Dental teaching institutions in South Africa recently implemented
“learner-centred” curricula and expected educators
to alter their teaching styles accordingly, but perhaps without
providing adequate training in this paedagogical philosophy.
At the same time, the lecturers were required to conduct
evidence-based research to evaluate the outcomes. Thus,
clinicians/lecturers also became researchers, using their
own students or student material for assessment purposes.
Previously, this form of educational research, which was
carried out in normal academic settings, was not subject to
review by Institutional Review Boards (IRB). However, concerns
have risen that learners may be a vulnerable population
due to their position in the academic institution, and the
power and knowledge differentials that exist between them
and the lecturer/researcher. This raises ethical concerns regarding
their autonomy and ability to provide free, voluntary,
informed consent to be research participants. This paper
questions whether educational research may lead to student
vulnerability, and proposes some recommendations for
educators and institutions involved in educational research.