Research in Higher Education Settings
Research in college and university classrooms is a common occurrence. However, particular care should be taken with regards to issues of undue influence, recruitment, and confidentiality. Some of the issues outlined below will be similar to research in K-12 educational settings. Additionally, as with K-12 students, FERPA restricts researchers’ access to college students’ individual records without written permission from students. However, if you are analyzing grades in aggregate, without individual identifiers, you do not need written permission from students.
Things to Consider When Formulating Your IRB Submission
When submitting a protocol for research in a college or university setting, the following information should be considered and addressed:
- Convenience is not enough of a reason to justify using college or university students as research subjects. There should be a compelling reason why this is the most appropriate population for your study.
- Researchers should avoid asking students in their own classes to participate in their research studies because of the potential for undue influence.
- When possible, somebody other than the instructor of the class should introduce the research study, and it should be clear to students that choosing to participate will have no impact on their performance in the class.
- Undue influence is difficult to avoid in a college or university classroom setting because of the power differentials between students and faculty. Clear procedures should be in place for handling students who are not participating in the study. Although students are generally obligated to participate in activity designed for the whole class, activities specifically implemented for research need to be clearly explained and alternatives be provided for those choosing not to participate. Appropriate alternatives should be provided for those who opt out, and must be described in the protocol as well as the consent form.
- Clearly describe the difference(s) between what would typically occur in class and what will occur related to the research (i.e., will all students be involved in the same activities or will there be individual students singled out within a classroom?);
- Describe how privacy and confidentiality will be maintained. Will course instructors know who has participated in the study (what risks might this pose for students)? What are the potential risks to participants given how data will be both managed and shared?
- When research activities are not part of the required class activities, the instructor should arrange to have the data collected by an independent third party, so that the instructor does not know who participated and does not have access to the identifiable data or identity of participants for any purpose until grades have been assigned and entered.
- To alleviate any sense of repercussion from participating in research, researchers should include a statement on the informed consent indicating that participation or non-participation will in no way effect a students’ standing in the course.
- Most college and university students are of the age of majority in their state, but some are not. If you will be including students who are considered minors in the state in which they reside, describe how you will obtain parental permission for these students.
- Researchers should not mandate that an entire class of students participate, unless implementation of the intervention is a part of the course curriculum and researchers are only seeking to collect de-identified data of previously outlined course activities.
- When course credit or extra credit is used as compensation, it is important to provide alternate means of earning course credit or extra credit for those students who choose not to participate in research.
- As research volunteers, it is important to ensure student participants be allowed to withdraw from the study at any time. Describe the way compensation will be allocated in the event of early withdrawal. For compensation in the form of extra credit, it may be necessary to provide full credit in a situation of early withdrawal.