Data Gathering Activities Within Courses

Following FAQs provide possible ways that course instructors and students may involve in data collection activities in courses either as participants or researchers.  

Does my course activity constitute research?

Research is defined for IRB purposes as activities intended to contribute to "generalizeable knowledge". The criterion that triggers the need for IRB approval in the course setting is whether the project is designed as research (to contribute to "generalizable knowledge") or whether it is designed strictly as a learning exercise with results that are not used outside the course setting. Research with human study participants requires IRB approval, whereas course exercises do not.

Two very important points:

1.      The intent to publish or otherwise publicly disseminate the results outside the course automatically establishes both the intent to contribute to generalizable knowledge and the need for IRB approval prior to beginning to collect data.

2.      The IRB is not able under any circumstances to approve research retroactively.


I am considering assigning students a research project in which they will collect data from paritipants and share the results at a conference. Do I need IRB approval for these projects? 

Yes. If you are planning to bring the data or results from research activities to off-campus entities, you must obtain IRB approval prior to approaching potential participants. Each research project must have IRB approval. Some of these projects may qualify as exempt studies. Please see the exempt study criteria. 


How do I obtain IRB approval for my students to conduct research and share results with the campus community? 

Instructors who wish to provide students with the opportunity to share the results of the data gathering activities within courses with the campus community are required to meet the following requirements:

  • Complete the CITI training (Social and Behavioral Research Module, Basic Refresher or other module appropriate for the type of study in the field).

  • Attend a workshop sponsored by the IRB and be listed as an IRB certified research personnel. It is one-time attendance, and the workshop serves the following purposes:

    • Make an appropriate decision for each student project, whether it needs IRB review or not. Consult IRB if there are any questions about whether course exemption criteria are met.

    • Acknowledge and accept the responsibility for protecting the rights and welfare of human participants by signing the agreement to be research personnel on the IRB protocol.

    • When there are substantive changes in the regulatory requirements governing research activities with human participants, the IRB may require the certified research personnel to retake the training refresher.

  • Stay informed about the ethical standards and regulatory requirements governing research activities with human participants.

  • Make adequate time to consult with the students on their research activities to ensure compliance with the internal IRB policies, regulations and state law.

  • Notify the IRB of unanticipated inadvertent or adverse effects within 10 days of learning them.


Once I complete the workshop and become the IRB certified research personnel, can I let my students collect data from any participants and share with the campus community without IRB approval?

Research activities within a course may be shared with the campus community without the IRB review if ALL of the following Course Exemption Criteria are met.

  • The data or the results of analysis are NOT disseminated outside of the campus. For example, publishing in ProQuest is considered outside of campus.

  • The study is conducted anonymously, and the reporting of the data maintains the confidentiality of direct and indirect personal identifiers (i.e., anonymity in reporting the data).

  • The study does not involve children, prisoners, or institutionalized persons.

  • The study does not purposively collect data the following vulnerable populations:

    • Pregnant women

    • Individuals with terminal illness, cognitive impairments, or mental or physical disabilities  

  • The data collection site does not require IRB approval.

  • The study does not trigger emotional or physical distress (see IRB application form for the complete list of examples), such as

    • Any probing for personal or sensitive information in surveys or interviews, which might be experienced as an invasion of privacy (such as self-disclosure of personal information)

    • Presenting materials to participants that they might consider sensitive, offensive, threatening, or degrading

    • Distress resulting from the topic of the study (such as surviving political violence or natural disaster)

    • Deception (lying to the participants—includes both withholding and misinforming)


I think I might want to incorporate my course activity into my future research/scholarship. What should I do?

Faculty often wish to incorporate the data or results from many types of course activities into their scholarship. They may want to present the data at conferences or apply for grant funding using the results as pilot data. Often, conference sponsors or funding agencies require evidence of IRB approval, which is why we advise faculty to seek IRB approval for any course activity that they may at some future time decide to consider to be research. Classifying a course activity as outside the definition of research and deciding not to seek IRB review/approval precludes any future use of the gathered data outside of the course.


Do I need to obtain IRB approval for student learning assessment activities in my courses?

If the data or results from assessment projects are shared only within the department/program or the College for the program review purposes, there is not need for IRB approval. However, if faculty or staff wants to present the data or results from the assessment projects outside of the campus community, they need to obtain IRB approval prior to collecting data (e.g., student work or artifacts). 


What if my outside/community partner wants to use the data we collect in the course?

Working with an outside/community partner can add complexity, because the ways in which the outside/community partner intends to use the data collected can also factor into your decision about the need to seek IRB approval. Some outside/community partners have exceptions to IRB review for internal studies such as program reviews or needs assessments. However, your students gathering data for the partner may not be covered under that exception. It is wise to have a frank discussion with your outside/community partner about the various possible uses of the data collected before beginning your study, as IRB approval cannot be obtained retroactively.


What if I want to do research on the students in my course?

Your students are considered a potentially vulnerable population. Collecting data for the purposes of your own research or scholarship is subject to IRB review. Research with your own students as participants does not meet the criteria for exemption per SMC policy (see the section on exempt research). You will need to submit a full application for approval to do research on your own students. However, collecting data for the sole purpose of improving your own teaching or as part of a formal program review is not considered research (see the definition of research above). If you intend to use data for multiple purposes that include research/scholarship, seek IRB approval prior to collecting the data. Data collected as part of an activity not defined as research and without IRB review/approval cannot be used as research data in the future.