GUIDELINES FOR ETHICS REVIEW OF COURSE-BASED RESEARCH PROJECTS INVOLVING HUMAN PARTICIPANTS

Course Guidelines - Word
Course Guidelines - Word Perfect

Sample Course Application - with special thanks to Dr. Michael Atkinson, Department of Sociology

Examples of Projects and Activities and Ethics Review
Examples of Projects and Activities and Ethics Review - Word

Link to course application form

Many undergraduate, MBA, and graduate courses include class projects and activities designed to develop research skills. These projects may be carried out by individual students, small groups or as a single class project.

McMaster University wishes to encourage learning of research methodologies and techniques by students. Class exercises may not fit the standard definition of research in the sense that the results are not intended for publication or for generalization to other situations, however, the potential for risk to participants who participate in research class exercises requires the protocol and consent information be reviewed by a research ethics board.

Course-based research activities vary in scope, but may include:

  • having students conduct interviews, administer standard tests, or distribute questionnaires to develop interview or questionnaire design skills;
  • conduct "mini" research projects where students pose research questions, gather data from human participants, and analyse the data for presentation; or
  • other activities that would be considered research within the disciplinary traditions in which the course is being taught.

A. Distinguishing Research from Case/Professional Skill Development

In some class situations the information gathering procedures and practices students are expected to use are exclusively required for pedagogic purposes. They are not conducted within the context of, or embedded within, a research framework. For example, professional faculties have students conduct interviews as part of skill development or individual knowledge acquisition. Information gathering projects within these situations are not subject to MREB review requirements, however they must align with the appropriate professional standards or codes of conduct and review processes required by the relevant Faculty.

The following criteria can be used to assess whether information-gathering activities within a university course are part of a research project or are for the teaching of professional skills or pedagogic purposes.

Information gathering activities are classified as research where

  • the intent is to educate students on research processes used to explore and expand existing theories and conceptual knowledge;
  • students compare new techniques, practices, programs with standard approaches to determine which is more effective;
  • the results or findings are written in a format that would be acceptable for a research journal or academic conference presentation; or
  • primary data is collected and organized for analysis and distribution or dissemination..

Information gathering activities are classified as skill development and not research when:

  • the intent is to use the information to provide advice, diagnosis, identification of appropriate interventions, or general advice for a client, the intent is to develop skills which are considered standard practice within a profession (e.g., observation, assessment, intervention, evaluation, auditing); or
  • the information gathering processes are part of the normal relationship between the student and the participants (e.g., classroom teacher and students, nurse and patient, lawyer and client),


Instructors who are uncertain as to whether a learning activity or project falls outside the scope of the criteria outlined in this document should contact the Research Ethics Secretariat at ext. 23142, or ethicsoffice@mcmaser.ca. For further clarification, appended to the “Request for Approval of a Course-Based Research Project” form, are examples of activities that require review, and examples of activities that do not require review.

B. Criteria for Student Research

If a class project falls under the definition of research as described above, the following Guidelines and Procedures may be applied.

The instructor may oversee the conduct of his or her individual student’s research by completing a “Request for Ethical Approval of a Course-Based Research Project” form and submitting it for approval to the departmental Student Research Ethics Committee, or the McMaster Research Ethics Board, if there is no departmental committee.

Requests for approval of course-based research projects must comply with the following criteria:

  • The research projects must be no more than minimal risk.

    The standard of minimal risk is defined as follows: If potential participants can reasonably be expected to regard the probability and magnitude of possible harms implied by participation in the research to be no greater than those encountered by the subject in those aspects of his or her everyday life that relate to the research then the research can be regarded as within the range of minimal risk.

  • The research participants must be drawn from the general adult population, capable of
    giving free and informed consent, and may not include vulnerable subjects such as
    children, persons who are not legally competent to consent, mentally incompetent
    persons, legal wards or the therapeutically dependent.
  • The student projects must not involve any personal, sensitive or incriminating topics or
    questions which could place participants at risk.
  • The student projects must not manipulate behaviour of participants beyond the range of
    “normal” classroom activity or daily life.
  • The student projects must not involve physically invasive contact with the research
    participants.
  • The student projects do not involve deception.


C. The Application Process

1. The Instructor for the course takes the role of principal investigator and submits a Request for Approval of Course-Based Research Projects form for the class.

2. The "Request for Approval of Course-Based Research Projects" form is signed by the Course Instructor. Included with the application is a sample consent form or letter of information, and a sample questionnaire, survey or other research instrument.

3. The “Request for Approval of Course-Based Research Projects” form should be submitted to the
MREB Secretariat for distribution to the appropriate Student Ethics Review Committee or to the McMaster Research Ethics Board if there is no student committee.

4. The Instructor should have their students complete an “Individual Application To Involve Human Participants in Research” form for each separate research project which is being undertaken in the class. The Instructor reviews each of these applications and ensures that
they are complete and in compliance with the ethics review requirements of the University. A
reviewers evaluation checklist has been developed to aid instructors in evaluating the student projects.

5. If the student projects are to be carried out at other institutions or agencies (such as schools, hospitals, government agencies etc.) students should be aware that approval granting permission to access premises or to obtain private information from the other institution may be required, and should be obtained, where appropriate.

6. All forms related to approving the ethical acceptability of each student’s project must be
retained by the instructor for a period of two years.

7. Ethical approval for class projects is maintained for three years, provided that there are no
changes to the course assignments. If changes are made a “Change Request” form must be completed and submitted to the MREB Secretariat. New course applications must be re-submitted at the end of three years. All sections of the course, whether on campus or not, must follow the procedures and all Instructors must ensure that these policies are complied with.

8. All questions and clarifications concerning the interpretation of these guidelines should
be directed to the Research Ethics Secretariat, ext. 23142, ethicsoffice@mcmaster.ca