Skip to main content Skip to local navigation
Home » Ethics of SoTL research

Ethics of SoTL research

Teachers who act also as scholars of teaching and learning in the practice of their discipline must consider the ethics of their dual roles in situations in which their students are also their subjects of research.

(MacLean & Poole 2010: 1)

SoTL research has the potential to provide insights into student learning while at the same time intrude on their learning. This tension is compounded by the unequal relationship between the researcher and his or her students in a context where the researcher likely has more to gain from the experiment than they. For these reasons, adopting the highest ethical standards is paramount. In particular, the researcher must ensure that all students are given the opportunity for free, informed and ongoing consent, the right to privacy, and fair and equitable treatment. Every decision regarding their educational experience, whether it is part of habitual teaching or a research protocol, should be designed to improve their learning (MacLean & Poole 2010: 2). Only when these principles are demonstrably met can the requirements of the research be served.

The Human Participant Review Committee has published Guideline 19 – Research involvinThe Human Participant Review Committee has published Guideline 19 – Research involving Investigators’ Students, a document which provides an overview of some measures and practices one should consider when beginning SoTL research.

Respect for human dignity is the core value that governs all research involving human participants. The role of research ethics boards is to evaluate research proposals involving human participants to insure that the protocol meets its moral obligations. Three principles, as laid out by the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, guide their review:  respect for persons; concern for welfare, and justice.

Should you have questions about the research ethics review process at York, please contact the Office of Research Ethics.

For more information about ethical guidelines when conducting research with human participants, please visit these links:
Summary of the Guiding Ethical Principles for Research
Senate Policy on Research Involving Human Participants

The following examples, submitted in 2015/16 are to provide you with an overview of what the process may resemble when applying for ethical approval for your SoTL project. This SoTL project was approved by the York University Office of Research Ethics and is meant to reflect the iterative process taken by the Principle Investigator (PI) and the requests for revision made by the ORE.

Below you will find links to the following:

The purpose of this study was to assess whether attendance and early feedback given
to students in the form of quizzes could be used to predict their performance on a final cumulative exam in a large lecture-style course. The goal of the study was to identify key factors to students’ academic success in a course that can then be shared with students at the start of the course.

To initiate the ethics process, the PI submitted the completed HPRC Protocol Form to the ORE. To supplement this process, the PI drafted a letters to students to inform them of the study and invite them to participate. As is also required in seeking ethical approval, the PI was also required to submit a copy of the Online Consent form by which students would give their permission (informed consent) to participate in the study.

After a period of approximately three (3) weeks, a member of the ORE contacted the PI via email with a series of requests and recommendations. In order to receive ethical approval, the PI was required to make these changes and respond to how and where these changes were made. If changes were not made, then a response offering a rationale as to why they were not being made would have been required.

The PI in this case, wrote a letter to the ORE addressing the comments, recommendations, suggestions, changes that were required. Additionally, the PI forwarded copies of the documentation evidencing how these changes were incorporated. The PI made slight changes in in wording in the letters to students. Here is an example of the revised messages to students. Another request from the REB was to modify and make explicit certain aspects of the Online Consent Form. Here is a copy of the Revised Online Consent Form.

With these revised documents, ORE conducted an expedited review and the PI was given ethical approval to carry out the SoTL project.

Mandy Frake-Mistak


If you have questions about SoTL research ethics, please contact Mandy Frake-Mistak, Educational Developer