Original Research

The elephant in the room: Tensions between normative research and an ethics of care for digital storytelling in higher education

Daniela Gachago, Candice Livingston
Reading & Writing | Vol 11, No 1 | a242 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/rw.v11i1.242 | © 2020 Daniela Gachago, Candice Livingston | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 April 2019 | Published: 14 May 2020

About the author(s)

Daniela Gachago, Centre for Innovative Educational Technology, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town, South Africa
Candice Livingston, Faculty of Education, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town, South Africa


Background: Digital storytelling (DST) has been embraced in classrooms around the world as a way to unpack issues of identity and positionality which are critical for any pedagogy concerned with social justice. However, adopting this process-orientated practice into higher education raises ethical concerns especially in relation to the normative approach to traditional research.

Objectives: The objective of this article was to explore the ethical concerns surrounding DST when used as a pedagogy and to determine if an ‘ethics of care’ approach could help to mitigate the ethical dilemmas experienced by teachers and researchers alike.

Method: A single case study, narratives, illustrations and reflections from a final-year arts education project were used to explore some of the ethical issues we encountered when employing DST as a pedagogy and in educational research.

Results: The results of this reflection show that special attention needs to be paid to the following issues: the collection and interpretation of data, how anonymity and confidentiality are ensured in DST, who owns the stories, how sampling is conducted and how consent is sought and, finally, how the tenant of ‘do no harm’ is adhered to in DST.

Conclusion: We argue that traditional deontological approaches to ethics are not able to fully respond to the complex, nuanced and ongoing concerns posed by DST projects. We adopt Joan Tronto’s Ethic of Care to argue that ethical practice cannot be contained in codes of conduct alone and cannot simply be signed off on by institutional review boards, but is rather a matter of a daily personal, professional and political caring practice.


Digital storytelling; Ethics; Ethics of care; Teacher education; Teaching with technology.


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