, researchers in online environments should use the purpose of the study, method of data collection (covert or open), access type (private, mixed, or public), as well as the group’s norms, codes, and target audience to assess if informed consent is needed (Girvan and Savage 240-246). For example, researchers using private islands or those who observe learners in public places should ensure they have informed consent from participants. Unlike in traditional studies where informed consent is sought from individual participants, it is important for a researcher using the virtue world to involve the wider online community in seeking informed consent and in detailing the intentions of the study.
In privacy protection, online environments deviate from traditional research studies as the researcher can be allowed to, among other things, use avatar names to provide pseudo-anonymity of research participants, apply conservative protection to all participant information, and make use of passwords and access control features to guarantee privacy (Girvan and Savage 247-248). Lastly, in identity, researchers in online environments are allowed to use limited deception (e.g., use of ‘alts’) to hide the identity of participants during the various phases of the research process. However, such a method may encourage multiple responses from the same participants, hence the need to apply technologies such as data triangulation and member checking to enhance validation.
Online environments need additional protection due to the risks involved. It is important for researchers using online environments to guarantee participant privacy and self-disclosure while at the same time minimizing the risk of deception, culture clashes, unintentional and deliberate grieving, as well as an emotional attachment to the virtual world (Childs, Schnieders, and Williams 255-258; Gustafson and Woodworth 9). Unintended grieving relates to the hardships that researchers may experience in familiarizing themselves with virtual environments such as Second Life. Researchers also need to protect against becoming emotionally attached to the virtue environments as this may compromise various research processes such as data collection and analysis.
Brevik, Kisbeth M. “Research Ethics: An Investigation into why School Leaders Agree or Refuse to Participant in Research.” Problems of Education in the 21st Century. 52.1 (2013): 7-20. ERIC. Web.
Childs, Mark, H. Lori Schnieders, and Gweno Williams. “This above All: To Thine Own Self Be True: Ethical Considerations and Risks in Conducting Higher Education Learning Activities in the Virtual World.” Interactive Learning Environments. 20.3 (2012): 253-269. Academic Search Premier. Web.
Creswell, John W. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc., 2013. Print.
Girvan, C. and T. Savage. “Ethical Considerations for Educational Research in a Virtue World.” Interactive Learning Environments. 20.3 (2012): 239-251. Academic Search Premier. Web.
Gordon, Judith B., Robert J. Levine, Carolyn M. Mazure, Philip E. Rubin, Barry R. Schaller and John L. Young. “Social Contexts Influence Ethical Considerations of Research.” American Journal of Bioethics. 11.5 (2011): 24-30. Academic Search Premier. Web.
Gustafson, Diana L. and Claire F. Woodworth.”Methodological and Ethical Issues in Research using Social Media: A Multimethod of Human Papillomavirus Vaccine Studies.” BMC Medical Research Methodology. 14.1 (2014): 1-18. Academic Search Premier. Web.