Learning Circle Reflections - October 2017


Learning Circle - September 2017 

This month's session on 10th October focused on Informed Consent. Huge thanks to Linda Shaw for supplying the notes below.

Obtaining Informed Consent

Chris [Pascal] and Tony [Bertram] contextualised the significance of the topic to research in the field of early childhood. There appears to be a cultural/scholarly vacuum on informed consent with children. Parental consent is frequently taken as a proxy for their child. Fiona Mayne from The University of Western Australia has an up-coming article in the European Early Childhood Research Journal which will disseminate and extend her ground-breaking PhD work on interactive systems for gaining consent and on-going ascent with very young research participants (A comprehensive list of Fiona’s publications to date can be found by going to the University of Western Australia library page). This includes a meta-analysis of peer-reviewed journal articles published between 2009 and 2012 (Mayne and Howitt, 2015).

Presentation of transparent ethical protocol is often tokenistic or non-existent in reporting of research with young children. Ideally this should include clear information given to children in a way which meets criteria for informed consent; clear consent in which the child has expressed understanding and on-going ascent as the research proceeds. Published guidelines have little to say on topics such as methodological choices, the narrative of informed consent with and by children, children as co-authors of research, or ways in which children log their wish to continue or withdraw from research.

Contributions and Discussion

 Shannon [Ludgate] explained her research into children’s interests and purposes when using touch screen technology. During her ‘day in the life observations’ with four-year olds, she wears a lanyard with a smiley face on one side and a sad face on the other. Shannon said that children often chose the happy face and then checked to ensure that research notes were being taken or that no notes were being taken if they had selected the sad face. The group discussed the differences between consent at the start of the project and ongoing assent.

Faye [Stanley] spoke to all staff the week before she carried out the field work. Parents were entrusted with the task of talking to their children about the research once it had been fully explained to them. Children were being filmed and were given the opportunity to explore the equipment before it was switched on for use in the research.

Shannon said that she also obtained three-tier consent from managers, practitioners and parents. It was agreed that adaptations would need to be made depending on the study design. For example, a difference was identified between procedures for a single day of research as compared with more immersive methods.

Aline [Cole-Albäck] shared why she didn’t keep to a static tripod when filming, finding that children were more able to convey assent when the camera was hand held and they could identify the red and green lights for inactive and active equipment.

The group talked about ethical issues arising from film as a medium for data collection. Chris talked about an incident during the Children Crossing Borders project in which a child exercised her right to deny consent for a section of the filming in which her hijab had blown off. Aline also talked about a child who was happy to be filmed indoors but not outside. The importance of children’s body language and, the concept of reasonableness and the importance of professional judgements and sensitivity was highlighted. It was agreed that there are often cultural differences in relation to the meaning of ethical use of data. Members of the group had experienced this when carrying out research in other countries.

Kathryn [Peckham] explained difficulties she had encountered in the design of research which used photographs already in the public domain to talk with children about giving their consent to be observed for research purposes. Weekly visits had been carried out with ten child participants. When being observed, each was given a special picture card, with four children actively participating on each visit. One child demonstrated feelings of rejection and clung to the researcher when she was not part of the subject group after the first week.

Moral dilemmas if parents say no but their children wish to be involved and issues of well-intentioned subterfuge were raised. The question of whether an element of deceit is ever acceptable was aired and agreement expressed that this should be avoided in most if not all circumstances.

Researchers need to be prepared to explain the methodological decisions they have made in ways which are appropriate to the context and culture of research participants and wider audiences. It was explained that in research relating to refugee children a decision was made not to film but to use voice recordings only in the data. Rebecca [Bartram] said that research she has carried out was interested in the balance of play to work and therefore needed to be ‘blind’ in relation to the research participants (staff and child) awareness of who/what was being observed. Image and non-image based research was further discussed. If a subject is in frame then consent should be sort but, as this is not always possible, the researcher must be open to defending decisions in relation to no harm and wider good of the research, and must live with this. Chris suggested that we should always ask ourselves “why wouldn’t I” (seek consent). Tony mentioned Pen Green experiences with ethical research.

It was raised that practitioner reactions and adult fears may be different from those of the children. Chris mentioned ‘throwing away the schedule’ from the EEL project and allowing children to take possession of clipboards. There was discussion of different types of equipment which might be made accessible to children in order that they might document e.g. tablets with a selfie function. This lead to further discussion of differences between adult purpose and child purpose and the need for ongoing responsiveness to ethical dilemmas. Tony said that it is important to listen to ‘silence’ as well as what is said. Remember that video is not ‘truth’ and that interesting research material may be glimpsed at the periphery of our vision (or the research gaze). This developed into a discussion about the messiness of research and the recognition of complexity in what we do and write and researchers. Advice was given to PhD researchers to think and write about the issues that are encountered in the methods and methodology chapters. Research is a journey – bring in the complexities and be confident about the decisions you make along the way.

Other Business

EECERA are launching new publications in Towards an Ethical Praxis in Early Childhood book series: “Young Children Playing and Learning in a Digital Age” and “Values in Early Childhood Education”.

BECERA 2018 on 20th February 2018 will focus on Creativity and Critical Thinking in the Early Years

EECERA 2018 will take place in Budapest and will focus on Early Childhood Education, Families and Communities. The conference will be hosted over three full days next year.


The next Learning Circle meeting is scheduled for Thursday 16 November and will focus on data management and analysis.

The Learning Circle meetings are open to all with an interest in early childhood studies. You can request to join the Learning Circle Group on Facebook.

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