Contributors are people who have been invited to appear in your course materials. As well as the educators, this might include experts that you have interviewed, people who have been subjects of case studies, and other guests.
Duty of care
Appearing in a FutureLearn course isn’t quite the same as appearing on TV or in a newspaper – but it still means a degree of public exposure. It’s important to make sure that all your contributors are aware of this.
FutureLearn courses also differ in that learners can offer their feedback directly on the step. Sometimes this can be extremely flattering, and at other times it can be less complimentary.
Making personal attacks on contributors is against FutureLearn’s Code of Conduct, but other comments might still be taken personally, particularly if they are critical of, or disagree with, a contributor.
Advice for any contributor
Whoever your contributor is, you should:
- Check with the contributor that they have been fully briefed about what the course is and how they will be featured in it.
- Agree on what level of involvement they will have beyond appearing in the course materials: will they be involved in promotion, and will they be reading or participating in comments?
- Give them a Contributor Care form [docx] [pdf] that tells them how to get in touch if they have concerns in the future.
Please make sure that any contributor who has agreed to post comments has read the FutureLearn Code of Conduct.
Advice for different types of contributor
This is based on the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines for Recruited Participants.
The Straightforward Contributor
This is someone whose contribution is not of a sensitive or controversial nature, or they play only a minor role – for example as a quick talking head.
When inviting these contributors you should them give a brief explanation of what the course is about, how learners will use it, and when it will be made public. You might also want to make clear that you can’t guarantee that they will end up in the final course.
You should also explain that they may feature in promotional materials for the course (e.g. trailer).
The Collaborative Contributor
This is someone who is more central to the course and involved in a collaborative fashion.
This would be most educators, including guest educators who might appear once a week, through to mentors who might not even appear on camera, or a member of the public who has agreed to be a case study that runs through the narrative of the course.
Gaining consent will sometimes be a result of a dialogue over time, allowing a relationship to be built between project team and participant. It’s sensible to keep a record of any discussions and to follow up verbal information or assurances with an email or handout.
In addition to giving the basic information outlined for “straightforward contributors”, it may be appropriate to raise the following issues with collaborative contributors:
- The likely time commitment, impact on their daily lives and the production team’s expectations of filming activities and access (where applicable).
- The final content will be a fair and truthful representation of what they say and do.
- The need for the contributor to consider the impact of taking part, once the course is live, for themselves and their families.
Some contributors enjoy the exposure that appearing in a course can bring, for example attracting followers on social media. However, it’s a good idea for any collaborative contributor to review their social media privacy settings to make sure they’re happy with what they are making public.
They should also be aware that learners may try to contact them, via social media, publicly available email addresses, or other public information (such as place of employment).
The Vulnerable Contributor
Some contributors may have special needs to take into consideration, for example children, older people, those with mental illness, learning disabilities or other cognitive impairment (such as sickness or other physical or emotional conditions impairing the ability to think clearly).
Other contributors may become vulnerable by revealing distressing or intimate information, such as their medical condition. These contributors need all the information given to collaborative contributors, but as part of the consent procedure you should also:
- Consider if the person has the capacity to give full consent.
- Discuss potential consequences in detail, keeping a record of conversations.
- Assume more responsibility for the contributor’s welfare, as affected by taking part; that may include offering help and reassurance up to the point of the course starting and beyond.
- Consider including family or friends in any discussions.
- Engage professional expert opinion, where appropriate.
Some formats can involve contributors displaying their personalities and emotions through their thoughts and actions. This may leave them open to gossip or even the scrutiny of their character and behaviour in the comments of the course.
Such contributors may be psychologically vulnerable. When recruiting these contributors it may be necessary to have them assessed to ensure they are sufficiently psychologically robust to cope with the experience.