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Ethics, consent and masking participant identities

Dennis Kwek (National Institute of Education, Singapore), one of the guest commentators in the book, sent us the following question:

Quick ethical question: the 8 videos that were showcased in the book… when you recorded them with the teachers, did you obtain permission from them to share the videos in a public forum (like the book or the website) or was the permission obtained later on? I’m trying to work out how, if possible at all, we can use the 600+ lessons we collected for Professional Development / teacher learning. When we collected the data, we stated that the videos are confidential and will be shared only with the research team, because we did not consider how we can use the data beyond the Core coding and analysis. Now there’s increasing demand for secondary access to not just our video data but our survey and assessment data. We’re trying to work out the ethical issues for these.

One way forward for us is to contact all our teachers involved in the data collection and ask them for permission to release the videos (perhaps giving them a copy of the video to ‘vet’ first). But this is 3 years after collection, so I’m not sure if they’re still in the school or have left the service.
Would appreciate any thoughts you have on this.

This is a thorny issue.  First, regarding what we did: From the teachers we asked for permission to film for research purposes, promising complete confidentiality, but noting that we might want to use some of the video in the biweekly workshops or beyond, in which case we would seek specific permission from the teacher involved.  As for the parents, the school already had attained general parental permission that “covered” our filming, so we merely sent them a notice informing them about the research and offering them the opportunity to opt out if they so desired.  We also explained the research goals and process to the pupils, who likewise gave their consent to participate.  At the end of the year, after coming up with the idea for the book, we returned to the participating teachers, all of whom gave us blanket consent — use whatever you want — though we still showed them the specific clips to be on the safe side.

Though legally we’re covered by these arrangements, we still thought it wise to mask participant identities, by applying a “cartoonize” filter.  (Specifically, I used the free NewBlueFx Cartoonr plugin, together with Sony Moviestudio Platinum12, but the plugin works with many other video editing programmes.)  It takes some time to play around with to get it right, and every video is different so you need to tweak the filter each time.  This effect is far from perfect — you could still probably identify some of the participants if you knew them ahead of time — but it does create some distance between the representation and the actual person.  It also reduces some of the complexity of the image (less detail), which has some advantages.

My guess is that in your case it’s going to be very difficult to overcome the ethical obstacles (especially with regard to parents) for all your data, but do you need release for all the data?  Probably a couple dozen lessons will suffice for professional learning purposes.  Or, better, go collect some new data specifically for this purpose, using better equipment (the field has certainly progressed in that respect) and select teachers / topics.

I hope this helps.  I wonder what others suggest, and what have been their experiences?