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San Diego State University

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Ethics Instruction

Below are a series of web-based lessons focusing on legal and ethical issues surrounding the use of surveys and regulations for data collection activities involving human subjects. These address issues confronting anyone using a survey for a data collection including completing course assignments as well as more formal research. There is a short description of the topic of each lesson followed by a link to instructional resources for faculty teaching students about the guidelines when must adhere to when engaged in the use of surveys.

  1. Lesson 1: Data Collection Guidelines
    This lesson provides an overview of what the issue of compliance, why any using a survey for data collection must be concerned about compliance, and who has oversight for compliance. Integrated into the lesson are two samples to illustrate the types of problems that may arise in terms of complying with the legal and ethical guidelines for working with human subjects.
  2. Lesson 2: Research and IRB Review
    One important consideration of any research involving human subjects that is difficult to understand relates to the need for review by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). Research in education and especially survey research often qualifies as exempt and may require a lower level of review by an institution’s IRB. However, it may require expedited or formal review depending on the nature the research. This lesson considers the types of research and what types of review may be required. NOTE: even if one is engaged in data collection that is not formal research and not subject to IRB review, e.g. administrative surveys or class assignments, understanding the levels of review helps when examining the ethical guidelines for survey use.
  3. Lesson 3: Privacy, Anonymity, and Confidentiality
    Three related and often confused terms related to survey data collection activities are private, confidential, and anonymous. Any survey participant has a right to privacy but the information they provide may be anonymous or confidential. Understanding the distinction between these terms and when anonymous or confidential data collection activities require review is considered in this lesson.
  4. Lesson 4: Intrusive Questions
    Three related and often confused terms related to survey data collection activities are private, confidential, and anonymous. One of the difficulties of survey data collection is determining when questions cross the line of being intrusive and are beyond the scope of the purpose for collecting the data. Surveys, by their nature, request response from participants, but the questions should not intrude into a person's life if the information is not relevant. Identify these types of questions and the context where they are arise is important for adhering to legal and ethical guidelines.
  5. Lesson 5: Personally Identifiable Information - Pt. 1
    One ethical issue facing individuals developing surveys is requesting information that will make it possible to identify the participant. The issue is not that one should never do this since it may be required in some situations. What is vital is ensuring this information is protected. This topic and how it relates to the issues of anonymity and confidentiality are addressed here.
  6. Lesson 6: Personally Identifiable Information - Pt. 2
    Requesting personally identifiable information is problematic when requests are inadvertent. Being able to identify these requests and revising these requests is the focus in this lesson.
  7. Lesson 7: Surveys Involving Minors
    Any research or data collection activity that involves minors require special attention to ensure proper consent has been provided. This lesson examines when conditions warrant that a survey requires IRB review and when parental/guardian consent is necessary to have minors complete a survey. Included in the lesson is a discussion of the risks minors may face when responding to surveys.
  8. Lesson 8: Requiring Responses
    The ethical principle of self-determination is at issue in this lesson. Survey respondents cannot be force to answer questions they may find objectionable. This examines how to avoid this problem.
  9. Lesson 9: Avoiding Biases
    Survey questions are meant to be objective measures, but if stereotypes and biases are built into the question, it is problematic for the data collected and a violation of ethics. To avoid this, the lesson here examines how questions my hide biases and stereotypes or offer response choices that hid assumptions about respondents.
  10. Lesson 10: Protecting Data
    When people person complete a survey, they should expect that the responses they provide remain protected. This lesson considers issues about protecting and securing the data one collects.