Faculty who want to do teaching and learning research may be intimidated by some of the regulations and guidelines required to do human subjects research. By providing information on some of the more common questions, we hope to alleviate some of those concerns. Here you can find information on IRB, FERPA and utilizing data from your Institutional Research office. You can also learn where you may find research faculty on your campus who can help you with your research design, data collection, and analysis.
Institutional Review Board (IRB)
The Institutional Review Board (IRB) is responsible for protecting the rights and welfare of participants involved with human subjects research. Each university should have an IRB committee or contact that reviews research to ensure that human rights are maintained by those conducting research.
If you plan to conduct research on students or faculty on your campus, you must have your research approved by your IRB. They will have a formal application process and require copies of your survey instruments as well as a detailed description of your research design. The IRB personnel will help you ensure that your research is ethical and poses minimal risk to those who participate. Be proactive in contacting your IRB office before you begin if you have any questions. They are there to help you through the process.
Many schools require researchers to participate in research ethics education before completing IRB. The Collaborative Institute Training Initiative is one such subscription service with many members. Check with your IRB office for their requirements for research ethics training.
To learn more about IRB, visit the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99), also known as the Buckley Amendment, is a U.S. Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. All educational institutions that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education fall under the umbrella of FERPA law.
FERPA allows student consent to disclose their educational records, with few exceptions. These regulations apply to all applications involving student records including items such as research, posting student work, etc.
For more information on FERPA, visit the U.S. Department of Education FERPA guidelines. Also, your individual campus website should have information on FERPA.
Each campus has an office responsible for Institutional Research (IR). The IR office keeps track of a wealth of information on students, courses, and faculty. This data is used for state and accreditation accountability purposes, and to provide profiles for the university students and faculty. Demographics, academic test scores (ACT, SAT, GRE, etc.), and grade point averages (GPAs) are all regularly updated and maintained for each student. Course data such as college, department, instructor, student grades, and course location and time are also maintained. Each IR office has its own policy. Typically, it is possible for researchers to work with IR staff to conduct research using subsets of university data. For instance, examining success and withdrawal by various demographics for a specific program or course can give information into whether specific populations may be having difficulty. If you have an idea for research using student data, contact the IR office on your campus directly.
Many faculty have little experience with research design or statistics. The thought of conducting such research may be overwhelming for them to tackle alone. Typically, there are faculty on campus who are experts. If you are unaware of colleagues in your area who can help you, try reaching out to those in statistics, psychology, sociology, or educational research. These faculty typically specialize in conducting research and many are happy to meet with you to provide guidance.