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The Ethics of Social Research with Children: An Overview1

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Abstract

This paper attempts to provide an overview of ethical issues related to social research with children. It sets the discussion in the context of current debates about researching children in the UK, and explores the extent to which children should be regarded as similar to, or different from, adults in social research, focusing on how children are positioned as vulnerable, incompetent and relatively powerless in society in general, and how this conceptualisation of children needs to be taken into account in social research. The paper concludes with some practical and methodological suggestions.
... Concerning vulnerability, aspects of research ethics have to be addressed like informed consent and assent, issues of disclosure, power imbalances, etc. (Phelan & Kinsella, 2013). Furthermore, research in schools relies on access and is therefore dependent on (educational) gatekeepers (Burgess, 1991;Morrill et al., 1999;Morrow & Richards, 1996;Wanat, 2008), i.e., "someone who has the power and control over access to communities and key respondents in a particular location selected for research" (Lund et al., 2016, p. 281). ...
... We examined how perceived ethical challenges influence (educational) gatekeepers' decisions to grant or deny access to investigate pupils' digital media use. We addressed this subject empirically via in-depth interviews with principals and teachers in their role as gatekeepers (Burgess, 1991;Morrow & Richards, 1996;Wanat, 2008). We inquired their attitudes regarding research in schools in general and on the specific topic of pupils' group communication via IM as an exemplar of digital child and youth research. ...
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Digital child and youth research is often conducted in schools involving minors. Corresponding research designs raise two related sets of problems: Ethical issues with regard to working with vulnerable groups like children and adolescents and access to these groups. The latter pertains to the concept of gatekeeping which is an ethical issue in and of itself if certain groups or areas of research are systematically excluded from empirical research and, consequently, from the resulting benefits. Thus, our study examines how perceived ethical challenges influence gatekeepers’ decisions to grant or deny access to investigate a potentially problematic topic: pupils’ group communication. We addressed this research question empirically via semi-structured in-depth interviews with eight educational gatekeepers in Germany inquiring their attitudes on research in schools in general and on the specific topic of pupils’ group communication via instant messaging as an exemplar of digital child and youth research. Approaching the question from two perspectives (procedural ethics and ethics in practice), we identified hierarchical power structures within multiple levels of gatekeeping and revealed rationales to deny access based on ethical considerations with regard to the given scenario of pupils’ group communication.
... In line with ethics based on how the children approach the research in a participatory action research method [93] and in respect of The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) [94], the present research was designed to develop a fun and childfriendly methodology, and to ensure children's interest and natural approach to the research as part of the formative scholastic process. Specifically, the goal of the education (Art. ...
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This group randomized control trial examined the dose-response effect of varied combinations of linear and nonlinear pedagogy (enriched physical education with specific program led by specialist vs. conventional physical education led by generalist) for improving first-grade children’s motor creativity, executive functions, self-efficacy, and learning enjoyment. We led three physical education classes per group through 12 weeks of combined instruction, based on linear and nonlinear pedagogy: mostly linear (ML; 80% linear, 20% nonlinear; n = 62); mostly nonlinear (MNL; 20% linear, 80% nonlinear; n = 61); and control (C; conventional teaching from generalists; n = 60). MNL improved in (a) motor creativity ability (DMA; 48.7%, 76.5%, and 47.6% for locomotor, stability, and manipulative tasks, respectively); (b) executive functions (working memory and inhibitory control) for RNG task (14.7%) and task errors (70.8%); (c) self-efficacy (5.9%); and (d) enjoyment (8.3%). In ML, DMA improved by 18.0% in locomotor and 60.9% in manipulative tasks. C improved of 10.5% in enjoyment, and RNG task worsened by 22.6%. MNL improvements in DMA tasks, executive functions, and self-efficacy were significantly better than those in C. ML was better than C in DMA task and in executive functions’ task errors. Overall, ML and MNL approaches were more effective than conventional generalist teaching (C), and the MNL combination of 80% nonlinear and 20% linear pedagogy was optimal. We recommend that educators favor the MNL approach.
... Typically, researchers consult children's agents (e.g., parents, teachers) to gain insights into the children's perspectives and opinions . Since the 1980s, researchers have recognized that children have the capacity to contribute to research, and they can be approached directly to study their behaviors and perspectives (Barnes, 2000;Darbyshire et al., 2005;Mahon et al., 1996;Morgan et al., 2002;Morrow & Richards, 1996;Neill, 2005). User-centered design (UCD) (Nielsen, 1993;Norman, 1986;Rubin, 1994) is also an effective approach that can be applied to studying children. ...
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This study examines longitudinal changes in children's perceived usability based on two aspects. First, we developed a child-friendly usability questionnaire, which used cartoons to express the questionnaire response options. This approach provides an easy-to-understand five-point scale and a filling process using magnetic blocks, which together lead to highly reliable results. Additionally, we designed a longitudinal study to investigate the children's perceived usability according to two measurement methods (immediate and retrospective). The children's usability increased with longer durations of usage (i.e., increased repetitions of exercises). The short-term retrospective assessments depended on the most recent experience, whereas the long-term retrospective assessments were generally more positive.
... Ensuring that participation at institutional, pupil and parental levels was as volitional as possible was important, as consent at each level influenced consent at the other levels. Therefore, stakeholders were approached and informed one by one, beginning with the head teacher as the institutional gatekeeper (Heath et al., 2007;Morrow and Richards, 1996) and essential mediator (Andoh-Arthur, 2019). ...
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Depictions of classroom teaching and learning in politics, policy and media tend to be over simplified and mechanistic. Insights from research on classroom learning draw largely on the ‘what works’ paradigm, which presents learning as directly caused by teaching. ‘What works’ approaches dominate education discourse, despite their failure to capture the complex, interactive dynamics and ‘messy’ topography of classrooms. This study sought to generate novel insights about small group and classroom learning by acknowledging, rather than ignoring, their complexity. Using complexity thinking (a heuristic drawn from complexity theory) as a conceptual frame, this thesis presents findings from original classroom-based research exploring the emergence of learning in small group activity. Mixed method data, including social network analysis, pupil self-reporting, interviews and observation, were collected during one week in a year four classroom of a UK primary school. Data integration revealed interesting and otherwise tacit insights about antecedents of group and individual learning. Findings suggest that learning has emergent qualities and that individuals exert influence on collective learning due to emergent system dynamics, including social status, personality and knowledge states. Contributions to knowledge include insights about the interplay of top-down and bottom-up organising principles in small group and classroom systems. The thesis also evaluated the usefulness of complexity thinking as an analytical frame for understanding group learning, with mixed conclusions. The study has the potential to offer novel contemporary interpretations of classroom teaching and learning from a systems perspective.
... According to Ghosh, Dubye, Chatterjee, & Dubey (2020), children are more vulnerable to the psychosocial impact of the pandemic. While children are perceived as vulnerable and as in need for adults to make decisions about their lives (Morrow & Richards, 1996), children also have agency and power. Thus, in this paper, we include children's voices in order to explore not only their vulnerabilities, but also their agency, strength, resilience and coping strategies (Ricard-Guay & Denov, 2016) during Covid-19 lockdown. ...
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Covid-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, and the world has witnessed significant changes since then. Spain has been forced to go into extreme lockdown, cancelling all school classes and outdoor activities for children, which may have significant consequences on young people. This paper explores how young children have experienced lockdown as a consequence of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and what they think about their future lives after Covid-19. Data were collected from 73 students aged from 7 to 9 years old, using participant-produced drawings and short questions with children’s and parents’ descriptive comments. We used a children’s rights perspective and the Freirean approach of a pedagogy of love and hope to analyse the data. Results suggest that participants have been through significant changes in their routines, and that what they miss most from their lives before Covid-19 is playing outdoors with their friends and visiting their grandparents. To our knowledge, this paper is the first of its kind in investigating how the Covid-19 pandemic has influenced the ways that children lived during pandemic and its possible implications for their futures.
... Although the ministry and school engagement plans were conceptualised and designed by lead academics from the University of Huddersfield, UK, country teams had discretion to adjust and amend these to suit local contexts. Whereas the principle of these plans was consistent with standard research ethics for field engagement (Morrow and Richards, 1996), there may well have been an over-reliance on the country team's insider status and presumed knowledge of context. This is important for two reasons. ...
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Increasingly researchers are recognising the importance of including the perspectives of children and young people in research and in the development of interventions and innovations, in order to understand their lives on their own terms. However, due to potential risks posed to children and young people in research, gatekeepers have an increasingly important role in play in granting access and in direct field activities, especially where the research could be deemed as ‘sensitive’. This article reflects on the access and field experiences of a team of international researchers in four countries – Uganda, United Kingdom, Jamaica and India – researching Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Thematic analysis and QSR Nvivo were used to analyse data from this qualitative study which combined descriptive research with autoethnography. The reflective findings suggest that researching sensitive topics with children and young people is necessarily problematic in order to safeguard them, but that gatekeepers and gatekeeping can potentially undermine important research.
... Studying children in context (Graue et al., 1998) involves diverse ethical issues that do not form part of the ethical guidelines given in the parents' informed consent (see pp. 45, 74, 96). Indeed, ethical challenges emerge at any stage of research (Morrow & Richards, 1996) and require responsible conduction focused both on the promotion of familiarity and trust between the researcher and the children (see pp. 47; 96; 187) and on the consideration of each child as a subject of the research instead than an object to investigate (Creswell, 2012;Bronfenbrenner,1976;Hill, 2005). Accordingly, in the presented studies, the children were allowed to express their opinions and comment on the experience. ...
Thesis
As increasingly confirmed within the paradigm of embodied music cognition, the body shapes the way listeners perceive and make sense of music. Accordingly, this Ph.D research project aims to understand the role of body movement on children’s musical sense-making through two empirical studies setup in an educational ecological setting of primary school. In both studies, the children’s graphical representations of the music and their verbal explanations of the drawings were used to probe children’s musical sense-making. The first study investigated how and in what way a verbal vs. bodily interaction with the music influences the children musical sense-making. Results offer relevant insights into the role of body movement to enhance the identification of more musical features and their temporal organization. Based on the findings of the first study, a second study was carried out to investigate the influence of different qualities (discrete vs. continuous movements) of bodily interactions with music on children’ music meaning formation. Findings of the second study show that based on the quality of movement interaction the children changed the categories of visual representations, arousal, and number of voices of the music described. At a meta- perspective level, the adoption of a multimodal approach (e.g., bodily, visual, and verbal) emerged to be an effective mean to enhance a deeper music understanding. In addition, body movement appears to be a viable way to foster a creative listening through creative navigation of the musical affordance landscape.
... This may be through having space to express their opinions, working with adults to address issues within their school, or taking a lead on seeking refined change The concept of the student voice has been central to much critical debate, with frameworks that allow for youth participation in decision-making being cited as ineffective (Alderson, 2000;Kilkelly et al., 2005;Ruddock & Fielding, 2006). Spaces for students to formally participate have been criticised for being tokenistic, without tangible power or influence; and not affording students the opportunity to discuss matters important to them (Alderson, 2000;Morrow & Richards, 1996;Lundy, 2007). Hence, students are often marginalised in the decision-making process, their input not taken seriously and, sometimes, entirely overlooked (Shier, 2001;Nelson, 2019). ...
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Debates surrounding youth participation in governance have permeated a range of fields in the last two decades. This commentary is predominately situated in education and civic participation domains, with sporting domains remaining largely under researched. Indeed, this research becomes sparser when considered in school physical education and sport. In this paper, we consider the position of the student within decision-making processes in the physical education curriculum in English secondary state-schools. The paper reports on survey data from 288 English secondary state-schools exploring students' involvement in decision-making related to the PE curriculum. Findings show considerable numbers of the schools reported no contribution from students to the physical education curriculum (n=54), and processes that were in place were problematic. Drawing on the legal framework of The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, we argue that the lack of student voice in the physical education curriculum presents a contemporary policy concern within the English education system that requires further investigation.
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Using the election of the far‐right populist coalition government in Italy in 2018 and resultant legislative changes to immigration it brought about as an analytic lens, I examine the material and emotional impact of these changes on young African men, hosted as “unaccompanied minors” in a reception centre in a northern Italian town. I refer to these changes as an “ill wind” and in this paper examine its impacts using Christina Sharpe’s notion of “weathering” to refer to the totality of the ongoingness of the anti‐Black climate and its effect on Black bodies. I contextualise the young men’s experiences within the Italian race landscape, thus drawing attention to the postcolonial legacies of race and racialisation still underpinning Italian society today. I present how historical structures of racial governmentality are integral to the geography of subordination and produce the racialised figure of the migrant, leaving some strangers to remain stranger than others.
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This doctoral research project is a case study of the impact of teaching English pragmatics to Norwegian primary school learners in 7th grade (aged 12-13). The importance and the impact of teaching second/foreign language (L2) pragmatics have been much discussed in both empirical and theoretical work, shifting the focus from whether pragmatics is teachable to the affordances of various teaching approaches. However, the evidence is largely based on (young) adult learners, with young language learners (YLLs) comprising an underexplored group. Similarly, YLLs’ development of pragmatic ability, i.e. ability to produce and interpret language in context, and metapragmatic awareness, i.e. reflections about language use, remain largely uncharted waters. Hence, the discussions about how L2 pragmatics can be taught and researched are largely informed by research with older language learners. This forms the backdrop for the present doctoral study, which specifically investigates the impact of teaching L2 requests to the target group. The impact of instruction is explored through the learners’ request production, their use of scientific concepts to express metapragmatic understandings, and their engagement with the project. Informed by sociocultural theory (SCT), the instruction adopted a concept-based approach to teaching L2 pragmatics to two intact classes in a Norwegian primary school. The overarching aim of the instruction was to foster agency, that is to promote the learners’ ability to make informed choices in communication. In addition, the study was influenced by the growing body of literature on research with children, which aims to enable them to express their views and be listened to, that is, to give them a voice. Informed by this view, the current study included a focus on giving learners a voice through the use of innovative data elicitation techniques. This thesis is the synopsis of an article-based Ph.D. which comprises four articles (I-IV). Article I presents a systematic review, investigating the data elicitation techniques used in prior research exploring YLLs’ metapragmatic awareness, i.e. their verbalised reflections about language use, contextual considerations, and/or their interplay. The review revealed that previous research was sparse and that the elicitation techniques employed largely mirrored those used with adults. In light of these findings and informed by literature on research with children, the article presents three elicitation techniques, developed and used by the authors in research projects with learners aged 9-13, with aims to scrutinise their affordances. Article II investigates the impact of the instruction on the learners’ request production strategies. The data was collected through a video-prompted oral discourse completion task (VODCT), which was administered in a pre-post-delayed design, enabling the researcher to investigate both short- and long-term changes in strategy use following the instruction. These changes were measured through statistical tests. The study revealed significant longer-term retention of some request strategies, e.g. internal modification through modal verbs, whilst others revealed no significant changes. Article III explores the learners’ use of scientific concepts to express their metapragmatic understandings. The analysis was conducted through a framework aiming to identify metapragmatic episodes and subsequently three excerpts were analysed in-depth to explore how the learners used in discussions the scientific concepts introduced during the instruction. The study revealed that, although used relatively infrequently in the dataset as a whole, scientific concepts were used to discuss the importance of linguistic variation, the communicative value of hints, and to compare strategies in the first language (L1) and the L2. Thus, the study reveals a potential for teaching pragmatics through concept-based approaches. Finally, Article IV investigates how the learners appraised various components of the project, including the different data elicitation techniques, and how they explained their appraisals. The study revealed that the target of instruction (requests) presented a novel topic, which the learners found engaging and relevant. In addition, the learners were positive to their perceived learning outcomes and to the focus on choices related to requests of which they became aware. The study provides valuable insights into YLLs’ engagement in pragmatics research and the importance of giving them a voice in projects of this kind. First and foremost, the thesis contributes to our limited understanding of whether and how pragmatics can be taught with YLLs, both generally and within SCT-informed instructional pragmatics research. From the perspective of SCT-informed instruction, the instructional approach employed presents a novel focus: whilst prior research has employed concept-based approaches for teaching L2 pragmatics with adults, the present study is, to the best of the author’s knowledge, the only one of its kind to investigate the affordances of such approaches with YLLs. The study shows that an explicit focus on pragmatics is indeed feasible with YLLs and that the focus of instruction and the teaching approaches resonated with the learners (Articles II, III, and IV). In addition, since YLLs’ voices have largely been under-communicated within the field of instructional pragmatics, this thesis contributes to addressing this gap (Articles I and IV). The thesis contributes to our understanding of the affordances of explicit instruction with YLLs through concept-based approaches, both from the perspective of teaching practice and research, and adds to the knowledge about participant-friendly methodologies aiming to promote, and ultimately act upon, children’s perspectives in pragmatic research.
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Enid Schildkrout is Curator for African Ethnology in the Division of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History; she is also an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University and at the City University of New York. She has studied the fostering of children in urban Ghana and written extensively on children's work and women's work among Muslims in Kano, northern Nigeria. She has also curated museum exhibits and published books and articles about African art and material culture. In recent years, Enid Schildkrout has returned to the study of children, working with Ghanaian immigrants, who come from families she knew in Ghana in the 1960s. She is especially interested in how these children learn about Africa and how they think about their identity in New York City.
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