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Ethics in School-Based Action Research Essay

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Updated: May 20th, 2020

Social research entails interacting with participants to obtain the information required to address a given problem. A number of requirements inform the nature of such studies. One of the requirements is that the research should be conducted in an ethical manner. Ethics in social studies ensures that the findings made are acceptable in the field.

In this essay, the ethical considerations made in relation to research in a classroom set up are discussed. According to Fasoli (2001), numerous studies touching on education and action research have been published in the past. The wide array of literature in the field notwithstanding, some gaps as to what constitutes efficiency and credibility of a research undertaking still exist. In light of this, the current essay oscillates around the following thesis statement:

Ethical considerations in research improve the credibility and efficiency of a study.

Essay Outline

The essay is divided into two parts. In the first section, a case study of a K-7 primary school’s implementation of a technological program is outlined. The aim is to determine various ethical considerations taken into account when a given study requires interactions with students. Fasoli (2001) points out that such a move is seen as a means of improving upon existing knowledge in the larger field of educational action research. In light of this, the first section examines ethical requirements when a study on computer technology was undertaken in the institution.

The second section involves an outline of other ethical considerations that can be applied in different research scenarios. Fasoli (2001) argues that ethics in research are formulated with respect to specified dilemmas, which may pose a threat to the credibility of a given study. In both sections of the paper, solutions to the ethical dilemmas are presented. From a wider perspective, it is noted that all ethical requirements in a research undertaking are meant to provide solutions to elements that threaten the reliability or integrity of a study.

Action Research at a K-7 Primary School Setting


The principal of the school believes that the implementation of a technological program will help improve the level of learning. Some of the benefits of the program include improvement in the performance of such subjects as mathematics and sciences. The changes recorded will be compared with the performance of other schools within the neighborhood. Action research is needed to evaluate the effects of this technology on learning. According to Rock and Levin (2002), studies that are characterized by vested interests require all credibility doubts to be overcome. On the basis of this, the current section examines the various ethical deliberations that were applied in the study to examine the impacts of the program.

Ethical Considerations


Some research undertakings require participants to give out primary information about them and other aspects of their work. In such cases, it is important to ensure that the disclosure of such information is consensual. The scenario presented in the school’s setting is unique with regards to the consent of participants. It is evident that the principal will prefer the study to reflect positively on his pet project. Stringer (2008) points out there are cases where a research undertaking is likely to favour the individuals in authority. Under such circumstances, there are chances that the personalities may influence the results by coercing the participants to disclose predetermined information. The teachers and students in the primary school where the study takes place constitute the bulk of the participants.

The consent of participants is required in cases where there is bound to be coercion. Rock and Levin (2002) argue that participants in such a study must indicate their willingness to take part in writing. A critical analysis of the research carried out in the school reveals that it did not involve any form of consent from the students and teachers taking part in it. The action research team went around collecting information without the permission of the participants. Rock and Levin (2002) are of the opinion that consent to take part in a study should come after certain variables have been highlighted. For instance, the researcher should indicate the nature of the study and the methods that will be used to collect information. In addition, potential risks should be illustrated. Such disclosure ensures that the participants are fully informed and can make a wise decision regarding participation.

The sensitivity of the research

As mentioned earlier, the study conducted in the K-7 school setting relies on information from students and staff at the institution. The principal, as already indicated, has a vested interest in the outcomes of the study. As such, it is important to ensure that the administrator does not intimidate participants by forcing them to provide responses that are skewed in favour of the program. In a study carried out by Newton and Burgess (2008), action research in schools was heavily criticized. Newton and Burgess found that the structural and social arrangements within a school set up are easily manipulated by the authorities. As such, it is essential to address the issue of sensitivity in the study. The researchers should not subject the participants under any form of pressure.

The backbone of the action research involved the analysis of the impacts of the technology introduced in the school on performance. The study hypothesized that performance in mathematics has greatly improved. In such cases, it is prudent for the researcher to be sensitive to the performance of the learners. Similar sentiments are echoed in the study by Newton and Burgess (2008). Newton and Burgess found that performance can be determined or influenced by more than one parameter. As such, it will be insensitive for the study to regard the existence of new technology as the sole contributing factor behind improvement in mathematics.


The credibility of any research undertaking relies on the anonymity of the participants. The research pointed out in this essay will require information from students and members of staff in primary school. However, some elements of the information provided by the participants may not be pleasant to the administration. Stringer (2008) argues that under such circumstances, it is essential for the individuals conducting the research to guarantee the confidentiality of the respondents. The only exception is when the participant willingly opts to waive their right to privacy.

Solutions to the Ethical Issues

Consent form

Action research requires the participants to take part in the study voluntarily. The research conducted in the K-7 primary school highlighted above is unique and sensitive, given that some of the participants are children. As a result, it is proper to have their parents notified of the study. The specifics of the research undertaking, as well as the benefits associated with it, should be clearly outlined. According to Keddie (2000), the involvement of children in an action research undertaking requires the parents to be notified of the same. Keddie (2000) proposes that the consent form should be left with the parents. The guardians can then advise their children on the benefits of the study and the potential risks involved.

Parents are an important determinant of the nature of the decisions made by their children. However, the decision on whether or not to participate in the research should be left to the learner. The same applies to the teachers who will opt to participate in action research. Rock and Levin (2002) maintain that any form of coercion associated with participation in a study should be avoided. In essence, all the consent forms given to the participants should rely on the principle of voluntary participation. The credibility of the research relies heavily on this element.

Designation using codes

Many research undertakings make use of a set number of participants. It is important to refer to these respondents in a manner that does not reveal their identity. As already indicated in this paper, the element of anonymity presents itself in such instances as those involving the action research in the school. Felzman (2009) emphasizes on the importance of anonymity in research undertakings. To achieve this, Felzman (2009) suggests that participants can be identified using a particular code assigned to them. For instance, rather than mention their names in a questionnaire, the participants can be given a code that is unique to them. Such a symbol can either be a number, a letter, or a combination of both.

In light of the ethical aspect of anonymity, the action research in question will benefit if the individuals conducting it assign the participants a unique code. To further enhance the privacy of the respondents, a select group of researchers should be charged with the responsibility of coding. The interpretation of the results should then be carried out by a separate team of researchers. As a result, the team reviewing the data has no clue about the identity of the participants. A similar proposition is made by Fasoli (2001). Fasoli insists that anonymity is the best way of improving the credibility of the findings and conclusions made in action research.

Research on the Impacts of the Implementation of a Token Economy Reward System in a Special Education Unit Classroom

Research Question

My research question was:

What impacts does the implementation of a token economy reward system in a special education unit classroom have on impulsive behaviours of students?

The token economy involved situations where desirable behaviour was rewarded with money tokens that could be spent in the class shop. Impulsive behaviour addressed included, among others, interrupting and intruding on others, as well as the ability of the special education learner to retain lesson content. I conducted the research in the special education unit (SEU) of the school where I teach. The progress made in the implementation of the new system required evaluation. I realised that action research could be used to achieve this. Together with a colleague, we decided to investigate the impacts of the program by involving the students and members of staff, who acted as the participants.

To enhance the credibility of such research, the researcher should adhere to all ethical requirements specified in the field (Keddie, 2000). The need is made more apparent, considering the fact that we were dealing with learners who have special needs. In line with this, we sought the consent of the respondents before embarking on the research. The need to widen the scope of the study required a large number of respondents. As a result, coercion was necessary, especially with regard to the students. The same was realised through deception and secrecy.

Deception and Secrecy

At the onset of any given study, participants should be informed that they can withdraw their voluntary participation at any time without any consequences. Stringer (2008) argues that the same applies even in cases where randomisation is carried out to select respondents. In such scenarios, the participants still have the right to waive their voluntary engagement. However, the case was a bit different in the case of the token economy study introduced above. It was necessary to involve a large number of participants to determine the effects of this program on the learners. Under such circumstances, the researcher may be tempted to conceal the ‘small’ fact of voluntary withdraw from the participants.

Whenever an action research resort to secrecy, as explained above, the undertaking is viewed as a direct attack on the participants. The sincerity involved when seeking the consent of the participants is betrayed by the fact that the researcher fails to inform them that they can withdraw their support at any time. Felzman (2009) argues that there is no justification for the use of deception to obtain information. The general assumption behind a credible research undertaking is that the participants are furnished with genuine information regarding the study.

However, there are some exceptions in the use of the said secrecy. For instance, in cases where the details of the research need to be publicised, the scholar can invoke the secrecy clause. However, discretion should be exercised by ensuring that such information as pictures and personal details of the participants is not made public (Tilley, Powick-Kumar & Ratkovic, 2009). The findings of the research we conducted with my colleagues were to be made public. In light of this, it was necessary to ensure that the participants were not aware of the fact that they could pull out of the research willingly. The information provided in the study will be beneficial to other institutions that are implementing a token economy reward system. According to Tilley et al. (2009), the publication of the findings made in any research undertaking is essential to the operations of other organisations and individuals operating in the same field.

The participants used in the study were restricted to three SEU classrooms. Evidently, such a sample group is not large enough for a comprehensive study. Rock and Levin (2002) point out that withholding information is not necessary in such cases. An ethical conundrum exists in the current situation. The situation necessitates a solution to ensure that the credibility of the research is enhanced.

Possible Solutions

Credible consent forms

As mentioned earlier, there are cases where secrecy can be adopted when drafting a consent form. However, such an undertaking defeats the logic of integrity and ethics in research. The best way to resolve the resulting ethical dilemma is to rely on honesty. According to Newton and Burgess (2008), confidentiality is a major determinant of the integrity of any research undertaking. The objective can only be realised through a comprehensive and credible consent form. The information contained in the invitation letter sent to participants should be honest and credible (Keddie 2000).

Secondary sources

Adequate information is required to evaluate the hypotheses made in a study. The voluntary element of a study would have likely reduced the number of participants in the SEU study. Such a development would have impacted negatively on the quantity and quality of information generated. Fasoli (2001) argues that such a dilemma calls for the application of secondary sources of information. Instead of ‘forcefully’ locking participants in a study, we could have adopted a descriptive research approach. By so doing, we would have observed the ethical requirement of non-coercion (Levin & Levin, 2003).

However, the use of secondary sources of information is characterized by its own challenges. Rock and Levin (2002) point out that the sources selected must be reliable and relevant to the subject matter. In addition, such sources should be recent and from credible authors.


Classroom research is a common example of a participatory study. Such studies require the involvement of children and members of staff within the school set up. There are cases where the school administration is interested in the outcomes of the research. In such instances, coercion of participants may occur. In other cases, the number of participants may not be enough for the study. To address this problem, an alternative method, such as a descriptive approach, can be adopted. The two scenarios highlighted in this paper are replete with instances of ethical dilemmas. The credibility of such studies relies on how these challenges are handled. Researchers should ensure that ethical issues like privacy and voluntary participation are addressed.


Fasoli, L. (2001). Research with children: Ethical mind-fields. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 26(4), 7-11. Web.

Felzman, H. (2009). Ethical issues in school based research. Research Ethics, 5(3), 104-109. Web.

Keddie, A. (2000). Research writing with young children: Some ethical considerations. Journal of Educational Enquiry, 1(2), 72-81. Web.

Levin, B., & Levin, T. (2003). The effects of collaborative action research on preservice and experienced teacher partners in professional development schools. Journal of Teacher Education, 54, 135-149. Web.

Newton, P., & Burgess, D. (2008). Exploring types of educational action research: Implications for research validity. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 7(4), 18-30. Web.

Rock, T., & Levin, B. (2002). Collaborative action research projects: Enhancing preservice teacher development in professional development schools. Teacher Education Quarterly, 29, 7-21. Web.

Stringer, E. (2008). Action research in education. Columbus, Ohio: Pearson Merrill Prentice-Hall. Web.

Tilley, S., Powick-Kumar, K., & Ratkovic, S. (2009). Regulatory practices and school-based research: Making sense of research ethics/review. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(2), 1-20. Web.

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