Guidance on the Studying of Students in a Course

When making adjustments to a class, professors often wish to study the learning outcomes of their own students. This is both admirable and a hallmark of sound pedagogy. For the most part, these activities are considered to be exempt from IRB oversight (note that it is the IRB that must determine “Exempt” status).  That said, a pillar of human subjects research is the voluntary, uncoerced, informed consent of participants. Due to the inherent power dynamics between a professor and the students currently in their classes, it is the opinion of Carleton’s IRB that students cannot fully consent in this situation. In order to protect our students, and to preserve their right to opt out of human subjects research, we ask the following of our faculty. Please enlist a research partner, who is not in any way associated with the particular class being studied, to handle the consent forms and administer the activities or surveys in question. This partner will hold all documents, files, or outcomes related to the study in their possession until grades have been assigned and the course is complete. In this way, the professor of the course being studied cannot know which students do and do not consent to participate in the research until a time when this knowledge cannot affect the grades of any students. Knowing this procedure is in place allows the students more freedom to opt out of the study without negative impacts. At Carleton, we require that students’ consent be obtained before the study, which necessitates that we designate these studies not “Exempt,” but rather “Limited Review.”

Here is an example consent form for pedagogical research with current students.