Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ethical review

We occasionally get students coming to us with wildly unrealistic expectations about where they will be placed in our program. Some of them think they'll be in the English for Academic Purposes program for two months when in fact they're placed in level 2, which means at least 14 months. Of course, they've already put their lives on hold, invested a bunch of money, and flown over here.

We'd like to give them some information to help them make more informed decisions. Perhaps, they could take some free, online tests, and make an estimate based on those. To make this work, we need to make sure the tests have minimal reliability and calibrate them against our levels. And to do that, we need to have existing students take some of these tests.

But that has to undergo ethical review. We've been working on this for weeks now, finding out what we need to submit, submitting, waiting, revising (our study involves minimal risk, so it qualifies for "expedited" review. The full treatment is much longer.) I've been asked to explain how we will overcome the fact that the student participants may in future become my students, in terms of guaranteeing their privacy. It's getting absurd.

The worst part is that we could simply take a guess about the tests, and let the prospective students make their decisions based on whatever we come up with. That actually strikes me as unethical, but as long as we're not doing research, we don't have to undergo ethical review. It's twisted, I'm exasperated, and the students still don't have a convenient way to gauge how long they'll be in EAP.

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