Abstract: Digital child and youth research is often conducted in schools involving minors. Corresponding research designs raise two related sets of problems: Ethical issues with regard to working with vulnerable groups like children and adolescents and access to these groups. The latter pertains to the concept of gatekeeping which is an ethical issue in and of itself if certain groups or areas of research are systematically excluded from empirical research and, consequently, from the resulting benefits. Thus, our study examines how perceived ethical challenges influence gatekeepers’ decisions to grant or deny access to investigate a potentially problematic topic: pupils’ group communication. We addressed this research question empirically via semi-structured in-depth interviews with eight educational gatekeepers in Germany inquiring their attitudes on research in schools in general and on the specific topic of pupils’ group communication via instant messaging as an exemplar of digital child and youth research. Approaching the question from two perspectives (procedural ethics and ethics in practice), we identified hierarchical power structures within multiple levels of gatekeeping and revealed rationales to deny access based on ethical considerations with regard to the given scenario of pupils’ group communication.
Keywords: access; gatekeeping; group communication; instant messaging; personal learning environment; research ethics; researching minors; research in schools; teacher–pupil relationship