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UG Comenius project “Privacy in Research” in top 10 best practices according to the Council of Europe

By Oksana Kavatsyuk
09 May 2022
Esther Hoorn and Tom Spits in front of the UG Academy Building

The UG Senior Comenius project “Privacy in research” is recognized by the Council of Europe as one of the top 10 best practices. Today TAG talks to the project leader, Esther Hoorn and Comenius-team member, Tom Spits.

Good morning, Esther and Tom. The recognition of your project by the Council of Europe is great news! What is your project about?

Esther: Our project is dedicated to the online role-playing and e-learning materials, ready to be used in method courses or courses on Academic Integrity. The subject of privacy in research is introduced with a number of developed scenarios in an active-learning form. When researchers and students work with personal data, privacy needs to be dealt with in a responsible way. We were puzzled about how to teach this subject in an interactive and engaging way. This is how a role-play was born, supported by the e-learning materials.

Why is it important that your project is one of the Best 10 practices recognized by the Council of Europe?

Esther: I am very happy with the recognition by the Council of Europe because that is a European organisation that wants to fight fraud and aims to help the next generation with a principled and positive approach. And the visibility that we get because of such recognition is extremely important for us. We would like to promote how important it is to teach this subject (Privacy in research) to students that will work with personal data. We have developed a practical approach that combines active learning strategy with the high relevance of the topic. And students and instructors like it!

Tom: Students have to act and respond when using this role play. But they like it because their actions are practical and meaningful. Using our strategy, students get immediate results from their actions on privacy. They can see if they are on the right track or maybe need to include other people from different disciplines to get information that is missing.

Do people need funding to implement this practice and if so, what are the approaches?

Esther: If one follows the scenarios we developed and listed on the website, no additional funding is needed. In each scenario there is a privacy case, a research case, and a discussion on how to approach them. Most faculties will be able to use the generic scenarios, the ones that we have developed.

Tom: We also have written a detailed guide for teachers on how to use our strategy and materials in various courses and programmes. Teachers who would like to have a privacy case specific to their research field can develop new scenarios themselves. All guides and materials (e.g. format and instructions) are Open Source and available on the project website, one can start creating new scenarios straight away.

Is there research supporting this practice and if not, what should education researchers do in this respect?

Tom: The academic basis is there: we use a data protection impact assessment that is a proven assessment tool. However, it is really innovative to use it like we do to teach students.

Esther: I think universities should do more research on the topic of “Responsible research” and on teaching it to students. There is an obligation to embed that in the whole curriculum based on the code of conduct for research integrity and it needs a stronger effort.

What is the role of Comenius funding for the project?

Esther: For me as a lawyer, working on awareness on privacy in research, it was really an excellent opportunity since I could apply for funding for research projects due to my position. The Comenius grant allowed me to establish an interdisciplinary team and get funds to create the roleplay. The e-learning materials were developed as a part of the internal UG-grant.

Tom: Actually Comenius came at the right time to expand and it also made it possible for us to reach out to different faculties offering not only the e-learning programme but also a well developed roleplay. One more very important aspect: the Comenius grant allowed us to help teachers to learn how to use our materials and role-play. There was funding for educational support and teaching assistants. Esther also joined a lot of these sessions to support teachers.

How can TAG support dissemination of information related to best practices?

Tom: Different faculties have different approaches. For some we had to go via the vice deans to convince faculties to participate, but for others we had to go via course coordinators or Educational Master program managers to get them to adopt the practice.

In pandemic conditions it was quite difficult to get faculties on board. I think Teaching Academy Groningen would be a very important instrument. It should get a prominent role in making these general educational projects accepted at faculties and getting all faculties on board for certain educational techniques and innovations.

What are the advantages of having people with very different skills and knowledge in the project?

Esther: We are strong as a team, having different perspectives on the privacy issues in research. I am a lawyer and Tom is an educational specialist and online learning designer. Prof. Dr. Anne Beaulieu is one of the coordinators of the data science and data wise programs. Prof. Dr. Marijtje van Duijn is a specialist in statistics and research integrity and the chair of the Ethics Board at the Department of Sociology (Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences).

Tom: You need different skills in your team. We had academics, we had lawyers, we had me for project management, the online-learning component but also to make connections with the staff development team and the Digital Competence Center.

What are the different types of skills that help support an innovation like this? Where can people find team members?

Esther: You need different people in your team: e.g. someone who has time to write a book or an article, someone who has a great insight in adding a narrative in e-learning material, a person who is good in project-management and so on. I think TAG as a group is building up a huge network: teachers, experts, educational professionals. The Educational Support and Innovation (ESI) team has grown over the last few years and has currently a diverse expertise and a huge outreach in all faculties and services.

Tom: It is always good to contact the educational support team at ESI or your own faculty (ESI, ed.). There is always a colleague that would like to think along with you on your educational innovation idea and introduce you to people that could help you.

How can TAG support dissemination of information related to best practices?

Esther: It would be great if there could be a place to share the Best practices that we and other teachers develop. Maybe the TAG platform and the website could be the right place, linking to the project websites.

How can TAG support educational innovations (e.g. funding applications) by teachers?

Tom: Creating a network and being a part of the network. I think teachers should connect to TAG and talk about the topic they work on. TAG can connect them to other teachers, educational experts, legal and financial advisers etc. to complete their team. You need other people to be sure that your innovation is actually innovative not only at your faculty, but also on the level of the university, nationally or even internationally.

More about the project “Privacy in Research” can be found here: project Privacy in Research

Last modified:09 May 2022 3.48 p.m.

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