• University of Leicester

People Studying People: Research Ethics in Society

Explore the value of ethical thinking for research, using an ethical appraisal framework to develop and evaluate studies.

8,751 enrolled on this course

A handheld magnifying glass held over an image of people
  • Duration

    6 weeks
  • Weekly study

    2 hours

What is ethical research?

If we consider data collection and its reporting to make up research, then we will all have been exposed to being participants in some form of social research. Data collection from people in society is now part of everyday life. Ethical research demands that respect is afforded to the rights and dignity of human participants. Studies need to be designed to be worthwhile and any potential harm anticipated and minimised. Ethical research requires thinking carefully about what constitutes participation in research and the responsibilities of researchers not only to participants, but also to all those affected by a study.

Use an ethical appraisal framework to develop and assess research proposals

On this free online course you will be supported in reflecting on the value of ethical thinking for research and discover an ethical appraisal framework that you can apply to empirical research projects in social science, arts, education and the humanities. The course is designed to offer insights for both researchers and potential participants.

What you will study

The course starts by exploring what ethics is and why it is important to research through a consideration of examples of studies which can be challenged in terms of their ethicality. In Weeks 2 through to 4 we will use an ethical appraisal framework to illustrate ways of thinking about the ethical implications of designing a study and recruiting participants, taking into consideration different stakeholder perspectives. In Week 5 you will be able to apply the insights gained to a draft research proposal through a role play activity. To conclude, in Week 6, we will reflect on how it is important to show integrity as a researcher whilst conducting and reporting studies. This will include thinking about what might go wrong in a study and how these issues might be anticipated.

Get guidance on ethical social science research from the University of Leicester

This course has been developed by members of the University of Leicester College of Social Science, Arts and Humanities and is supported by an extensive set of resources for researchers on a website entitled Doing Ethical Research.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds This course is for anybody interested in people studying people. So our definition of research would be that you’re collecting data on one another and thinking throughout how that’s going to be used and reported. It’s our view that research ethics, or ethics in general, are of fundamental importance in any type of research activity. We all have experiences as citizens, really, of volunteering our data for research purposes. If you think about market research, or assigning of data agreement, you are actually involved in the transaction of your own personal data.

Skip to 0 minutes and 45 seconds We’re going to start by presenting a number of case studies of things that have been in the news– people’s research projects that they’re going to the talking about– to give us some very concrete examples of things that you can think about, and then work through a framework of four different dimensions, four different traditions of thinking about ethics, which allows you to think from different perspectives of people who would be associated with research– to think through and get some empathy for how they would think about the research, their needs, and therefore, how you would go back showing respect to them.

Skip to 1 minute and 16 seconds For a researcher, you have a responsibility, primarily to your main research participants, to treat them in a fair and reasonable way. Beyond our immediate research participants, we also have responsibilities to the broader research community and to society in general, who clearly, everybody has an interest in good, ethically sound research. This is a course that would be of interest, hopefully, to people who are thinking about data from a participant’s point of view, perhaps. So they’ve read about research studies, seen research studies on the news, been asked about it, and starting to think about– well, in what circumstances would I give my data– and thinking through research from that perspective.

Skip to 2 minutes and 2 seconds But also, if you’ve got a very concrete research proposal idea, this will offer you a framework– those moral principles that you can use to underpin your study to make sure that it’s a worthwhile study– that you are acting responsibly, that you’re able to think through practically about how to be respectful, and that you can end up with a project proposal, or even evaluating a study that you’ve got in motion at the moment, and really feeling confident that it’s an ethical project that you can defend.

What topics will you cover?

  • The importance of ethical thinking to studying society
  • What constitutes unethical research
  • What makes research worthwhile
  • What a researcher can do to maximise the benefits of a study
  • What is responsible research
  • Which UK legislation and regulations researchers should consider
  • What is respectful research
  • Showing sensitivity, empathy and protecting vulnerable groups in research
  • Ethical issues associated with ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ researcher roles
  • How researchers can be sure they are ‘doing the right thing’?
  • Maintaining ethicality during fieldwork
  • Maintaining ethicality when reporting and disseminating

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Reflect on the value of thinking ethically about social science research
  • Apply consequential principles of ethical thinking to identifying a research focus
  • Identify the range of responsibilities of a social science researcher
  • Explore approaches to developing respectful research relationships
  • Apply deontological principles of ethical thinking to meeting researcher obligations
  • Develop informed decisions about what constitutes ethical social science research

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for current or aspiring researchers in Social Science, Arts or the Humanities. You may have a research project in mind or one that is underway. It would also suit those with broader interests in evaluating research involving human participants, including those as potential participants.

What software or tools do you need?

To take part in this course you do not need particular software or hardware although we do recommend use of a mind mapping tool at one point. Various alternative packages can be used. Some advice on 8 options can be found here

Who will you learn with?

I am a lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the University of Leicester. I have participated in a range of research projects in TESOL and am especially interested in teacher education issues.

Alison is an educational researcher who studies professional and digital learning. As an educator, she facilitates student voice, student mentoring and is recognised as an expert in research ethics

Who developed the course?

University of Leicester

The University of Leicester is a leading research led university with a strong tradition of excellence in teaching. It is consistently ranked amongst the top 20 universities in the United Kingdom.

Learning on FutureLearn

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  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
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Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
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Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
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  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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