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Guidelines for Research with Student Participants

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Guidelines for Research with Student Participants

There are ethical guidelines that govern all research involving student subjects. Campus policy governs the use of students in research (see the policy below). The guidelines described here are intended to assist researchers in understanding and applying those campus policies.

The campus policies on the use of student participants are consistent with regulations from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and with explicit guidance from the Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP). For instance, an official OHRP determination letter to the Illinois IRB (dated October 12, 2006) clarified that research involving subject pools "must ensure (a) that consent for participation is sought only in circumstances which minimize the possibility for coercion or undue influence, and (b) that genuinely equivalent alternatives to participation are available."

The OHRP directive concerning subject pools has clear implications for other research involving students. The potential for students to perceive undue influence should be minimized in any research with student participants. There are multiple potential sources of undue influence that should be minimized. Some measures that should be taken to minimizing the potential for students to experience undue influence are:

  • Recruitment should not be conducted in ways that students may reasonably perceive to be coercive.
  • If incentives for participation are offered (e.g., extra course credit), the incentives should not be so large as to be coercive. Typically this means that any credit or extra credit must be only a small portion of the total grade.
  • If students are offered any form of course credit for participating, they usually must be given genuinely equivalent alternatives for earning the credit (e.g., alternatives to a study may not be more onerous than participating in the research project).
  • If there is no alternative to participating in research for earning course credit, students should be informed that the course grade involves participating in research before they sign up for the course (e.g., in the online course description).

The relevant campus policy states: When Illinois students and/or employees are being recruited as potential subjects, researchers must ensure that there are additional safeguards for these subjects. The voluntary nature of their participation must be primary and without undue influence on their decision. Researchers must emphasize to subjects that neither their academic status or grades, or their employment, will be affected by their participation decision.

To minimize coercion, investigators should avoid, whenever possible, the use of their students and employees in procedures which are neither therapeutic nor diagnostic.  In these latter situations, investigators should solicit subjects through means such as bulletin board notices, flyers, advertisements in newspapers, and announcements in classes other than their own. When entering a classroom to recruit students and conduct research, e.g. administer a survey, investigators must do so at the end of the class period to allow non-participating students the option of leaving the classroom, thereby alleviating pressure to participate.