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Title: Ethics for Design-Based Research on Online Social Networks
Authors: Shapiro, R. Benjamin
Ossorio, Pilar N.
Issue Date: Jun-2013
Publisher: International Society of the Learning Sciences
Citation: Shapiro, R. B. & Ossorio, P. N. (2013). Ethics for Design-Based Research on Online Social Networks. In Rummel, N., Kapur, M., Nathan, M., & Puntambekar, S. (Eds.), To See the World and a Grain of Sand: Learning across Levels of Space, Time, and Scale: CSCL 2013 Conference Proceedings Volume 1 — Full Papers & Symposia (pp. 422-429). Madison, WI: International Society of the Learning Sciences.
Abstract: Design-Based Research (DBR) allows learning scientists to investigate new processes, contexts, and technologies for learning. Social Networking Sites (SNSs) offer researchers rich new opportunities to create educational interventions that are deeply connected to learners' lives and relationships. We discuss legal and ethical challenges, and possible solutions to them, that face educational researchers as they begin to do DBR on SNSs. Addressing these issues will be crucial to design researchers wishing to use SNSs as sites for learning, and also offers an opportunity for the CSCL community to shape SNS research far beyond our field. Introduction Online social networking sites (SNSs) are powerful research tools because of their wide reach and deep connectivity to users' lives. In 2011, approximately 42% of U.S. adults belonged to a SNS (Hampton, Goulet, Ranie, & Purcell, 2011). In 2010, 73% of online U.S. teens used SNSs (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010). Facebook had over 1 billion users in October of 2012; one twelfth of the entire world's population now uses Facebook's mobile apps (Facebook, 2012), highlighting the enormous connectedness of social media to users' daily routines. SNS-based research offers learning scientists the opportunity both to understand human social activity, and to use SNSs for experimental interventions, such as increasing civic participation (Bond et al., 2012) or teaching about science (Shapiro, Squire, and ERIA, 2011). While observational studies offer researchers the ability to analyze activity including learning as it is already occurring, Design-Based Research (DBR) enables researchers to support and study new kinds of educational interactions (Brown, 1992; Collins, 1992). Though the number of studies conducted in SNS environments is growing, few DBR studies have been conducted to date. Instead the research has largely focused on publicly available data about extant activities. Doing DBR on social networks offers researchers new opportunities to connect to learners' lives, and to understand how learning happens across levels of space, time, and scale. For example, a recent design experiment conducted by political scientists collaborating with Facebook staff reached over 60 million people and led to over 300,000 more of them voting in the 2010 United States elections (Bond et al., 2012). With SNSs we can build learning experiences that are deeply intertwined with learners' personal interests, and those of their friends and loved ones, such as by using information gleaned from users' posts on their Facebook feeds, or the content of web pages they've "liked." We can virally scale participation in learning environments by using the social sharing mechanisms that are central to SNSs, encouraging learners to invite their friends to learn along with them. We might use slow-moving interaction designs similar to social games like FarmVille to immerse learners in distributed embedded phenomena (Moher, 2006) that stretch over long periods of time and that differ depending upon users' physical locations. All of these possibilities highlight new opportunities for researchers to support and to understand learning at both individual and collective scales, over differing time scales, and to inform and study these experiences using new kinds of data. Standard methodologies, tools, and norms for doing DBR on SNSs have not yet emerged, and we currently lack ethical frameworks for working with the unprecedentedly private data that SNS DBR makes available to researchers. Observational studies are already pushing boundaries; DBR will push further, such as by offering access to more information, exposure of information to, and about, peers. As learning scientists begin to develop DBR programs for SNS, we must also begin to develop a legal and ethical groundwork for doing our work in an appropriate manner. This groundwork can ultimately inform not just study design but the design of CSCL tools as well. Fields beyond the learning sciences are beginning to consider these issues as well (Introne, et al., 2013), and educational researchers have an opportunity to shape both the policy and the research practice landscape of SNS DBR. The authors of this paper are, respectively, a learning scientist and a legal scholar specializing in bioethics who is a member of her university's IRB and the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections (the analysis in this paper is our own and is not an opinion of any committee or governmental agency). We have begun working together to lay the necessary legal and ethical groundwork for DBR on SNSs. This paper illustrates the possibilities for DBR on SNSs using an example drawn from our own work, then discusses some of the legal and ethical considerations that educational researchers, as well as Federal regulators and university IRBs, must wrestle with for work like it to precede. Our legal analysis is grounded in study of US regulations including the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (the "Common Rule"), as well as case law, though the ethical issues we raise are globally applicable.
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