Research Involving Students
Researchers seeking to recruit students as participants must abide by the ethical and regulatory guidelines for protection of human subjects. The ethical requirements apply even to research that is determined to be exempt from the federal regulations—for example, anonymous surveys.
The Belmont Report provides the ethical framework for research involving human beings. It states:
“An agreement to participate in research constitutes a valid consent only if voluntarily given. This element of informed consent requires conditions free of coercion and undue influence. Coercion occurs when an overt threat of harm is intentionally presented by one person to another in order to obtain compliance. Undue influence, by contrast, occurs through an offer of an excessive, unwarranted, inappropriate or improper reward or other overture in order to obtain compliance.”
Follow the guidance below when designing and conducting research involving students. Contact the IRB at [email protected] to discuss specific strategies that may be appropriate for your study.
- Students cannot be required to participate in research to meet a course or degree program requirement. This is considered coercive because it threatens harm—a lower grade—for those who do not consent to participate. A comparable non-research alternative must always be provided.
- To be considered “comparable” and free of undue influence, non-research alternatives should take about the same amount of time and effort to complete as participation in the research activity and provide students with an identical amount of credit/extra credit.
- Students should be recruited from a broad pool of potentially eligible candidates, not solely from an investigator’s class(es) or through personal solicitations.
- All research participants must be allowed to withdraw from a study at any point without penalty.
- Students’ choices regarding research participation must not affect—favorably or unfavorably—their grades, their ability to participate in other academic or research activities, or letters of recommendation sought from their instructors.
- To maintain confidentiality, researchers should avoid enrolling students in research or collecting data in classroom settings, especially when the research involves sensitive or stigmatized topics.
- Researchers who will need data from student educational records must comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), or the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) if the research involves surveying K-12 students in schools funded by the Department of Education. Under FERPA, people who have access to educational records due to their role as educators may be limited in using information from those records in their role as researchers. Determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis by the custodian of records—contact the IRB at [email protected] for more information. Alternately, researchers are encouraged to obtain written permission from research participants (or their parents, depending on the participant’s age) as part of the informed consent process when data from student educational records will be needed. Contact the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Institutional Research (OPEIR; [email protected]) for information about the availability of specific variables in UTC’s records.
- Informed consent documents must be carefully worded to avoid misleading participants into thinking their research information cannot be linked to them individually. For example, for a survey to be truly anonymous, there must be no way to identify people who decided to participate (e.g., by taking a survey in person with a research team member present) or through the information they provide. Anonymous surveys cannot collect 1) direct identifiers such as name, e-mail address, phone number, student ID number, nor 2) a combination of indirect identifiers, such as race/ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, academic major, that would enable identification of individual respondents.
Incentives in Research
The use of incentives in research conducted by UTC personnel and students is subject to ethical guidelines, Tennessee law, and University of Tennessee policies.
- Ethical guidelines: If a study involves an incentive, the incentive must not be excessive or inappropriate—it should not unduly influence students or other eligible people to agree to participate in the research. Incentives should align with the time commitment involved in participation in the study.
- Tennessee law: If you plan to include a drawing for a chance to win a gift card or other prize as an incentive in your study, this may qualify as an illegal lottery under the laws of Tennessee and many other states. To comply with Tennessee law, people must be able to enter the prize drawing without participating in the research. More information can be found in the Informed Consent template available here.
- University Policy: Requirements related to the purchase, storage, tracking, and distribution of gift cards to research participants are found in University of Tennessee policy FI0313.
Research Opportunities Digest – Scrappy Listserv
Do you want to recruit UTC students to participant in your research? Complete the form below to have your study included in the biweekly Research Opportunities Digest sent to all UTC students via the Scrappy listserve.
Research Opportunities Digest Submission
The Research Opportunities Digest is distributed on alternate Wednesdays (bi-weekly). Submissions must be received by the preceding Friday at 5:00 PM in order to be included in the following week’s issue. Submission deadlines for FALL 2023 are September 8th, September 22nd, October 6th, October 20th, November 3rd, November 17th, December 1st.
A sample digest entry is shown below.