If an instructor wishes to recruit and involve students in his or her own classes in a research activity which will directly benefit the instructor (a dissertation research project, for example), the instructor should consider the following guidelines and premises that will govern IRB review of the research activity.
Instructors are in a position of authority over students in their classes, especially the power to determine a course grade. This compromises the absolute requirement that participation in research be voluntary, laying a veil of potential coercion over any in-class recruitment, regardless of how benign the instructors’ intentions might be. It is therefore always preferable for an instructor to recruit student subjects from the general student population if possible (e.g., advertise in student-oriented media, post on campus bulletin boards, list-serves, or websites, broadcast to email addresses, etc.) or from classes or courses with which the instructor is not involved in determining grades.
If circumstances dictate that there is no good alternative to recruitment of one’s own students (and “it is so much easier to use my own classroom” does not equate to “there is no good alternative”), the major protection against the appearance and potential of coercion is maintaining the strict anonymity of participation—that is, the instructor must be insulated from knowing the identity of students who engage in the research versus those who do not. If this is not possible, then recruitment of one’s own students for one’s own research—or any research in which the instructor stands to gain a personal benefit--is simply not permissible.
Provision of incentives to students for participating in research activities, such as extra credit or bonus points toward a classroom grade, must be carefully considered in light of the requirement for anonymity. The Board recognizes the practice of incentivizing participation with a modest level of academic credit as a reasonable means of encouraging student participation in research. However, alternative opportunities to achieve the same extra credit based on a comparable commitment of effort to that required for the proposed research activity must be offered to any student who prefers not to participate in the research.
Extra credit may be offered only if it can be arranged such that the instructor/researcher is blinded to the identify of research participants versus nonparticipants who seek the credit through an alternative activity. This may be arranged by interposing a neutral third party or technological buffer in the credit confirmation process.