This article shows the ethical principles and procedures with respect to human subjects.
Ethical principles and procedures that are applied to research and evaluation conducted with human subjects in the writer’s work setting.
Part 1: Description of work setting.
The institution under discussion is a private college that is funded by government and the catholic church. The institution is situated in a southeastern city in a Caribbean island. The community surrounding the college is a densely populated commercial and residential one. The socioeconomic status of the community is predominantly low but members and friends of the college although relatively poor do make an effort to support the institution in fund-raising activities. People from the community make an effort to volunteer their time in order to help with progress such as field trips, beautification of the campus, and educational tours. The student population is about 1000 with a ratio of about 15:1 females to males. The students and staff are predominantly black with ethnic mix of about 1% Chinese, 2% Indian, and 97% Black. The faculty and staff include 40 lecturers, five paraprofessionals, 14 full time custodial workers, nine office (clerical) staff, a guidance counselor, a vice principal, and a principal. There are several programs in place at the college that are progressing successfully to meet the needs of the students and the community as a whole.
The programs are: a 3 year full-time day college, a 4 year part-time/evening college, early childhood education, primary education, health service, community service and job placement service. The college fulfills its mission to educate and evangelize, striving for excellence in service and stewardship in preparing students for the teaching profession. The college is committed to foster: a relationship with God, dignity, a sense of community professionalism, and care of the earth. The college’s policy is to continue to build a strong school community where the harmonious development of the entire person is fostered.
At the writer’s work setting/site various programs are evaluated such as, college feeding program, clubs, curriculum programs, and technology program. Research is done by their internal and external researchers. The internal researchers are usually involved in post- graduate research and evaluation either with curriculum development or student teachers participation in teaching-practice exercise. External researchers usually collect data for their experimental, historical, and correlation research activities. Researchers usually use surveys in terms of questionnaires, interviews, and student teachers’ pretest/posttest data.
There are various data collection means that are utilized by the institution. The employees have a personal data sheet wherefore private data are kept for the college record. These data are upgraded accordingly as situation changes; such as change of address, number of members in family, telephone numbers etc. Students’ records are kept confidentially. Grades are also kept for students along with number of extra curricula activities and positions held in the clubs and other organizations. The institution has software: ‘The school manager’. This software is used to keep records on lecturers re: qualification, experience, and other sensitive data. Students’ achievements are also recorded using the school manager. Grade books are kept for students’ performance on tests, assignments, and conduct. This source is usually for the lecturer’s personal record but is later transferred to the college’s school manager. The college keeps records on the Joint Board of Teacher Education (JBTE) course grades for all student teachers.
The research review procedure employed at the writer’s work setting is carried out in an orderly form. The principal, vice principal and lecturers usually meet on issues relating to any research/evaluation which takes place on site. The group which is comprised of the principal, vice principal, the teaching practice coordinator, and sometimes two to five lecturers carry out its function like an Institution Review Board (IRB) so the writer will now refer to the group, at the work setting as an IRB. Any researcher should inform the principal/president in writing and should describe the proposed research/evaluation in sufficient detail and attach supporting documents so that the president can decide whether the study meets its criteria for human subjects protection. Permission is usually granted through the principal who is head of the institution. The institution’s data is kept in the administration building both in physical files and software.
A person desirous of conducting a research on site is required to present a letter of identification whether the proposal research is by the researcher’s individual interest or is a representative of an organization. The letter should introduce the researcher, thus stating the purpose of the research, the type of data that is required, and the method of
collecting the data…survey: questionnaire/interview etc. A letter of consent should be sent to all parents requesting consent for human subjects who are less than 18 years old. Depending on the type of research, the administrator (principal) would consult with:
board members if it has policy implications, heads of departments if it has to do with classroom observation, programs, or courses offered by the institution. Timetable schedule would also be examined to check if there would be any interruptions. If there are no interruptions then the researcher would be given the go ahead pending the IRB’s decision.
The college’s IRB with direction from the chairman of the board through the principal do expect the researcher to follow certain guidelines in conducting a research/evaluation.
These are as follows:
- data collection should not in any way disrupt the college’s regular daily activities. It should be done on schedule as permitted by the college’s principal.
- deception is discouraged as it violates basic values of treating others fairly and with respect.
- the researcher should respect the rights, privacy, dignity, and sensitivities of the college-family population.
- the researcher and participants should adhere to absolute values such as honesty, justice, and respect for others.
- the proposal should not be culturally biased, and a copy of the research/evaluation final report, should be submitted prior to publication.
The guidelines mentioned above are expectations of the college. These guidelines are not documented by law neither are they set out formally but these are usually
communicated to the prospective researcher/evaluator before the inception of a proposed study.
Part 11: APA Standards
The value of a study is considered to be of utmost worth if it were planned to be used for program development, improvement, and future benefit to people. In the writer’s work setting, however, the human subjects’ safety is given more priority. This emphasis on human subjects’ safety is consistent with sub-principle A of the APA.
The prospective participants at the writer’s work settings are given the choice of voluntary participation in any research. The institution demands that participants should not be coerced into participating in a research if participant will be a “subject at risk”. The institution demands that prospective research participants are fully informed about the procedures and level of “risks” involved and must give consent to participate. Most researchers that approach the writer’s institution do not necessarily take into
consideration the risk factor involved in a proposed research. The institution usually explores such cases. This is rather contrasting to sub-principle B, as the investigator has to observe those primary ethical concerns before hand.
At the institution, unlike sub-principle C, all the research should be risk free. Participants should not be put in a situation where they are at risk of harm as a result of their participation. The privacy of participants should be protected and findings should be confidential and anonymous throughout the study.
The writer’s institution always requires information before hand as to what use would be made of findings and how these findings will be used. Deception is a “no, no”. This is similar in a sense to sub-principle D, where the researcher is to ensure that participants are provided with sufficient explanation as soon as possible.
As compared with sub-principle E, the writer’s institution maintains that, the researcher should ensure ethical practice throughout the research. Even when ethical standards and principles exist, there will be times when the need to do accurate research runs up against the rights of potential participants. No set of standards can possibly anticipate every ethical circumstance. The writer’s institution has no documented standards of procedure that ensures that the researcher will consider all ethical issues in formulating research plans. However, the principal usually reviews proposals with respect to ethical implication and decides whether additional actions need to be taken to assure the safety and rights of participants.
Like the internal researcher the external researcher is confronted with the same set back at times when participants decide to withdraw from the research. However, whereas the internal researcher has the advantage of a closer link with the participants and can persuade participants (especially students) within ethical grounds; the external researcher is less able to gain such support. If the research were carried out such that it involves the use of students’ grades for data collection, then the participants (students) would be less likely to withdraw from the research, as this would directly affect the participants. In this case the participants (students) would be told before hand that the grades would be used. In case the participants wish to withdraw, then such withdrawal must be accommodated and an alternative assessment is given so that the student receives a grade.
Sub-principle G :
The writer’s institution does not allow for human subjects (student participants) to be exposed to any kind of harm, whether physical or psychological. If performance on pretest/posttest were used then the results would remain confidential. If the curriculum is followed and tests are used to collect data then any failure or low grades would be looked at as the regular day to day occurrence in a school setting where some will fail and some will pass; hence participants will not be ridiculed.
As maintained by the writer's institution human subjects especially student participant should get an individual feed back if the data are grades from tests. Other forms of data do not necessarily require a feedback unlike the APA standard, the participant activities is usually completed after data collection.
The writer’s institution would not give the go ahead to a researcher if there is any chance that there might be outcomes of undesirable consequences. If the odd chance occurs, the researcher may be asked to discontinue/withdraw the study.
Although there is no documented regulation to monitor the researcher's actions and ensure minimal risk to participants at the writer's institution, there are ongoing communication between the principal and the researcher. The research should guarantee the participants confidentiality---they should be assured that identifying information would not be made available to anyone who is not directly involved in the study. In the case of students’ grades, a number is usually assigned to each student participant so that confidentiality and anonymity are maintained to a certain extent.
Part 111: Critique and Conclusion
At the writer's work setting most of the policies, steps, and procedures set forth by the APA are addressed in one form or another. The procedures and policies are not formally documented and set out as a standard or law but the procedures and policies are communicated and carried out as required and agreed by the parties i.e. the institution the researcher/evaluator. On the matter of internal researcher/evaluator, it is at times easier to obtain approval for a study because of the internal/evaluator has access to the institution's decision-makers, familiar with normal routines, and may have influence over the participants (student subjects). On the negative side though, the internal researcher/evaluator could be hindered in carrying out the study, or become vulnerable to certain sanctions, because of the existing relationships with particular individuals in the institution. Thus, this is one such reservation of the writer about the appropriateness and translation of the ethical principles at the said work setting.
The research review procedures at the writer's work setting need to be documented and adhered to at all time. It needs to be closely monitored so that a decision in giving a study the go ahead would be worthwhile. The review and monitoring system of the research/evaluation by the writer's institution could be improved, in that a standard is put in place similar to that of APA. All requirements should be met before approval. The
Researcher should submit a brief, clear, written description of the research design. Questions such as cost and inconvenience to the institution should be addressed from the onset. How much time will be taken up by the research study, how inconvenient it will be to the lecturers, students, and college-community members, all these are lingering issues.
In comparison to the APA standard the policies at the writer's work setting match the standards to about a 60% level. This means that there is a discrepancy of 40% between what is and what should be if the APA is taken to be 100% foolproof.