Any time research is conducted by a researcher with his or her own students, researchers should be cognizant of the fact that the relation of authority of the teacher over the students may make it difficult for students to give un-coerced informed consent to participate. For this reason, in general, the IRB recommends that researchers not use their own students as subjects. If the research goals can be accomplished using a different subject pool, the researcher should seek out subjects who are not also the researcher's own students.
At the same time, the IRB recognizes that the important field of the scholarship of teaching and learning often involves teachers systematically examining their own teaching practices. Sometimes the only feasible way to do this is by using one's own students as subjects. In other words, sometimes there are good research-related reasons for choosing one's own students as research subjects. Much of the lower-risk forms of this research on pedagogical practice is actually exempt from IRB review, under the first two federal categories of exemption. However, there is some research with students that will require IRB review, such as research on students under the age of 18 involving surveys, interviews, or other forms of research that go outside of what a student would normally experience in class, and research on students of any age that has higher risks. The IRB will conduct a full review (a review by all members of the board) as opposed to an expedited review (a review by a single member of the board) of any application in which a researcher proposes to use his or her own students as research participants when that participation involves a significant element of risk. For example, the IRB would conduct a full review of research that proposed to interview students about how experiences of trauma outside the classroom have impacted their ability to study certain topics in a classroom setting.
In reviewing research by teachers involving their own students, the IRB is left with the delicate task of adequately protecting the potential research subjects without unnecessarily impeding this important form of research. To that end, we have developed the following guidelines for teachers who propose to conduct research involving their own students:
In some disciplines, such as Psychology, it is common practice to have college students enrolled in courses participate in research. If this research is being conducted by the teacher of the course, then the recommendations above apply. If this research is being conducted by someone other than the teacher, then the following recommendations apply: