The only way is ethics: free online course to tackle 'ethically unsound' research

University of Leicester Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to explore the value of ethical thinking in research.

A free online course offered by the University of Leicester and aimed at aspiring academics hopes to help tackle issues surrounding ethically unsound research.

High profile cases of research misconduct demonstrate the importance of ethical thinking when working with people in social research in order to ensure that potential harm is minimised.

The free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) 'People Studying People: Research Ethics in Society' explores how to think carefully about what constitutes participation in research and the responsibilities of researchers to those affected by a study.

Taught by Dr Jim Askham from the University's School of Arts and Dr Alison Fox from the University's School of Education, the 6-week course, which is open to all, 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.

Weeks 2 through to 4 of the course 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 those taking the MOOC will be able to apply the insights gained to a draft research proposal through a role play activity.

To conclude, in Week 6, the course 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.

Dr Askham said: "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, and of volunteering our data for research purposes. If you think about market research, you are signing a data agreement, you are involved in the transaction of your own personal data."

Dr Fox added: "This is a course that would be of interest to people who are thinking about data from a participant's point of view - so they've read about research studies, seen research studies on the news, been asked about it, and are starting to think about in what circumstances would they give their data.

"In addition, if you've got a very concrete research proposal, this course will offer you a framework that you can use to underpin your study and to make sure that it's a worthwhile study, that you are acting responsibly, that you are able to think through practically about how to be respectful, and that you can end up with a project proposal and feeling confident that it's an ethical project that you can defend."

The 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.

It is designed for current or aspiring researchers in Social Science, Arts or the Humanities.

It would also suit those with broader interests in evaluating research involving human participants, including those as potential participants.

The free course, 'People Studying People: Research Ethics in Society' starts on Monday, 27 February.

For more information and to sign up visit the website.