Interactive Roundtable

Where should we draw the line? And what does the line consist of anyway? Research ethics in culturally diverse contexts


  • Dr. Andreas Bonnet (University of Hamburg)
  • Dr. Elisabeth Bracker (University of Hamburg)

There is wide consensus in the educational research community that research needs to be as unbiased as possible, that conflicting interests need to be transparent and that it needs to protect the researched both as individuals and as representatives of the social group that the research focusses on. There are fairly different approaches, though, as to how this goal can be reached. These approaches are rooted in disciplinary and national traditions, as well as in research cultures that follow different rationales. On the one hand there is the U.S. tradition that has reached a high level of institutionalization and formalization by providing a rigid legal framework that research institutions need to implement if they want to apply for federal grants and avoid potentially costly liability cases. The resulting Institutional Review Board (IRB) procedures apply the rigidity of mechanisms appropriate in sensitive areas such as medical research to the social sciences. There are other traditions, however, that allow for much more regional, local or even individual variation. An example of this is Germany, where legislation on education is in the hands of the 16 several federal states and where each state has its own regulations as to how research access to its educational institutions is granted or denied.
The two moderators share an immense interest in empirical research in pedagogical institutions. Over the last decade, they have collaborated on classroom- and participant- research projects on issues such as co-operative learning, literature in the foreign language classroom and teacher professionalism. They have also published alone and together on reconstructive educational research, particularly on the documentary method. Their long standing interest in research ethics has been intensified by Andreas’ recent 6-months-stay at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he carried out two interview studies with American teachers and German exchange students and therefore got first-hand-experience of the differences between the German and the American research-ethics-procedures and its respective potentials and challenges. Drawing on this experience, Andreas and Elisabeth will provide a short input, sketching the range of research-ethical practices and then provide ample opportunity to discuss questions, such as: How do procedures in my area of educational research or my country compare to practices in other fields and countries? What principles could be identified as a common core of research ethics in educational research? What are my beliefs about research ethics, and how can I strike an ethically sound balance between high outcome and high protection of research subjects?

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