#H809 Ethical implications of an OLPC evaluation study

In the first TMA of ‘the season’ we were asked to formulate a research question on an educational technology topic and discuss the methodologies that could be used to address it.  I focused on the evaluation of an One-Laptop-Per-Child (OLPC) programme and whether it has an effect on learning in a developing country context.  In the first week after the TMA the focus is on ethics and audiences. What are the ethics implications of engaging a study such as the evaluation of an OLPC programme?

Some ethical aspects include (based on Lally et al., 2005):

  1. Informed consent
  • The proposed study works with minors,  so formal consent from parents or guardian is required
  • How can also the pupils’ voices be heard and taken into account by the researchers?
  • Children and parents/ guardians should be duly informed of the research and possible consequences.  How can it be guaranteed that they are fully aware of the research proposal?
  • Options to withdraw from the study should be specified.  In a long-term study such as this, this also has

On informed consent, Lally et al. (2005) write: “researchers should move away from the ‘granting approval’ mode of ethics, towards treating the participants as partners in research”.  A main reason for this shift is that it is increasingly difficult to list in advance all the ethical implications of a research study.  In Cambodia cultural barriers may stand in the way of such a negotiated approach.

2. Potential for discrimination and abuse

  • Given the permanency of the written word, safeguards to prevent information to be made public should be in place
  • Confidentiality and anonymity clauses of participants in research findings should be clear
  • Extent of moral duties of researchers, for example when confronted with harmful content, should be specified
  • Care should be taken of the effect on interpersonal relations (issues of power, safety) the introduction of an expensive technology has in an environment where such devices would normally not be purchased.
  • Introducing expensive devices may create inequalities and feelings of exclusion with pupils from deprived backgrounds.
  • Determining test and control groups may be difficult (in case of a RCT), as it implies some pupils in a class get a computer and others not.

3. User generated content

  • It should be clear who has access to usage data and child-created content and under what conditions
  • Copyrights on user created content should be clarified
  • It should be clear what content can be used in communication on research findings and under which confidentiality/ anonymity conditions

4. Attachment

  • Users may develop an attachment to a donated computer when used for a long time.  Will they become owner after the research ends?
  • Users may act differently with a device that is not their own (e.g. not use all its features)

Lally et al. (2005) highlight that mobile, ubiquitous and immersive technologies blur boundaries of learning (formal vs. informal, school vs. home, learner vs. consumer…).   These complicate also ethical implications.  There are no definitive answers for the issues listed above, rather they should be discussed with participants in a continuous process throughout the research programme.


Lally, V., Sharples, M., Tracy, F., Bertram, N. and Masters, S. (2012) ‘Researching the ethical dimensions of mobile, ubiquitous and immersive technology enhanced learning (MUITEL): a thematic review and dialogue’, Interactive Learning Environments, 20(3), pp. 217–238.



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