We are midway through the MSc unit Controversial Issues in Special & Inclusive Education. 12 hours of input in four seminars! This year’s group is fantastic – international, engaged, experienced, and critical. I’ve been a bit cheeky and redesigned the unit around some personal interests in the field of SEN. Each week students tackle big questions and major themes, which so far consist of:
- Are all children ‘people’? (drawing on bioethics and personhood debates)
- Are all children ‘educable’? (drawing on psychological theory from the PMLD field)
- Are all children ‘researchable’? (drawing on research philosophy from disability studies)
- Are all children ‘includable’? (drawing on international debates about inclusive education in the Global North & South)
The sessions finish at 7.30pm which is tough-going, but the depth of discussions about such significant topics keeps me awake and keen for more. (Literally – I find it difficult to sleep when I get home because my head is buzzing with thoughts about the discussions). Next week we have guest doctoral researchers presenting their work which should be fab!
(Pictured: Inside of Wills Memorial, University of Bristol)
Earlier today I ran a session on research ethics for the EdD/PhD unit Understanding Educational Research. Being a member of the GSoE Research Ethics Committee I was asked to cover the formal research ethics application process. I also talked about a range of philosophical approaches to ethics – deonotology, consequentialism, situationism, virtue ethics, and relational ethics. Exploring these topics with 35 doctoral students was great fun. The level of debate about sensitive and controversial ethical issues was outstanding, and the students challenged both myself and each other for the best part of 2 hours. Textbooks in the field of social science ethics sometimes present the different approaches as oppositional. However, I was keen to explore how educational researchers can think around these philosophies in complimentary ways. Whilst deontological approaches help mandate obligations (e.g. Mental Capacity Act), consequentialism helps us appreciate the need for forward planning and anticipation during application processes. Situationism allows us to appreciate ethics on a case-by-case basis, whilst virtue ethics suggests that we reflect about who we are as researchers and how we can strive to develop our ethical mindfulness. Finally, relational ethics or the ethics of care helps us deepen our understanding of the meaning of an ethical relationship. These ideas have been flying around my head for a while, but the seminar provided a great space for drawing together the approaches and debating them with keen early career researchers. Great stuff!