19 SES 15 A, Paper Session
Ethics in research is a topic of continuous debate in academic environments (Edwards et al., 2015; Frimberger, 2017; Romm, 2020). Research in education is no exception and researchers continuously wonder how to face the tensions that arise during fieldwork (Aberasturi-Apraiz, Correa Gorospe, & Martínez-Arbelaiz, 2020). One of the problems in ethnography of education is reflexivity, or the internal approach of an external problem that makes the ethnographer question their internal beliefs, values, and actions (Miled, 2019; Pérez-Izaguirre, forthcoming; Reid et al., 2018). This paper aims precisely to analyse situations in which researchers face fieldwork tensions and is based on an ongoing data collection in the southern Basque Country, which is located in northern Spain. This work is part of a broader project led by the University of Barcelona (UB) and the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) that aims to bring forth and narrate the learning lives of higher education students.
In this study, researchers and students are collaborators who defy traditional power relationships between researchers and participants and adopt an inclusive perspective (Nind, 2014, 2016). These relationships have direct consequences on the experiences of the researchers, which are collected, described, debated and analysed in the research meetings from the perspective of Collaborative Autoethnography (CAE) (Chang, Ngunjiri, & Hernández, 2013).
The notion of learning lives is characterised by a biographic perspective in learning where the subject gives meaning to their own living journey and what they learnt from it. Following Jornet y Erstad (2018), such trajectories are contextualised in a specific time and space within a set of relationships that form a complex contexture that materialises over time. Trajectories are also subject-dependant, as part of the set of relationships within which they are formed and are marked by emotions, sentiments, and individual responses to specific stimuli (see also Erstad & Silseth, 2019; Sefton-Green & Erstad, 2017). The basic elements in this research are the concepts surrounding the learning, the physical, relational, virtual, and affective contexts within which they are formed, the technologies mediating them and the learning strategies.
Unveiling these elements from a collaborative perspective involves tension. Uncomfortable situations arise in any data collection but horizontal relationships between researcher and collaborator favour the self-questioning of the researcher, as they often wonder what, how and why they investigate their research topic. This paper relates to such tensions and reassesses the concept of ethics in research based on two cases:
(1) Researcher A faced the case of Marina, a third-year student enrolled in a Humanities discipline. When this student narrated her own learning trajectory, researcher A felt identified with Marina. This enabled a better understanding of Marina’s learning life, but also made researcher A wonder whether she was overinterpreting Marina’s history based on her own.
(2) Researcher B presented the case of Pablo, a fourth-year Engineer student. Pablo revealed that he had been diagnosed with a developmental disorder. How to face such element in order to understand Pablo’s learning life was one of the tensions that researcher B had to face.
The method used is CAE, which bases on the collaborative study of the self, that is, the study of the self with and through the others (Chang, Ngunjiri, & Hernández, 2013; Lapadat, 2017, see also McGregor & Fernández, 2019). This paper describes the method followed between researchers and students in four encounters that are correspondingly treated in research meetings between researchers at the UB and the UPV/EHU. (1) In the first encounter the first contact is made based on a question-answer dialogue, where the research projects’ interest and main questions are presented. (2) In the second encounter the collaborator brings their learning life and the researcher asks about each of the milestones represented. In order to prepare the third encounter, the collaborator is asked to self-observe and document in a field notebook the moments in which they consider they are learning. (3) In the third encounter the collaborator brings their field notebook and explains each one of the notebook entries during a week, which is revised with the researcher. This way, both researcher and student make sense of each of the notebook entries. Once the first encounters are finalised, the researcher identifies in different points of the interview the indicators that are related to the axes of the project: concepts, contexts, technologies, and strategies, as well as other elements that may have arisen during data collection. This is the basis for the writing of the learning life that the researcher writes and shares with the collaborator in the fourth encounter. (4) In the fourth encounter, researcher and collaborator review and analyse the learning life started by the researcher in order to agree on the final text. Furthermore, researchers collect their experiences, sensations and thoughts through the encounters, which is part of the autoethnographic data collection. At the same time, once a week researchers form the UB and the UPV/EHU celebrate a research meeting where the experiences of the encounters are shared. One of the recurring topics in these meetings as related to the cases presented in this paper were precisely ethics in research from the perspective of the CAE.
Tensions during fieldwork are natural to research, but even more so when researcher and collaborator become agents who share experiences and make sense of the learning lives of one of them. The researcher is affected by the collaborator’s tales. In the case of Marina, researcher A felt identified with her. This provoked in researcher A self-reflection on the history of Marina: researcher A felt reflected on Marina’s history and this also made researcher A reflect on her own role as a researcher: to what extent the interpretation of the learning life of Marina was taking place through researcher A’s experiences. Researcher B also felt affected by Pablo’s narration, as Pablo himself had remarked the importance of having being diagnosed with a developmental disorder. This made researcher B rethink how to face this element in the research and its link to Pablo’s learning life. In the same line of researcher A, researcher B adopted a self-reflective approach and reconsidered the “how” of data collection in this case. The tensions as a consequence of the revision of power relations in the present study led researchers to reconsider their own research position. This was possible thanks to the conversations and reflections made during research meetings, following the CAE approach (Chang, Ngunjiri, & Hernández, 2013). This paper advocates for a more honest research that considers researcher’s subjectivities and highlights reflexivity as a basic element in research, which has direct consequences on the research ethics that we will designate as inclusive, as these includes collaborator’s perspective.
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