Applied Linguistic Research

by Scott Jarvis
(2002-02-04)

Course Overview

The research methods course is designed to train second-year MA students to conduct original empirical research in applied linguistics (e.g., speech perception, sociolinguistics, second language acquisition, language testing, language teaching methods). The course emphasizes quantitative experimental research, but also gives some attention to other types of empirical research, including qualitative designs. By the end of the course, each student submits a detailed research proposal that serves as the basis for their final research project (either a thesis or a proseminar research project).

Need for an ethics module

Empirical research-especially on human subjects-involves a number of ethical challenges that students need to be aware of and learn to address. At its core, this involves showing proper respect to the people who participate in research, minimizing the study’s potential negative effects on them, and maximizing the potential benefits of their participation. At a more abstract level, research ethics involves a rigorous and committed pursuit of the truth in the chosen area of inquiry, as well as a concerted effort to make useful and relevant contributions to one’s field of knowledge. These are the components of research ethics that will be emphasized in the present module. The specific code of ethics that will be presented is the set of guidelines produced by OU’s Institutional Review Board (IRB)-the impartial oversight committee that will approve or reject the students’ research proposals on the basis of ethical considerations.

Ethics module overview

Ethical issues pervade all phases of research, from reviewing previous research to drawing implications from one’s own results. Perhaps the most important ethical issues relate to the collection of data, and this is what the IRB guidelines mainly refer to. In the research methods course I will discuss ethical issues related to all phases of a research project, and will begin with a three-day ethics module that focuses on the ethics of data collection.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the ethics module, students should

  1. be aware of ethical challenges in applied linguistics research
  2. be able to identify and explain ethical problems in existing applied linguistics studies and research proposals

  3. understand the need for a code of ethics and an impartial oversight committee (i.e., IRB)
  4. know the core elements of the IRB guidelines (i.e., human subjects research code of ethics)
  5. 5. be able to write their own research proposal (to be submitted to the IRB) that
    1. acknowledges the ethical challenges they will face while collecting data
    2. provides a thoughtful rationale for how ethical problems will be dealt with so that the potential negative effects of the study are minimized and the potential positive effects are maximized.

Ethics Module Plan

Day 1 (which is Week 2, Day 1 in the syllabus):

- task where students are asked to design a “good study” for investigating the nature of, e.g., responses to complaints by restaurant management

- discussion of the above research design from a participant’s point of view

- discussion of components of a “good study”

- discussion of past applied linguistics studies that have run into ethical problems (and violate one or more components of a “good study”)

- discussion of how/whether these studies could be modified to make them more acceptable

- discussion of the need for a code of ethics for researchers

- discussion of the need for an impartial oversight committee to make sure that researchers follow the code

- homework: IRB online training module

Day 2 (i.e., Week 2, Day 2 in the syllabus)

- debriefing of the IRB training module assignment

- brainstorming of ethical problems related to data collection

-informed consent

-coercion

-risks

-benefits

- discussion of the IRB guidelines (i.e., code of ethics)

- discussion of the IRB research proposal form

- homework: preliminary draft of an IRB research proposal

Day 3 (i.e., Week 3, Day 1 in the syllabus)

- IRB committee simulation

- discussion of reasons why past IRB proposals have been rejected

- continuation of IRB committee simulation

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