Teaching and Learning Ethical Research Competence in Qualitative Research: An Action Research Inquiry

Dr Jim Byrne’s doctoral thesis

dr-jims-doctoral-thesisOn this page you will find a flavour of my doctoral thesis, and a link to download a copy.

The abstract begins like this:

“This thesis presents a detailed account of an Action Research inquiry into the teaching and learning of research ethics in a particular university department, in a small university in the north of England.

“Because I was concerned that competence in research ethics was not being actively pursued and achieved by my Doctoral peers – and that I also did not know how to proceed to master this area of knowledge and skill – I therefore set out to investigate the teaching and learning of ethical research competence, as defined in the Glossary, in one university department.”

Download linka1-complete-thesis-internet-display-copy

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What follows is a brief flavour of the structure and content:

 

Teaching and Learning

Ethical Research Competence

in Qualitative Research:

An Action Research Inquiry

 

 

A thesis submitted to the University of Manchester

for the degree of Professional Doctorate in Counselling

in the Faculty of Humanities

 

2008

 

James William Byrne

 

School of Education

 

CONTENTS PAGE Page number
Abstract 5.
Declaration and Copyright Statement 6.
Acknowledgements 7.
About the Author 8.
Chapter 1. Introduction 9.
Chapter 2. Literature Review 27.
Chapter 3. Methodology, Methods and Ethical Considerations 83.
Chapter 4. Learning and Reflections 123.
Chapter 5. Conclusion and Recommendations 229.
References 257.
Glossary 293.
Appendices – List of 315.
Appendix 1.  Feminist, anti-racist and class considerations; and the integration of politics, morality and methodology. 317.
Appendix 2.  Teaching moral competence – following Meara, Schmidt and Day (1996) 327.
Appendix 3.  Jim Byrne’s research questionnaire for participants on the MA in Social Care 331.
Appendix 4: Questionnaire for candidates on the Doctoral programme in Social Care at the University of Minerva 335.
Appendix Five.  Ethical approval and informed consent for my research project 339.

 

Final word count: 59,101 in the main text; 86,252 words in total.

 

List of Tables Page number
Table 1.1. My revised thesis structure 16.
Table 3.1. My generic action research process 92.
Table 3.2. Overview of methods/procedure 98-101.
Table 3.3. Research participants by phase and cycle 103-105
Table 3.4. The blank control matrix 110.
Table 3.5. The heuristic matrix for assessing my ethical risk profile mindfully 112.
Table 4.1. A matrix for distinguishing duties 209.
Table 5.1.  Informal planning of teaching activities 239.
Table 5.2.  A six-module plan for teaching ethical research competence 241-244.
Table 5.3.  A detailed guide to learning ethical research competence 247-249.

 

 

List of Figures Page number
Figure 1.1. The standard cycle of my action research process 13.
Figure 1.2. Detailed Action Research Model 17.
Figure 2.1. The Potter Box (Jay Black) 41.
Figure 2.2. The Paul Lester Model 46.
Figure 2.3. Ethical Development: a process 47.
Figure 2.4. A Combined Training Model. (Paul Lester, and Gabriel and Casemore, 2006) 49.
Figure 2.5. Bob Gowin’s V-Heuristic 79.
Figure 3.1. Kolb’s Learning Cycle 95.
Figure 3.2. An illustration of the first cycle in my action research process 96.
Figure 3.3. Stages of learning a new skill 106.
Figure 4.1. My rendition of Gowin’s V-heuristic 160.
Figure 4.2. Haidt’s (2001) model of moral judgement 178.
Figure 4.3. My thinking heuristic for ethical research planning, teaching and evaluation 194.
Figure 4.4. Illustration of my ethical research decision-making model 220.

 

ABSTRACT

This thesis presents a detailed account of an Action Research inquiry into the teaching and learning of research ethics in a particular university department, in a small university in the north of England.

Because I was concerned that competence in research ethics was not being actively pursued and achieved by my Doctoral peers – and that I also did not know how to proceed to master this area of knowledge and skill – I therefore set out to investigate the teaching and learning of ethical research competence, as defined in the Glossary, in one university department.

My approach was to design and implement a five phase Action Research process, one phase at a time.  Each phase included a number of cycles.  And each cycle consisted of the following steps:  Plan an intervention > Take the action > and Reflect/Conclude about the findings.  Through this process, with up to sixteen postgraduate students and one tutor as my research respondents, I found that there is strong evidence of a substantial problem with the teaching and learning of research ethics in the “School of Social Care”; and a logical concomitant necessity for curriculum change.  In particular, I discovered that most of my Doctoral student respondents want and need a significant educational input (of two to six days duration) on moral philosophy and research ethics.  My results also established that the main tutor with responsibility for curriculum design and implementation on the Doctoral programme agrees with the need to begin teaching moral philosophy as the foundation of research ethics and professional practice.

In pursuing my literature review, alongside my action research activities, I found that there are some indications in the literature that what is required is the teaching of duty ethics and utilitarianism, combined with elements of virtue ethics. The aim is to produce competence in: ethical sensitivity (or the ability to recognize ethical research problems); moral reasoning; ethical decision-making; and implementation of moral research action plans.  Other cultural perspectives are accorded parity of esteem in Appendix One.

My principal contribution to knowledge is that, since, initially, Doctoral tutors, as well as Doctoral students, will need to teach themselves ethical research competence – because the current generation of Doctoral research tutors have not been taught research ethics – we need a system to facilitate that self-teaching.  For this purpose, I have developed an Ethical Research Thinking Heuristic.  That heuristic contains elements of my own “parallel process” of learning to think competently about research ethics.  Beyond that, I have developed a six-module, competence based approach to the teaching and learning of ethical research competence, as presented in Sections 5.2.1 and 5.2.2 of Chapter 5.

I have also developed an Ethical Research Decision-Making Model for use in resolving ethical research dilemmas.  And finally, I have developed a way to operationalize the concept of ethical mindfulness in Section 3.4 of Chapter 3.

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DECLARATION

No portion of the work referred to in this thesis has been submitted in support of an application for another degree or qualification of this or any other university or other institute of learning.

 

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COPYRIGHT STATEMENT

 (i) Copyright in text of this thesis rests with the author.  Copies (by any process) either in full, or of extracts, may be made only in accordance with instructions given by the author and lodged in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester.  Details may be obtained from the Librarian.  This page must form part of any such copies made.  Further copies (by any process) of copies made in accordance with such instructions may not be made without the permission (in writing) of the author.

(ii) The ownership of any intellectual property rights which may be described in this thesis is vested in the University of Manchester, subject to any prior agreement to the contrary, and may not be made available for use by third parties without the written permission of the University, which will prescribe the terms and conditions of any such agreement.

(iii) Further information on the conditions under which disclosures and exploitation may take place is available from the Head of School of Education.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I wish to express my gratitude to the following individuals for contributions to my development as a Doctoral researcher, as follows:

Dr William West, at the University of Manchester, for getting me interested in the subject of research ethics.

Dr Clare Lennie, at the University of Manchester, for encouraging me to pursue my interest in research ethics.

“Drs Smith, Jones and Brown, at the University of Minerva, UK, for their permission to conduct my research in the School of Social Care, Welfare and Human Learning, within their university”.[1]

“The postgraduate students in the School of Social Care, without whom there would be no data upon which to base this thesis”.

Steph Adam, my peer reviewer, who read my draft chapters and asked some challenging and thought-provoking questions.

And my examiners:

Dr Lynne Gabriel and Dr Richard Fay.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James William Byrne holds an MA in Education degree from the Open University (1994); a postgraduate Diploma (With Distinction) in Counselling Psychology and Psychotherapy, from Rusland College, Bath (2003); BA credits in Maths and Technology from the Open University (1982); and the Ruskin Diploma in Labour Studies (comprising economics, politics and industrial relations), Oxford, 1975.  Other qualifications include certificates in counselling and psychotherapy, and the Further Education Teachers Certificate.

He has conducted eight or more research projects as the principal or sole researcher in a paid capacity, including the following.

  1. An action research project in appropriate technology for rural communities, in Bangladesh, 1978;
  2. A survey of the training needs of unemployed people at the job centre in Rochdale in 1985;
  3. An enquiry into the personal effectiveness training needs of a group of unemployed men in Dewsbury, in 1990.
  4. A survey of the educational, training and community development needs of the people of West Bowling, Bradford, in 1992.

 

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CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION Page number
1.1. Setting the scene 11.
Figure 1.1. The standard cycle of my action research process 13.
1.2. The Structure of this Thesis 15.
Table 1.1. My revised thesis structure 16.
Figure 1.2. Detailed Action Research Model.  17.
1.3. My Research Questions 18.
1.4. The Basis of My Concern 19.
1.4.1. The macro level problem 19.
1.4.2. The micro level problem 22.
1.5. Positionality 24.

 

CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION

1.1. Setting the scene

“None of us is terribly different from the worst among us, and the banal mechanisms of our ordinary lives can, if we aren’t careful, give rise to the most hideous of crimes”.

(Baggini and Fosl, 2007: 106).

This thesis reports on a systematic attempt to investigate the teaching and learning of ethical research competence in one institution.  Ethical research competence is conceptualized as the ability to conduct an ‘ethics risk assessment’ upon a Doctoral research proposal, plan or action. Ethical research competence is defined as comprising certain components, including: the ability to recognize when ethical problems are present, known as ‘ethical sensitivity’; moral reasoning capability, which includes elements of moral philosophy and critical (or logical) thinking; ethical decision making, which includes the use of optimizing strategies; and moral action and implementation of plans, proposal and decisions.

The structure contains conventional elements and unconventional elements.  The breakdown of the text into chapters that deal with specific topics follows a fairly conventional format. (See section 1.2 below).  However, within chapters there are a number of deviations from convention.  In particular, these deviations are driven by the spiral nature of my Action Research (AR) process.

Much as I would like to follow the conventional format in detail, for the sake of simplicity, I am strongly aware of the need to preserve my integrity as a researcher.  If I believed that following the conventional structure wholly and completely would result in better research outcomes, I would do just that.  However, I do not believe that that is the case.  Firstly, as Dick (1993, 1997b) observes, an Action Research study calls for an unconventional thesis structure, because an action research study does not begin from the literature, but rather from an existing practical problem..  Secondly, as Wall (2006) points out:

“What I see as most significant is that traditional research and writing conventions create only the illusion that the knowledge produced is more legitimate…” (Page 4).

The third area of deviation from convention in this thesis is in relation to reflexivity.  Because I have located myself at the centre of the research and eschewed all pretence that I can ‘step back’ and let the data speak for themselves, my voice necessarily takes up the stance of the narrator of the narrator’s journey, and not an uncontested voice of truth driven by a ‘god’s eye view from nowhere’, as it is described by McLeod (2001: 29).  As Wall (2006: 3) comments:

“The research community is relatively comfortable with the concept of reflexivity, in which the researcher pauses for a moment to think about how his or her presence, standpoint, or characteristics might have influenced the outcome of the research process”.

However some readers might feel somewhat uncomfortable by my constant presence as the narrator of my own journey.  My voice is a constant reminder that this is “human science” – McLeod (1994/2003: 191) and in human science the concept of “objective truth” is severely challenged.  In my own case, in Chapter 3 I will describe my “contextual constructionist” approach to understanding human knowledge and the nature of reality.

Despite these caveats about so-called scientific objectivity, this thesis is a systematic and rigorous case study of the teaching and learning of ethical research competence in one specific context, “The University of Minerva”[2].

My thesis is mainly structured by the five phases of my research journey; and within each phase, by my action research spiral – Taylor (1994); Dick (1997a).  The five phases are listed and illustrated in section 1.2 below; and the action research cycle is illustrated in Figure 1.1, which follows, on the next page.

The ‘V’ in boxes 3, 4 and 5 represents the use of Gowin’s V-heuristic – from Novak and Gowin (1984) – in each of these steps.  The V-heuristic is illustrated in Figure 2.4 below.

…End of extract.

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