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Classroom-Based Research Projects

All activities meeting any one of the definitions of human subjects research and carried out at Northwestern University (NU) or under its auspices must be reviewed and approved by an NU IRB prior to the start of the activity. That said, the University also recognizes that some student projects conducted to fulfill course requirements involve activities that, in a different context, might meet the definition of human subjects research. It is the policy of the University to not require IRB review of classroom research projects, that are designed to teach students research methods except for the following: Doctoral dissertations; funded research; research conducted through collaborations external to NU, Master‘s theses, and honors theses. All of these must be reviewed and approved by the IRB before students may begin their research.

In the circumstance of a classroom assignment that would otherwise constitute human subjects research but which does not require IRB review because it is a classroom assignment, the individual faculty members and departments are responsible for overseeing the activities as defined below under faculty responsibilities. This means faculty and departments are responsible for ensuring that the students are adequately trained and that their planned research activities are designed with appropriate and adequate safeguards in place in order to ensure that the activities are within the scope of ethical conduct.

Guidelines For A Classroom-Based Research Project

In order to determine if classroom assignment based research does not require IRB approval the following conditions must be met:

  1. The risk level of the project is minimal (no more than would be encountered in routine daily activities).
  2. Unless a student is qualified to do so, there may be no studies that involve interaction with vulnerable subjects (e.g., pregnant women, children, prisoners, or individuals with impaired decision making). Observational study of protected vulnerable populations can be done with the appropriate protections in place.
  3. No identifiers are collected.
  4. The project is limited to surveys/questionnaires/interview procedures, observation of public behavior, or standard educational exercises directly related to the topic(s) being studied.
  5. Surveys/questionnaires/interviews, if used, may contain sensitive personal questions (e.g., questions about alcohol/drug use, sexual behavior/attitudes, criminal activity, medical history, grades/test scores) or other personal information only if surveys are completely anonymous.
  6. No Northwestern University faculty, staff or student is receiving monetary compensation or any type of support from an external company/organization/agency for collecting, analyzing or reporting the results of this project.
  7. The project is not conducted on VA premises and does not use VA resources, and is not otherwise subject to oversight by a federal regulatory body.
  8. Subjects are recruited in a voluntary manner.
  9. The data are not archived or saved in any way to be used in the future.

It is also understood that the end result of the research may be presented in the classroom to peers but may not be used for any publication or public presentation outside of the immediate classroom.

Faculty Responsibilities

Faculty who require students to do classroom based research projects assume responsibility for the conduct of those projects and assure that the guidelines outlined here are met and that research that falls outside of these criteria is submitted to the IRB for a regular review.

It is the responsibility of faculty to determine whether an assigned project involving humans can be classified as a course-related student project under the criteria above. Faculty should contact the IRB office for assistance if needed in making this determination. It is the responsibility of the NU faculty to discuss general principles of ethical conduct in research with the students prior to the initiation of the project.  In addition, the faculty member must ensure that all surveys/questionnaires/interviews are preceded by a disclosure of the following points to the respondent. If an information sheet or any recruitment materials are used, these points must be in that document:

  1. The student identifies him/herself as an NU student who is performing the activity to fulfill a course requirement, and the course is specifically identified.
  2. The name of the supervising faculty member to contact for questions is provided.
  3. The persons who have access to the individual data and/or summarized results are specified (e.g., instructor only, company/organization/agency).
  4. Respondents are informed that their participation is completely voluntary and confidential.

Care should be taken to protect the rights and welfare of the individuals who act as participants.  Standard research practices such as obtaining consent, ensuring confidentiality, responsible fieldwork, and giving participants a contact name should be employed.