A Murky Business: Navigating the Ethics of Educational Research in Facebook Groups

Tony Coughlan, Leigh-Anne Perryman, The Open University, United Kingdom


Facebook’s use an educational tool is growing, as is the body of research evaluating the platform’s efficacy in educational settings. However, few studies directly address the many ethical challenges of researching in Facebook. This paper draws on our experience of researching online communities, including Facebook groups, as the basis for identifying the ethical dilemmas that arise when researching social networks. We draw on traditional guidelines for educational research, together with debates around open and ‘guerrilla’ research, in suggesting some of the ways in which these ethical considerations might be managed.

The ethical challenges discussed in this paper include whether/how to gain informed consent in a public setting; the need to navigate online disinhibition and confessional activity; the need to address the ethical challenges involved in triangulating data collected from social media settings with data available from other sources; the need to consider the potential impact on individual research participants and entire online communities of reporting research findings; and the use of visual evidence and its anonymisation. We argue that it is imperative for the researcher to closely engage with the research context when making ethics-related decisions, as no two research settings are the same.

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e-learning, distance learning, distance education, online learning, higher education, DE, blended learning, ICT, MOOCs, information and communication technology, collaborative learning, internet, learning management system, LMS, interaction,

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