Faculty Conducting Research With Their Own Students
Research with one’s own students presents unique considerations with regard to human subjects protections. At the center of the issue is the inherent power difference between student and professor. Regardless how well a professor presents the recruitment and option not to participate, students may feel as though they have to participate or risk having their non-participation impact their grade or relationship with the professor. In addition, the idea of ongoing voluntary participation is a potential issue if a student decides they want to discontinue their participation after initially consenting.
Approach for Avoiding Unintentional Coercion
In order to mitigate this circumstance, MSU Denver requires that faculty who are conducting research with their own students use a disinterested third party to distribute and collect consent and data.
There are two variations using this approach. The first is that the data being collected (think of a survey, for example) do not have names on them. A third party would come to the classroom at the time of recruitment time. The professor would read the recruiting script and answer any questions without exculpatory language and then leave the room. The third party would distribute and collect the consents and the survey would be distributed to students and put away for completion at a later time. The third party would return to the class at a later date to collect the surveys. The surveys could be provided to the professor after all were collected, but the third party would keep the consents in a locked file cabinet until after the class grades were submitted.
The second variation using a third party to distribute and collect consent and data is when student names are on the data. An example would be when faculty use student work product (papers, projects, etc.) as research data. In that situation, the third party would collect the consent forms and keep them in a locked file cabinet until after the class grades had been submitted. At that time the faculty researcher would take the work product of students who had given consent to use for their data.
In both cases, the name and contact information for the third party would be listed on the consent form.
The MSU Denver IRB will consider the following factors in support of potential exceptions to the general prohibition on enrollment of subjects with potential status relationships with the research team:
- The research presents minimal risk to subjects.
- The research represents a potential educational opportunity for participants.
- The recruitment of students does not include any exculpatory language.
- The consent process will not be conducted by someone with whom the potential subject has a status relationship.
- If the research is conducted within the classroom setting, the instructor is blinded to the identity of participants. For example, a third party who is not in a status relationship with the students could receive data directly from the participants and strip the data of identifiers before providing the information to the researcher who is in a status relationship with the students.