When I talk with faculty members about their potential SoTL projects, the issue of IRB approval always comes up, either through them asking if it’s needed or disclosing a fear of the process. My standard blanket answer is yes, you need IRB approval. However, you should always defer to the IRB board at your institution rather than a blog post.
Projects must receive IRB approval prior to collecting data if they meet two criteria: (1) it is research and (2) it involves human subjects. Since SoTL work involves students, the projects always meet the second criteria. Therefore, it’s the first criteria that leaves questions. According to IRB, what is research? The Office of Research Compliance at IU defines research as “a systematic investigation designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.”
Suppose you attend a SoTL speaker event on flipped learning and decide to flip a module in your course before investing the necessary time to flip an entire course. You create the module, gather some feedback from your students via a survey, and determine it was successful enough to spend your summer flipping the entire course. Is this research? No. Although you collected data from human subjects, it was for normal academic purposes and course improvement. It was classroom assessment. You are not contributing to the knowledge base on flipped learning.
Suppose you continue this project and assess the difference in student achievement as measured by exam grades in your fully flipped course compared to the same course the semester you taught it strictly face-to-face. You plan on presenting these results at the upcoming annual teaching conference for your discipline. Is this research? Yes. You planned in advance to systematically collect data in order to contribute to the knowledge base of flipped learning in your discipline.
What happens if you start out in the first scenario, but end up with such great data you decide after the fact to share it? In many cases you can retroactively use data collected for an alternative purpose for your SoTL project. You do need IRB approval before using it in your SoTL study though. When in doubt, call your IRB and ask. They are friendly people who want to help you implement your project safely and successfully.
To learn more about ethics in SoTL work, consider attending the upcoming SoTL Brownbag: SoTL and IRB on Wednesday, February 14. If you are unable to attend the brownbag session or would rather discuss your project in an individual consultation, contact the CITL for an appointment. For more information on IRB at IU visit Human Subjects in the Office of Research Compliance.