I agree to Idea Ethics of Gathering Data on MOOCs I disagree to Idea Ethics of Gathering Data on MOOCs

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Ethics of Gathering Data on MOOCs

In a recent Los Angeles Times article on a MOOC experience at San Jose State University, the author of the article, Michael Hiltzik, writes, "The school explains the courses' high failure rate by saying the students were "an atypical sample" — half were San Jose State students who had already failed the courses once. The other half were students from an underprivileged Oakland high school. Many of the latter had no computer access, a fact the school only discovered three weeks into the online term."

The question is, did the school need Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval to to subject students "from an underprivileged Oakland high school" to this assessment? How do we ethically obtain useful data on the effectiveness of MOOCs? What do we need to know about subjects (students) up front for the data to be objectively considered? Is it possible with disparate and (usually) self-selecting populations to even get at the issues that concern educators about this online learning format?

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Submitted by foglemr 1 year ago

Comments (4)

  1. Moderator

    We cull institutional data all the time for internal analysis. In my experience that doesn't have to go through IRB, even if some aggregate findings are reported to the media in answer to a question.

    I believe it would be overreaching to say that any analysis done by anybody for any reason has to go to IRB, and it would create an overload in most IRB systems that are already struggling to approve faculty and student research.

    1 year ago
  2. foglemr Idea Submitter

    Hi Kyle,

    I think that the collection of data on how MOOCs effectively (or not) succeed as a model for online teaching and learning is a serious ethical concern. My previous questions have not changed: How do we ethically obtain useful data on the effectiveness of MOOCs? What do we need to know about subjects (students) up front for the data to be objectively considered? Is it possible with disparate and (usually) self-selecting populations to even get at the issues that concern educators about this online learning format?

    The thing is, we need cogent data to ascertain how well (or not) MOOCs function. Full stop. That data needs to meet the same or more explicit criteria as we already employ to assess courses. Keeping in mind the scale - they are "massive" after all - that means that, as educators, we can't take for granted that published data will remain internal to our institutions. No IRB approval would be necessary in that case. However, before exporting the data, IRB approval should be obtained. As far as I'm concerned (and others might think differently), the purpose of keeping data on the effectiveness of a MOOC is to share it outside the organization/institution in order to contribute to an aggregate set of data.

    I am not "stuck" on this position though. Perhaps I have overlooked something. I am open to hearing what others think and am glad to have your thoughts on the matter.

    1 year ago
  3. Moderator

    I spoke with my wife last night. She has overseen IRB at a small college for two years and pointed me to this material with regards to what needs IRB approval.

    http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/policy/checklists/decisioncharts.html

    The first big decision point asks the question, "is this study going to create generalizable information to advance knowledge in the field?" In almost every case, an institution looking only at its own data isn't creating generalizable information. There is also an exemption for using data to improve on the way you teach a class. And that's exactly what we're talking about here. My take is that whether we later publish or release results doesn't matter. It isn't the publication of the data that triggers an IRB concern, it's the knowledge it creates.

    She also noted that IRB approval has to come before *collecting* data, so you would need to determine before data collection starts whether it will require approval.

    Finally, I asked her about IRB responsibility for ethical concerns. Apparently the basic premise is that researchers have to follow the ethics guidelines for their profession. So if we are concerned about the ethics around how or what data we collect, we should look either to places like EDUCAUSE or whatever professional association institutional researchers have.

    1 year ago
    1. foglemr Idea Submitter

      Hi Kyle,

      I would love for others to jump in on this discussion...

      What you say is concerning. What about FERPA? What about legal and risk management within the institution? What institution would outsource its mined data to Educause or any other para-educational organization?

      Thinking aloud...

      1 year ago

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    1 year ago