Compensation vs. bribery
That’s just not going to happen. There are certain things I need to include in the c0nsent form, which results in a page long note, which is quite long. I translated the letter into Spanish, as a bit more than half of my students require all forms/letters going home to be in Spanish. While all the parents will have the physical capability to read the letter, I feel that many of them won’t understand parts of it – I described everything as simply as I possibly could, but still, it is referring to academic concepts so there are some terms that are kind of academic in the letters. And also, one whole page is long. I’m afraid that many parents just won’t get around to reading and sending the form back. Another issue is that some parents really don’t want any record of their child available outside the school, due to immigration status. While I reassure, several times, that although I will be taking photographs and video, no names will ever be connected with the students, I’m afraid that won’t be enough. Some parents just cannot risk their child being studied in that way.
And, because of all that; because I’m afraid parents won’t read the letter, or will forget to send it back to school, or won’t understand it all and not return the form for that reason, I plan on essentially bribing the students to bring the consent for back.
I suppose that technically I am simply compensating the students for their time and participation. When I say it like that, it doesn’t sound bad. I have participated in psychology experiments and was compensated for my time by receiving extra credit in my psychology classes or by being given money. It isn’t really any different for the students. They are participating in my study, so will be compensated by being given a really neat pencil, or some stickers, or a mini-notebook or something like that. And while there is nothing technically wrong with my compensating the children for their time, I am willfully taking advantage of the fact that by being told they will receive a small gift for participating, I am bribing them. These children don’t have things. They take pencils and crayons from the classroom because they don’t have any at home. They stash stuff in their desks because they want something that is their own. I know that by telling them they will get a gift for bringing the form back, they will pester their parents/guardians to sign the form and return it. I know this and am willingly using it for my own benefit. Because if I don’t get their consent, I can’t use any of the video that I take, since when I videotape, I am recording the whole class. If I don’t get the whole class to consent, I basically have no data.
So, on the day that I hand the c0nsent forms out to the students, I will show them what their gift would be for participating in my study. I will wave it in front of them so they can see what they’d get for bringing the form back. I will be showing them their compensation, their bribe, the only hope I have for actually being able to analyze and write about my research in the way I am hoping to be able to.
I suppose this is always a problem in educational research (or any research involving human participants). It will always be a problem for me if I ever (get over my fear of taking the GRE and) apply for and get accepted into grad school, and end up doing more educational research. Is there a difference between bribing people to participate, and compensating them for doing so? Is the difference in the way the compensation is presented to the participants? Is it in the probability that the participants would participate without compensation? Are compensation and bribery really the same thing?