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Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning


Ethical considerations

Core ethical principles should be followed whether you are designing your study for a publishable research outcome or evaluating teaching and learning for your own purposes or internal discussion.

You should consider the effects of your study on participants at all stages of your research study, from recruitment of participants to writing up and dissemination of findings. You must remember that your participants are people, and not just sources of research data. A consideration of the ethical issues should be factored into your research at all stages, and not just at the point of submitting an application for ethics review.

Ethical issues may arise from the nature of the research or evaluation project. For instance: the methods of data collection (do participants know they are being observed?); the nature of participants (are they of an age to give informed consent?); the procedures adopted to gather data (could this create distress?); the type of data collected (is it personal or sensitive information?); what is to be done with the data (might publication expose participants to embarrassment or cause reputational damage to the University?); and reporting the data (will participants understand the study and their contribution?).

We advise researchers undertaking projects on the educational experience at Cambridge to conduct their research in accordance with the University's Policy on the Ethics of Research Involving Human Participants and Personal Data, and the ethical guidelines of the British Educational Research Association. Other ethical guidelines may also be taken into account, depending on the nature of the research being undertaken, such as those of the British Psychological Society or the British Sociological Society.


Formal ethics review

Where staff seek to enhance their teaching practices and to improve the learning experience by collecting data from students in the form of surveys or other types of feedback, they do not normally require ethics review. However, if the results from this data analysis are to be published, presented or otherwise made publicly available, and the project is designed as research involving human participants or personal data, then a more careful process is necessary.

Remember that ethics reviews cannot be undertaken retrospectively. If you think that you would like to showcase or disseminate interesting findings about your practice or initiative, plan ahead for the ethics review before you start the evaluation process.

See Research & Evaluation for more guidance on which your project falls under.

The Cambridge Higher Education Studies Research Ethics Committee may be able to support you if your project requires ethics review.

There might also be occasions where institutional education research is undertaken with no plans for publication or dissemination. For instance, internal research might be undertaken to improve services, and would not normally require an ethics review process and approval. Alternatively, a regulator like the Office for Students might request specific research data about the University's educational practices, where it is important that unnecessary burdens and delays are avoided.

However, it is still important to consider the ethical implications of this research work, even if such work is not obliged to undergo an ethics review process.


Data protection requirements and other considerations

If you are planning to take and use photos, videos or recordings of Cambridge students or staff, even for non-commerical University purposes, you should consult the Legal Services guidelines on photos (Raven-protected).

The following links provide some guidance about Cambridge's information compliance expectations:

If you are working with people for your research project then you have a duty to ensure that any data you gather and subsequently use is handled correctly. While activities classed as research are subjected to fewer legal regulations than similar non-research activity in which data is processed, it is still necessary to keep in mind the relevant data protection requirements. The University has well-developed guides with FAQs about the management of research data.

In addition, laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation, which governs the processing of personal data, must be adhered to. There is University guidance on General Data Protection Regulation which details the University's measures to ensure the regulations are met. The UK Data Service provides comprehensive guidelines on working with personal and sensitive data and has an FAQ section on GDPR.