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Class Assignments and Student Research Projects

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Class Assignments and Student Research Projects

Learning how to conduct ethical research with human subjects is a valuable and important part of a student’s educational experience at the University of Illinois. There are different types of research that students may conduct while earning their degree from a class research project to a senior thesis or Capstone project, and learning about the corresponding compliance requirements is a central component of their research experience.

Class Assignments

Class research projects and research methods classes that involve data collection activities for training purposes may not require IRB review and oversight because the intent is to teach methods, not to contribute to generalizable knowledge. Class research activities should not require IRB review if all of the following conditions are true:

  • Results of the research are viewed and discussed only within the classroom for teaching and learning purposes.
  • Results of the research are not made public through presentations (outside of the classroom) and are not published in paper or electronic format (e.g., cannot be made available on the internet, cannot be published in a journal).
  • Research procedures are no more than minimal risk. Per federal regulations, minimal risk means that the probability and magnitude of harm or discomfort anticipated are not greater than those ordinarily encountered in daily life.
  • Vulnerable populations are not targeted (e.g., children under age 18, prisoners, persons who are cognitively impaired).
  • Subjects are not identifiable in data or recordings. (Photographs, and video or audio recordings are considered identifiable.)
  • When appropriate, an informed consent process is in place.

Consult with OPRS (irb@illinois.edu or 217-333-2670) when you are unsure if your class project meets these requirements.

Undergraduate Research Projects

Undergraduate research projects (including course-based projects), senior theses, and similar exercises require IRB approval before work on the project begins if any of the following conditions are true:

  • Results of the research will be shared through public presentations or published in paper or electronic format. 
  • Research procedures are more than minimal risk.
  • Vulnerable populations are targeted (e.g., children under age 18, prisoners, persons who are cognitively impaired).
  • Data contains identifiable information about subjects, or photographs, video, or audio recordings will be made.
  • When appropriate, an informed consent process is in place.

Contact the OPRS Office (irb@illinois.edu or 217-333-2670) with any questions.

Instructor Responsibilities:

Even when a class assignment is "non-research" and not under the jurisdiction of the IRB, faculty members have an obligation to ensure that students understand their ethical obligations in carrying out their assignments. For class assignments that do not require IRB review, the course instructor should assume responsibility for teaching students about the ethics of human subjects research, for ensuring the protection of human subjects involved (including a process for obtaining voluntary informed consent when appropriate), and for monitoring the students’ progress.

If desired, instructors for class assignments that do not need an IRB protocol may still assign students all or portions of the widely used CITI program human subjects research training using the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation Training Portal “My groups” function.

If students may want or intend to use data collected for a class assignment outside of the classroom (e.g. a publication or an Undergraduate Research Symposium presentation), the Instructor should obtain IRB approval first and not begin work under the class assignment allowance.

IRB review cannot occur after a study has begun and data collected without IRB approval may not be used outside of class assignments.

Instructors that plan to have class projects that require IRB review should review OPRS Guidance and Examples for Class Assignments and Undergraduate Research and submit an IRB application allowing sufficient time for review and approval before class begins during a semester. IRB protocols are valid for 5 years and may be used for a recurring class. 

Depending on the proposed work for class projects requiring review and approval, students may need to be added as personnel by amendment to an approved protocol.

The University policy on Eligibility to Serve as Principal Investigator indicates that instructors that are not tenure track faculty require College approval to act as a PI on an IRB protocol. Non-faculty instructors intending to submit an IRB protocol would typically ask their Department Head who would forward for the Dean’s approval.