New Classroom Research Guidelines
Projects are subject to review only if they meet the federal definition of research and are “designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” The PLU HPRB defines classroom research as “the study of living persons outside the classroom as part of an academic exercise with the goal of enhancing student learning rather than yielding generalizable knowledge.”
Classroom research is designed to provide students an opportunity to practice various research methods such as interview, observation and survey techniques, measurement of behavior (e.g., reaction time, speech, problem solving) as well as data analysis. For example, a student may interview a peer when the interview does not involve any sensitive, personal information.
Such projects should not put participants at more than minimal risk (minimal risks are those which are ordinarily encountered in daily life), and the data should be recorded anonymously by the students (i.e., with no names, social security numbers, or any other codes or demographic information that can be linked to a list of names).
Classroom research should be distinguished from collecting data from students within a classroom as part of a classroom exercise, which does not require HPRB review.
Classroom research should also be distinguished from capstone research, independent study, and other original research projects—whose results are intended to be generalizable and which may be presented or published. These projects all typically require HPRB review.
Classroom research can proceed without HPRB review UNLESS:
- The primary focus is interviews of or other direct interactions with children, prisoners, or other vulnerable populations granted special protection under the federal guidelines.
- The research involves deceiving participants about the researcher’s identity (e.g., researchers posing as participants) or intentions (e.g., misleading the participant about the true purpose of the study). Deception interferes with true informed consent and raises the risk that participants will feel (or be) mistreated. Thus, HPRB review provides extra precaution and protection.
- The research targets or invites the disclosure of information concerning the participant’s plan to harm themselves or others. Coming into possession of knowledge that an identifiable person plans to hurt or kill themselves or others raises complex ethical questions that requires careful planning and consultation.
- The instructor requires that students submit a class project to a professional meeting, professional journal, or otherwise disseminate it widely (e.g., on a publicly accessible website).
- The student intends to present at the Rae Linda Brown Undergraduate Research Symposium and wants an abstract to be accessible on the PLU website.
- The instructor thinks it likely that the data collected as part of a class project will contribute to a presentation at a professional meeting or a professional publication. In this case, the project should be submitted for review before it has begun. If an instructor or student later decides to submit a class project to a meeting, journal, etc., it must be reviewed by the HPRB before submission, with the risk that some aspect of the project will not be approved by the HPRB.
By foregoing HPRB review, faculty become responsible for:
- Thoroughly instructing their students about the current ethical standards of their field as applicable to the classroom research project(s).
- Ensuring that they and their students are up-to-date on the CITI Training (https://www.citiprogram.org/).
- Taking reasonable care to exclude federally defined “vulnerable” populations (especially minors) from classroom research.
- Seeking informed consent from participants (when appropriate) including clear statements about all anticipated personal and/or social risks of research participation and with sensitivity to the particular population under study.
- Determining whether HPRB review or consultation would be helpful. Forgoing HPRB review of classroom research removes a layer of protection for research participants, PLU, and the faculty member. Faculty are expected to use their best judgment in deciding whether to include HPRB in their classroom research planning.
It may be wise to seek HPRB consultation or review when classroom research:
- Addresses topics that may provoke strong emotions in research participants (e.g., personal trauma, stigmatized social identities, mental health symptoms, contentious political issues, microaggressions). Some participants may feel that their participation in research has caused them emotional injury beyond what they would have experienced without the research.
- Poses possible social risk to research participants (e.g., risk to reputation by revealing otherwise hidden views or stigmatized identities, disclosure of illegal activity). Some research procedures could produce lasting social harm to participants that would not have occurred without their research participation.