Massive Omission of Consent (MOOC): Ethical Research in Educational Big Data Studies


  • Eamon Costello School of STEM Education ,Innovation and Global Studies, Dublin City University
  • James Brunton a. School of Psychology, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland b. Department of Financial Accounting, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Richard Bolger Dublin City University
  • Tiziana Soverino Crumlin College of Further Education, Ireland
  • Clément Juillerac Montpellier University



MOOCs, Ethics, Learning Analytics, Big Data, Privacy, AIED, AI in Education, Research Ethics


Ethical reviews of research plans function as a cornerstone of good research practice in order that no harm should come to participants. Ethical concerns have taken on a new salience in a digital world where data can be generated at scale. Big data research has grown rapidly, raising increased ethical concerns. Several intersecting areas of big data research exist within educational research, such as learning analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). In the current study, an investigation was made of peer-reviewed papers on MOOC teaching and learning to determine if they explicitly refer to (a) ethical considerations in their studies, and (b) obtaining formal ethical approval for their research. This investigation was accomplished through a review of MOOC-related, English-language papers available in Scopus database, over the course of a year. The review produced a total of 1,249 articles, of which, 826 articles related to empirical studies involving human participants where full text of the articles could be obtained. The string “ethic” was searched for within these articles, and resulting articles analyzed, which found that a small fraction, 42 articles (5.08%), mention ethics in relation to the study presented in the article, and only 13 articles (1.57%) explicitly mention obtaining formal ethical approval for the research. The findings show a lack of transparency in reporting on and/or engagement with ethical considerations in MOOC teaching and learning research. These findings indicate the need for further stakeholder engagement and sectoral dialogue in relation to ethics education and training for researchers; consideration of ethics in big data studies in education; and norms/policies in academic publishing for authors to report how ethical issues have been considered.

Author Biography

Eamon Costello, School of STEM Education ,Innovation and Global Studies, Dublin City University

Dr Eamon Costello

Associate Professor of Digital Learning

School of STEM Education Innovation and Global Studies

DCU Institute of Education

Dublin City University


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