Research Guidelines

Privacy & Research Guidelines

DML Commons is a distributed, open, collaborative course aimed at the junior scholars and early career faculty of the Digital Media and Learning (DML) community. Many of our participants are also researchers, and may look to the DML Commons community as a source of research insight and material.

To that end, we’d like to address a few questions you may have:

What about privacy?

What does “public” and “in the open” mean?

What will you do with my data?

What about privacy?

Participants who are worried about maintaining their privacy are encouraged to use a pseudonym to participate. We will never require you to post a picture of yourself or use your real name.

What does public and “in the open” mean?

Online communication, such as tweets, blog posts, and comments are generally out in the open and technically “public” and available for researchers to analyze and quote. Internet researchers have, however, documented how a particular communication may be technically public, but viewed by the individual who posted it as meant for a more limited or private context. Even if an individual feels that they have “published” in public or have consented to be part of research, they might still feel like trust has been violated if their words are taken up and re-framed in a way that they feel is out of context or misrepresented.

In the context of an open online setting that advocates for shared purpose and community values, we believe it is incumbent on researchers to uphold community norms and expectations, even if it results in a higher burden of consent than might technically be required by most ethics review boards. In a climate where “big data” and “public online data” is increasingly easy to come by, it becomes even more imperative that researchers resist the temptation to conduct “drive-by” research that is disconnected from the goals and values of the community.

In order to model research that is community and context aware, researchers interested in studying DML Commons are encouraged to participate actively in the community and share their plans and progress in the forum. We expect any researcher conducting research on DML Commons to make their best effort to contact course facilitators and disclose the nature of their research to the community through these and other channels. We strongly advocate for research that not only advances theory and knowledge, but also enriches the community being researched.

What may happen with my data?

Public posts on social networks:

This includes Public posts, comments, and artifacts shared on sites, apps, and platforms such as Twitter, blogs, and forum posts:

  • Researchers can analyze and publish data that is de-identified or aggregated in ways that cannot be traced back to an individual.
  • Any identifiable quotes or descriptions of activities should not be used in a research publication or presentation without the permission of the individual. This includes anonymized or pseudonymized quotes, because they can be linked back through a search engine to an individual public posting.

Interviews and Surveys:

Participants in DML Commons may be contacted and recruited to participate in surveys and interviews for specific research studies. In these cases, it will be incumbent upon the researcher to offer a clear explanation of the consent and privacy procedures, how the data will be used, and what benefit the research will provide to the individual and the DML Commons community, as approved by their respective Human Subjects review boards. The researcher should also consider offering interviewees the opportunity to review transcripts and quotes.


Should you have any questions about these research guidelines or would like to opt out of having your information included in any research, please contact:

Matthew H. Rafalow
Department of Sociology
University of California, Irvine
315-399-2283 /


If you are unable to reach this researcher, please contact UCI’s Office of Research by phone, (949) 824-6662, by e-mail at or at 5171 California Avenue, Suite 150, Irvine, CA 92617.