ANU students

Using student data in research

In the process of teaching a course, many lecturers and tutors want to share insights they have gained – both to improve course delivery, and to contribute to wider education research.

COVID-19 has also prompted new investigations into how students respond to different teaching methods. 

However, education research involves specific ethical and privacy considerations which all researchers need to be aware of.

As well as collecting data directly from students through surveys or interviews, many researchers also want to compare that data to students’ grades or SELT course feedback. This provides useful information about the actual effectiveness of different teaching methods.

However, according to the ANU Privacy Policy, data collected for the purpose of education cannot be used for another purpose (like research) without students’ explicit consent. If you want to analyse students’ educational records, you need to let them know first, and provide an easy way to opt out of being included in the research project.

Research projects involving personal data also need to get ethics approval before going ahead. 

Informed consent is a vital pillar of ethical research. Students need to be informed about what data will be used in research, who will have access to it, and when and where the data will be kept. 

Researchers also need to make it very clear to students that participation is voluntary, and that choosing not to participate will have no effect on their grades or their relationship with lecturers or tutors.  

In some cases it may be better to wait until after grades have been released to do the research, or to ask a third party not involved with assessing students to conduct the data collection. 

Researchers can contact the ANU Ethics Office for help or advice, or consult the AHRECS “Scholarship of Teaching and Learning” ethics guides.

Sheri Kim and Faith Myers manage ethics awareness and training across ANU from within the Research Ethics Office, Research Services Division.