The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

Facilitating the IRB Process for SoTL Research Projects

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Written by: Jennifer Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

One of the most common questions I am asked at various SoTL workshops and trainings that I facilitate center on the IRB process for securing approval for research with human subjects, particularly when the subjects of a study are the students of the investigator conducting the research in question. Specifically, faculty want to know how to streamline the process of completing, submitting, and revising an IRB. In an effort to help with these issues, this blog has highlighted the IRB process in SoTL research in the past, including topics such as common errors/weaknesses in SoTL IRB protocols, which suggested that faculty consider aspects of research such as inadequate risk identification and/or explanation of benefits in the construction of IRBs. Additionally, the Cross Chair in SoTL at Illinois State University also houses a tremendous number of resources to help facilitate the process of constructing a high-quality IRB for SoTL research.

All the resources described above, however, are in place to aid in the construction of IRB proposals for SoTL projects which mirror IRBs created to support disciplinary (non-SoTL) research. Recently, the University of Michigan described an “abbreviated ethical guidelines” process for faculty engaged in their SoTL grant program, essentially a streamlined process for creating an IRB for research funded by internal campus grants for to support SoTL. This abbreviated IRB process was negotiated between representatives from the university’s teaching and learning center, the university’s IRB, and the university’s legal council. Together, this group determined that so long as certain criteria were met by faculty and the teaching and learning center, all future SoTL research emerging from internally grant-funded projects would be exempt from further review. The process looks as follows:

  1. Faculty submit SoTL grant applications. All applications are peer-reviewed, with the most meritorious project being funded by the teaching and learning center.
  2. Those engaged in funded research projects meet at least twice with staff from the teaching and learning center to specifically discuss issues of research ethics when interacting with human subjects.
  3. Student notification and consent for SoTL research can be obtained as follows: “Students will be notified (e.g., via a syllabus paragraph) when research is done in the course of ‘normal work expectations’ — that is using exercises instructors would typically ask them to complete for their courses (regardless of their participation in the grant program). Consent will be obtained for research that goes beyond normal work expectations, such as focus groups or surveys (Wright, Finelli, MEizlish & Bergom, 2011, p. 52).”
  4. Students’ grades cannot be influenced by participation/non-participation in the SoTL research in question.
  5. All identifying information must be removed prior to public dissemination of research to protect student anonymity.

We are curious if other colleges/universities are engaged in the design or implementation of streamlined IRB processes such as those described above. What has been the impact of these programs? How might they help or hinder the SoTL research process? We would love your input and feedback!

Blog References:

  • Wright, M. C., Finelli, C. J., Meizlish, D. & Bergom, I. (2011, March/April). Facilitating the scholarship of teaching and learning at a research university. Change: The Magazine for Higher Learning. Available from:

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