Five benefits of teaching research ethics via a MOOC

Written by Natasha McKeever

MASSIVE open online courses or MOOCS are increasingly being used as a flexible alternative to face-to-face teaching. As part of her project LITE Teaching Enhancement Project Leader, Dr Natasha McKeever, has designed a MOOC to teach students the basic principles and ideas behind research ethics.


Here Dr McKeever presents her top five benefits for learning research ethics on this platform.

Engaging undergraduate students with the principles and application of research ethics is a challenge for higher education teaching.

Research ethics is hugely important, and increasingly so, as more and more universities follow the research-based learning approach at Leeds where all final year undergraduate students do an independent research project to complete their degree and also the ways in which students are able to do research become more varied.

Lecturers, however, often find it hard to fit research ethics teaching into already busy curricula, and it can be difficult to engage students, especially as they will all be doing different research projects and so not everything will be relevant to each student.

So here are are my five top benefits for learning research ethics via a MOOC.

1) It’s Flexible

For me, the flexibility of the course is it’s number one appeal.

Although students are in cohorts and have to do the course over the period of two weeks, which date they start the course and how they want to organise their time in each of those weeks is up to them.

This means that the course fits around their lives rather then them having to fit around it.

However, although it is flexible, students get the benefits of it being boundaried and doing it alongside a cohort of students doing it at the same time.

This stops it from being something that gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list, while still allowing the students to be self-directed in how they do the course.

READ more about DR McKeever’s MOOC and register here.

2) It’s Interactive

The course is interactive throughout.

There are videos to watch and text to read but there are also numerous exercises, activities, discussions, and opportunities to peer review each other’s work.

This is really important in an ethics course, as students need time to think, process, discuss and consider questions, plus ideas with each other.

Their active participation also, hopefully, means that students will remember more of the content than if they just heard it in a lecture or read it in a book.

3) It’s a Resource

Research ethics is important and students need to get it right.

When taught research ethics via lecture or seminar, there might be some time between students being taught research ethics and them applying what they’ve learned, and therefore, they may forget key information.

Having a resource that they can come back to to check things can be really helpful.

As this MOOC runs every month, students could, for example, complete the course in November to get a general understanding of research ethics.

They could then sign up again when they are doing their research project and do it, or just certain sections of it, again to get a refresher on key aspects as they relate to their specific type of research project.

The Futurelearn platform, which hosts the course, is really user friendly and well-designed, making it easy to navigate to the section you need.

4) It’s Modular

The MOOC is broken down into six one hour long sections, which are called ‘activities’ on Futurelearn.

Each activity is broken down into steps. Students wanting to get an overview of research ethics, or those who are unsure what their project will consist of, should do the whole course.

Students who have a clear research project in mind might not need to do every section, instead they might want to pay more attention to the parts more relevant to them.

For example, students who are not working with vulnerable participants might be able to miss the activity on this topic, whereas if they are doing archival research they might want to pay particular attention to that part.

5) It Enables Cross-Cultural Discussion

One of the great things about MOOCs is that they are open to everyone across the world, free of charge.

This means that students will potentially be discussing ethical issues online with people from diverse backgrounds globally.

Having more diverse voices should enrich the discussion, as students might, for example, be encouraged by each other to question their assumptions and consider different perspectives.

In Conclusion

All in all, the Futurelearn platform potentially provides an ideal platform for students to learn about this very important subject and I hope that this course covers most, if not all, the areas of research ethics that students will need to learn about.

The benefit for teachers is that this is a freely available resource that requires no teaching input and students can sign up to throughout the year.

The course will launch on Futurelearn on 15th October.

For more information in the meantime, or to provide feedback, contact Dr Natasha McKeever on