Research Ethics

Changes to the Informed Consent

Summary of Changes

  •  [New] "Key information" to be presented at the beginning of the consent form
  • If you are collecting private information or identifiable biospecimens for future research you must include one of the following statements:
    • Identifiers might be removed and the de-identified information or biospecimens used for future research without additional informed consent from the subject.
    • The subject’s information or biospecimens will not be used or distributed for future research studies even if identifiers are removed.
  • Additional Elements of Informed Consent 46.116(c) - Three New Requirements (when appropriate)
  1. Biospecimens: a statement that biospecimens (even if identifiers are removed) may be used for commercial profit and whether the subject will or will not share in this commercial profit.
  2.  Clinically relevant results: a statement about whether clinically relevant research results, including individual research results, will be disclosed to subjects and if so, under what conditions.
  3.  Whole genome sequencing:  a statement about whether the research project might include whole genome sequencing.

UMass IRB/HRPO has updated the consent templates available on our webpages to reflect these changes.

Studies approved BEFORE January 21, 2019

  • Impact on Researchers: NONE
  • The new consent requirements will NOT be applicable.

Studies approved ON or AFTER January 21, 2019

  • Impact on Researchers: MINIMAL
  • The new consent requirements WILL BE applicable to all studies.
  • UMass IRB/HRPO will provide guidance regarding new requirements for consent documents during the IRB protocol review process.
  • UMass IRB/HRPO has updated the consent templates available on our webpage to reflect these changes (


Changes to the Exempt Categories

Summary of Changes

  • [Revised] Exempt Category 2(iii) has now been expanded to allow collection of potentially sensitive or harmful identifiable private information from adults if an IRB conducts a limited review* and determines that there are adequate provisions for protecting privacy and maintaining confidentiality

*The revised Common Rule allows for the exemption of research collecting identifiable information with the potential to cause harm if disclosed, provided that the IRB has determined that “there are adequate provisions to protect the privacy of subjects and to maintain the confidentiality of data”. This new requirement is called a limited IRB review.

  • [New] Exempt Category 3 "Benign behavioral interventions*" such as solving puzzles or playing online games. Can also collect sensitive information with a limited IRB review

      *Benign behavioral interventions are defined as “brief in duration, harmless, painless, not physically invasive, not likely to have a significant adverse lasting impact on the subjects, and the investigator has no reason to think the subjects will find the interventions offensive or embarrassing”.  Excludes physiological data collection methods (e.g., EEG, wearable devices such as FitBitTM, accelerometers, eye-tracking devices, blood pressure monitors, etc.)

  • [Revised] Exempt Category 4 (medical record review) can now be prospective as well
  • [New] Exempt categories 7 & 8 include limited reviews and Broad Consent.

Studies approved PRIOR to January 21, 2019

  • Impact on Researchers: NONE
  • UMass IRB/HRPO will continue to review all exempt protocols.
    A determination of "exempt" means the proposed research activity meets one of the exemption criteria and thus is exempt from the federal regulations that govern the conduct of human subjects research, Common Rule (45 CFR 46). However, a research activity determined as "Exempt", must still be reviewed by the IRB and conducted in accordance with the ethical principles outlined in the Belmont Report: respect fro persons, beneficence, and justice. Researchers must also comply with all applicable state and local regulations.

Studies approved ON or AFTER January 21, 2019

  • Impact on Researchers: NONE
  • The UMass IRB/HRPO will evaluate each submission and manually assign the applicable Exempt categories per the revised Common Rule. Meanwhile, the researchers should continue to select from the pre-2019 Exempt categories as listed in Kuali.


Please do NOT submit revisions to protocols reviewed under the "Expedited" categories to change the review category to "Exempt".

UMass IRB/HRPO reviews all exempt protocols and thus a review category re-assignment will not make any difference to the IRB protocol review process.

At this time UMass Amherst will not implement new Exempt categories 7 & 8 due to a possible increase in researcher's burden to track and store broad consents. This may change after additional guidance is provided by OHRP.



Changes to the Continuing Review Procedures

Summary of Changes

Continuing review is no longer required for some minimal risk research such as Exempt and Expedited studies that were approved on or after January 21, 2019 unless the IRB explicitly justifies for each study why continuing review would enhance protection of research subjects.

Continuing Review Procedure Changes – Impact on Researchers


  • Impact on Researchers: NONE
  • Continuing Review/Renewal -STILL REQUIRED (NO CHANGE)
  • Important: Continuing Review requirements for Full Board Protocols remain unchanged.


Studies approved PRIOR to January 21, 2019

  • Impact on Researchers: NONE
  • Continuing Review/Renewal -STILL REQUIRED (NO CHANGE)
  • Studies will continue to require submission of a renewal form annually until the study is completed at which time a final report form must be filed.

Studies approved ON or AFTER January 21, 2019

  • Impact on Researchers: MINIMAL
  • Continuing Review/Renewal - NOT REQUIRED (CHANGED)
  • Continuing review will no longer be required as a general practice unless the IRB reviewer explicitly justifies why continuing review would enhance protection of human research subjects. Your IRB approval letter will indicate the designation as requiring or not requiring a continuing review/renewal.

NOTE: UMASS/HRPO may re-evaluate its decision of not requiring continuing review/renewal for a particular study that was approved ON or AFTER January 21, 2019 based on changes proposed in a revision that increase the risk(s) to subjects, or as an outcome of the IRB's review of unanticipated problems/adverse events/research-related complaints.

UMASS/IRB/HRPO will notify the research if there is any change in the designation.

The following research team responsibilities remain unchanged (for both Exempt and Expedited Protocols)

  1. Complete a final report form when all participants have completed all research-related interventions AND you are only doing data analysis of de-identified data.

  2. Submit a revision in the following instances prior to implementation (unless to eliminate an apparent immediate hazard to subjects):

    • Enrollment of additional participants beyond the number approved

    • Any changes to study design/methodology, questionnaires, etc.

    • Any changes to study personnel

    • Any changes to consent procedures/documents

    • Any changes to recruitment procedures/materials

  3. Report the following to the IRB:

    • Unanticipated problems

    • Adverse Events

    • Research-related complaints

    • Protocol deviations/violations




New and Revised Definitions

Revised Human Subjects Definition

The definition of “human subject” has been changed to include “identifiable biospecimens” based upon how data and/or biospecimens have been collected or will be used.

Human subject means a living individual about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research: (i) Obtains information or biospecimens through intervention or interaction with the individual, and uses, studies, or analyzes the information or biospecimens; or (ii) Obtains, uses, studies, analyzes, or generates identifiable private information or identifiable biospecimens. (45 CFR 46.102(e) of the revised Common Rule)

Removal of four categories of activities from the definition of human subject research

The following activities are NOT considered to be human subject research:

  1. Scholarly and journalistic activities that focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the info is collected: (e.g., oral history, journalism, biography, legal criticism, legal research, and historical scholarship)

  2. Public health surveillance activities limited to those conducted, supported, requested, ordered, required, or authorized by a public health authority for public health importance (includes “timely situational awareness”)

  3. Criminal justice or criminal investigational purposes

  4. Authorized activities in support of intelligence, homeland security, defense, or other national security missions.

Addition of the definition of clinical trial

“Clinical trial” means a research study in which one or more human subjects are prospectively assigned to one or more interventions (which may include placebo or other control) to evaluate the effects of the interventions on biomedical or behavioral health-related outcomes. (45 CFR 46.102(e) of the revised Common Rule).

Impact on Researchers: MINIMAL
UMASS IRB/HRPO has updated the guidance and forms to include the revised definition.





Ethnographic Research at UMass Amherst

(adapted with gratitude from the University of Connecticut)

Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic research does not always fit neatly into the confines of an IRB application due to its unique characteristics. However, ethnographic research still requires IRB review under the federal regulations, in order to ensure that participants are treated ethically.

The IRB recognizes that ethnographic research has the following special characteristics (Arwood, T., and McGough, H., 2007 PRIM&R SBER Conference):

  • It is experiential
  • It is interactive
  • It is not easily bounded by time and place
  • It is often exploratory
  • It morphs easily and often (new questions emerge during research)
  • The boundaries between normal activities and communication and data collection are blurred

This document is intended as a guide for ethnographic researchers to navigate our Kuai Protocol application form.

Study Procedures

In this section, please provide an overview of how you will go about conducting your ethnography. We recognize that research plans are flexible and may change once you are in the field, but in general, please describe:

  • The kinds of methods, in addition to ethnography, that you will be using in the field (e.g. participant observation, interviews, focus groups, etc.)
  • What will be observed (individual behaviors, community practices, societal norms, etc.) to help the IRB get a sense of what will be analyzed about the participants.
  • How you will decide who to focus on in the community (what criteria you will use to determine the number and demographics of participants, how you will determine when data collection is complete, etc.)
  • Describe where the research will be conducted, and why this setting was chosen. If you have conducted research at this site or with this population previously, briefly describe this.
  • Describe whether local governmental or community permission is required to conduct research at this site – if so, please describe how you will obtain this permission. If there is formal documentation of the permission, please attach it to the attachments section of Kuali.
  • Some countries, and some communities, have their own ethical review requirements, or their own IRBs. Additionally, many countries have the expectation that foreign scholars will collaborate with local scholars and institutions. Explain whether this applies to your research, and if local IRB or other types of ethical review board approval will be obtained.

Subject Population

We recognize that it is not always possible to know ahead of time which or how many people will be involved in the research. In this section, please describe your anticipated participant population to the best of your ability. Specifically:

  • Describe the kinds of people who will be involved in the research – if there are different groups or categories of people, describe the groups and the approximate number of participants anticipated to be enrolled in each group.
  • If the exact number of people to be enrolled are unknown, provide a range.
    • If you find that you are going to exceed this estimate once you’re in the field, please submit a revision to your protocol. These are processed quickly.
  • With regard to “recruitment”, please explain how you’ll introduce yourself as a researcher to potential participants. If you already know the participants, please explain the circumstances. If you’ll be introducing yourself to a group or a community, or if there are culturally specific norms to obtaining consent, please detail this here.


The American Anthropological Association describes that, “unlike experiments and trials in clinical settings, which have clear beginnings and endings, ethnographic research generally is ongoing, at times sporadic, and takes place in dynamic, natural settings, often where participants are able to decline to participate at any point in the process. Just as in daily life, in these natural settings of research there may be a high probability of risk, but the magnitude of such harm, like uncertainty, mild embarrassment or boredom, is usually low” (

The major risks of harm in an ethnographic research project usually involve the risk of invasion of privacy, stigmatization, or breach of confidentiality. When describing risks to participants in an ethnographic setting, please consider the following:

  • Identify the risks of harm that may result from this research. Harm may happen to individuals, or to the groups or communities to which they belong. Examples include:
    • Physical risk – This is usually not a risk in ethnographic research, but could be a risk if you are asking participants to engage in a physical activity, such as a walking tour
    • Psychological risk – Participants may experience stress, discomfort, embarrassment, guilt, etc. when thinking and talking about experiences and opinions about particular topics.
    • Social risk – Participants may encounter stigma or condemnation by their peers. There may be a social risk to the entire community or group.
    • Economic risk – This is not usually a risk in ethnographic research, unless your study takes participants away from profitable activity.
  • Describe the steps you will take to minimize the risks of harm. If harm occurs, what plans to you have to manage it?
  • The potential social risks, particularly in the event of a breach of confidentiality (e.g. disruption of family and personal relationships, embarrassment, uncertainty, discomfort)
  • In politically volatile regions, consider the potential risks to participants of being involved in the research project, and the steps that you will take to protect them.
  • If there are different risks of harm for different groups of participants, please describe the risks for each group. Often this cannot be known in advance of entering the field; if you find once you arrive in the field that the original risks you have indicated are inaccurate, or that new risks have emerged, please inform us as soon as possible by submitting a revision to your protocol.


  • If participants will not directly benefit from participation in the research, please state this.
  • Describe any direct benefits that participants will receive from participation in the research. Please note that compensation is not considered a benefit of participation.
  • You may also state the anticipated benefits of the research for the community you will study, for your field, or for society in general.

Attribution and Confidentiality

While the IRB generally strives to protect the confidentiality of research participants’ data, this is not always the goal in ethnographic research. Sometimes participants desire attribution for their words and ideas. When filling out your Kuali application, please address the following:

  • Describe how you will ascertain how the people in this setting feel about the fact that you will write articles about them. Will you consult with the people from whom you collected data before you publish? Will you allow them to read over your work and provide input on whether they feel they are represented accurately?
  • Sometimes, even with pseudonyms, it may be possible to reidentify participants based on contextual factors. If this is the case, due to the location or characteristics of the group you are studying, be sure to disclose this possibility fully in the informed consent.
  • If some of the participants in your research would prefer to have attribution in subsequent publications, explain how you will provide this option to them, and how this may affect those who do not desire attribution with regard to limits of confidentiality.
  • Are any portions of the research material you may collect not publicly available and expected by community standards to be private? If so, please describe which materials are private, and explain:
    • How you will store the private information or materials – both while you are in the field and after you leave the field – so that the confidentiality of the data is protected
    • Whether you will retain information that could lead to identification of the research site and explain any negative consequences this could have
    • If you will record any direct participant identifiers (names, contact information) that could be linked to the private research material.
  • If you will record identifiers, please explain why and describe how you will protect against disclosure of this information, or explain why it is not necessary. If you will retain identifiers linked to data, explain:
    • How long identifiers will be kept
    • How confidentiality will be maintained during this period
    • Who will have access to the data (sponsors, advisors, government agencies, etc.)
    • In each case, explain whether they will have access to study data with identifiers or only to coded data with no access to the identifying study code. If identifiers will be maintained indefinitely, explain why (e.g. you intend to recontact participants or communicate with them over a long period of time, the data is identifiable by nature, etc.)
    • How you will protect the data from a breach of confidentiality
  • If you will retain data that may place participants at risk for criminal or civil liability or be damaging to their financial standing, employability, or reputation, please explain. It may be advisable to obtain a federal Certificate of Confidentiality in this case.

Consent Process in Ethnographies

The three key components of informed consent for any research project are communication of information, comprehension of information, and voluntary participation. Since ethnographies often span years and involve ever-evolving relationships, informed consent often becomes more of a long-term process than a one-time event. As such, please consider and describe the following as you write your protocol:

  • How will you inform people about your research and obtain their consent to participate? If you are introducing yourself to a group, and asking permission to observe them / record field notes, describe how you will allow people in the group to decline to participate.
  • Please let us know of any culturally specific considerations to the consent process (e.g. if it is inappropriate to obtain a signature and it would be better to get “verbal” consent, if it is appropriate in a community to obtain permission from a group of elders before approaching individuals in the group, etc.) and how you will incorporate these considerations into your consent process
  • In the case of a long-term or multi-stage project, consider how you will you work to continually obtain consent from participants – in particular, how you might provide opportunities for people to withdraw from the project entirely, or withdraw particular conversations or interactions from being included as data

Please note that if obtaining a signature on an informed consent document is not appropriate for your participant population (e.g. if participants are not literate, if signing documents is viewed with distrust, etc.), the regulations do provide the option to waive the signature requirement and instead obtain consent verbally. If this is the case for your research, select “alteration” from the informed consent section of Kuali, and answer the questions that follow. If you have questions about the best way to obtain informed consent from your participant population, please feel free to call our office to discuss the particulars of your project.

We understand that the typical informed consent template may not be appropriate for ethnographies, and encourage researchers to craft the consent document to fit the needs of the community (e.g. a letter, an oral script, etc.) The consent process is flexible, but generally must include a communication of the following elements:

  • Statement that the project involves research
  • Explanation of why you are conducting the research
  • Expected duration of participation (if relevant, you can mention that there are different phases to the research project, and that participants will be re-consented during subsequent phases)
  • What participants will be asked to do
  • A description of any risks or potential benefits to participants or others
  • A discussion of confidentiality or attribution
  • Explanation of compensation, if any
  • Explanation that participation is voluntary, and participants may discontinue involvement at any time
  • An explanation of whom to contact for answers to pertinent questions about the research and research subjects' rights, and whom to contact in the event of a research-related injury to the subject

If your informed consent document or information sheet needs to be translated into another language, please attach a translated copy to the informed consent section of the protocol once all rounds of comments are complete and the document is finalized.

Assent Process in Ethnographies

If you will be collecting data on children as part of your ethnography, please describe the assent process that you will use to make sure that the children wish to participate. Please also describe how you will obtain parental permission. Please inform us of any cultural considerations with regard to parental permission (e.g. who is the most appropriate person to provide permission for a minor to participate in the research? What is the age of majority in the location where you are conducting research?)

Audio/Photo/Video Use

Some ethnographies involve audio recording participants (during interviews, focus groups, etc.) or taking photo or video images of people.

Our general guidance on audio/visual data collection is available here:

However, there are a few additional considerations when these methods are used as part of an ethnography:

  • Is the consent process for the use of this data continuous? A participant may consent to being audio recorded initially, but later change their mind – is there a mechanism for this?
  • If you are photographing or video recording community events, how will you ensure that only those people who agree to being photographed or video recorded are included in the pictures/footage?
  • If data collection persists over several years, is there a way to check back in with participants to see whether they have changed their mind about the use of their images or video recording?

Ethnographic Interviews

We recognize that ethnographic interviews almost always involve conversation and improvisation. As best you can, please provide us with a rough outline of the kinds of questions that you will be asking of participants. This does not need to be a comprehensive interview schedule, but rather a list of the themes you hope to address, and a representative sampling of the kinds of questions that you will ask. This can be included in the attachments section of Kuali. If you find, once you are in the field, that the focus of your research project has changed and you are asking new questions about different themes, please submit a revision to your protocol.


More information:


Note: If your study/research is funded by NIH please refer to NIH Revision to the Policy on Certificates of Confidentiality.


What is a Certificate of Confidentiality?

Certificates of Confidentiality (CoCs) are issued by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to help researchers protect identifiable research information from forced disclosures such as court orders and subpoenas. They allow researchers to refuse to disclose identifying characteristics about research participants in any civil, criminal, administrative, legislative, or other proceeding, whether at the federal, state, or local level.

Eligibility for Certificates of Confidentiality

Certificates of Confidentiality are issued for studies collecting sensitive information which, if disclosed, “could have adverse consequences for subjects or damage their financial standing, employability, insurability, or reputation.”[i]

In order to be eligible for a Certificate of Confidentiality, the research must collect personally identifiable, sensitive information, and have been approved by the UMass-Amherst IRB. The subject matter of the study must fall within a mission area of the NIH. Some research areas that are eligible for a CoC include:

  • Research on HIV, AIDS, or other STDs;
  • Studies that collect information on sexual attitudes;
  • Studies on the use of alcohol, drugs, or other addictive products;
  • Studies that collect information on illegal conduct;
  • Studies that gather information that if released could be damaging to a participant’s financial standing, employability, or reputation within the community;
  • Research involving information that might lead to social stigmatization or discrimination if it were disclosed;
  • Research on participants’ psychological well-being or mental health;
  • Genetic studies, including those that collect and store biological samples for future use;
  • Research on behavioral interventions and epidemiological studies.

Research does not have to be funded in order to be eligible for a Certificate of Confidentiality.

What a Certificate of Confidentiality Does Not Protect Against

Personally identifiable information protected by a CoC may be disclosed under the following circumstances:

  • Voluntary disclosure of information by study participants themselves or any disclosure that the study participant has consented to in writing, such as to insurers, employers, or other third parties;
  • Voluntary disclosure by the researcher of information on such things as child abuse, reportable communicable diseases, possible threat to self or others, or voluntary disclosures provided that such disclosures are spelled out in the informed consent document;
  • Voluntary compliance by the researcher with reporting requirements of state laws, such as knowledge of communicable diseases, provided such intention to report is specified in the informed consent document; or
  • Release of information by researchers to DHHS as required for program evaluation or audits of research records or to the FDA as required under the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.)

How do I apply for a Certificate of Confidentiality?

The NIH recommends that researchers apply for a Certificate of Confidentiality “at least 3 months prior to the date on which enrollment of research subjects is expected to begin.”[ii] Since applications must have already been approved by the UMass-Amherst IRB before you apply for the CoC, we recommend applying far in advance of the anticipated research date.

You can apply for a Certificate of Confidentiality online at the NIH Certificates of Confidentiality Kiosk website:

Consent Form Language

Researchers must tell their participants about the protections afforded by the Certificate of Confidentiality, and about any exceptions to these protections. For example, if there are any circumstances in which the researchers plan to voluntarily disclose identifying information about research participants (e.g. child abuse, harm to self or others, etc), this must be explicitly included on the informed consent form.

The NIH recommends the following language be added to informed consent documents:

“To help us protect you and the information we will be collecting from you, this study has been given a Certificate of Confidentiality by [identify provider of certificate].  This Certificate means that the researchers cannot be forced, even by a court subpoena, in any federal, state, or local civil, criminal, administrative, legislative, or other proceedings, to disclose any information that may identify you.  The researchers will use the Certificate to resist any demands of information that would identify you, except as explained below.” 

“The Certificate cannot be used to resist a request for information from United States government employees if the request is for auditing or evaluation of federally funded projects[include the following statement only if FDA regulated research: or for information that must be disclosed to meet the requirements of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

“The Certificate does not stop you or a member of our family from voluntarily disclosing to any person information about yourself or your involvement in the study.  If you give your written consent to release study information to an insurer, employer or other person, the Certificate cannot be used to withhold this information.” 

If applicable:
“If any study information is placed into your medical records, the Certificate does not protect that study information.”

If applicable:
“If the researchers become aware of possible child abuse or elder abuse, or that you may cause serious harm to yourself or others, the researchers may report this to the appropriate authorities without your consent.” 

If applicable:
“If the research shows that you have a reportable communicable disease (for example, tuberculosis [TB] or HIV/AIDS), the researchers may report this to state and/or federal public health authorities without your consent.”    

UMass Amherst IRB Review and Certificates of Confidentiality

Please note on your IRB application that you are applying for a Certificate of Confidentiality. Approval of the application will be contingent on receipt of the Certificate of Confidentiality.

UMass-Amherst researchers must submit a copy of their Certificate of Confidentiality to the UMass-Amherst IRB within ten (10) working days of receipt.

UMass Amherst Institutional Official Signature

The NIH requires that both the Principal Investigator and the UMass-Amherst Institutional Official sign the assurances requested in the application for a Certificate of Confidentiality.

In order to obtain a signature from the UMass-Amherst Institutional Official, please forward your completed application to:

  • Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, Compliance and Research Support Services, Jennifer A. Donais

Phone: (413) 545-5896

Address: 101 University Drive Suite C5, Amherst MA 01002

More Information on Certificates of Confidentiality

Additional Research on Certificates of Confidentiality:

Check et. al 2014. “Certificates of confidentiality and informed consent: perspectives of IRB chairs and institutional legal counsel,” IRB Ethics and Human Research 36(1):1-8.

Wolf et. al 2012. “Certificates of Confidentiality: Legal Counsels’ Experiences with and Perspectives on Legal Demands for Research Data,” Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics 7(4): 1-9.

Wolf et. al 2013. “Certificates of Confidentiality: Protecting Human Subject Research Data in Law and Practice,” Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology 14(1): 11-87.


[ii] Ibid.


Education Research Settings

Research in educational settings is an important area of study as it has the potential to improve learning for students and advance pedagogical knowledge.  Federal Regulations pertaining to research in educational settings and research with children, outline specific guidelines and policies that must be in place in order to protect participants.  What follows below is information to determine whether a study is exempt. If you have any questions about whether a study is exempt, please contact the HRPO at 413-545-3428.

There is guidance specific to Research in K-12 Settings and Research in Higher Education Settings as well.

1. Is Education Research eligible for Exempt Review?

Federal regulations allow specific categories of human subjects research to be exempt from continuing IRB review (45 CFR 46.101(b)). Category 1 applies to research conducted in schools and other education settings:

Category 1: Research conducted in established or commonly accepted educational settings, involving normal educational practices, such as:

i. research on regular and special education instructional strategies, or

ii. research on the effectiveness of or the comparison among instructional techniques, , or classroom management methods.

Please note that survey research involving children is not exempt, nor is observation of a minor’s public behavior unless the investigator does not participate in the activities being observed.

Research exempted as normal educational practice is often conducted in public school settings which may demand that specific steps be followed in order to comply with additional state and federal laws. Although the definition in the regulations is fairly straightforward, it can create a conflict with other regulations that the IRB is obligated to follow, such as Subpart D of 45 CFR 46 (link is external), FERPA (link is external) (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), and PPRA (link is external) (Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment). Subpart D specifically deals with children as a vulnerable population and most protocols that qualify for normal educational practice deal with children. If the IRB determines that a research study does not qualify for exempt status, then the extra protections for minors under Subpart D apply. Additionally, FERPA restricts researchers’ access to student records without written permission from parents. However, within FERPA [20 U.S.C. 1232g(b)(1)(F)], there are conditions under which student records can be disclosed without parental consent: “Organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school”. Investigators must contact each institution and follow that institution’s FERPA policy, in addition to the requirements of UMass IRB. Finally, PPRA outlines 8 categories of protected information for survey responses (for more information on FERPA and PPRA, see related links).


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.


Document File: 


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