The SoTL Advocate

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

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Spring SoTL Offerings at ISU

The Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning will offer three events this spring: two workshops and a brown bag lunch with the Chair of our IRB to discuss protection of human subjects in SoTL research.

Reservations via email to Jen Friberg ( will be taken for ISU faculty, starting next Monday, 2/6/17.  Read below for details on each event:



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Facilitating the IRB Process for SoTL Research Projects

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:


SoTL and Institutional Review Boards (IRB), Human Subjects Approval

Written by: Kathleen McKinney, Cross Chair in SoTL at ISU

Both on my home campus and at external SoTL conferences or workshops, issues around obtaining institutional approval for SoTL as human subjects research are often raised. Given differences in what is meant by SoTL as well as in IRB (or similar groups) process and policy by institutional type and country, it is difficult to be too specific or to generalize in offering advice. Each SoTL scholar/researcher should learn the IRB/human subjects’ culture, policies, and process at their own institution. Below, however, I offer a few key points that may be of interest.

If you are planning a SoTL project involving faculty/staff or students as participants and you plan to generalize from that work or to share it with others, you likely need to complete and submit an IRB protocol for approval. Some of the key issues you must address in your IRB protocol include:

  • Possible risks to participants
  • Possible benefits to participants
  • Protection of confidentiality and/or anonymity
  • Avoiding coercion or perceived coercion in participation
  • Accurate and detailed informed consent statement/procedures

According to the current Chair and Compliance Officer of our IRB at ISU, there are two sets of common errors or weaknesses in SoTL IRB protocols they review.

  • Lack of Clarity: Your SoTL IRB protocols should clearly describe all aspects of the research project being proposed. Don’t assume the IRB members share your understandings of SoTL or your discipline. This information may need to be included in more than one place in the protocol and appendices.
  • Inadequate Risk Identification and/or Benefit Explanation: In human subjects research, including SoTL research, there is rarely a case where there are no potential risks to participants. All risks must be clearly identified and explained. You should consider both current and future threats for participants. You should also make clear all actual and probable benefits (clearly distinguishing the two) to the student participant and others who may benefit. Discussion of risks and benefits must be included in response to relevant questions on the protocol AND in the actual informed consent statement and procedures.

Researchers often wonder whether there are circumstances that would preclude the need for an IRB Protocol for a SoTL research project. It is generally best for you to write an IRB protocol for all SoTL research and let your Department IRB representative or the IRB members decide what level of review (exempt, expedited, full) is appropriate. There may be a few situations where a protocol is not needed. These decision flow charts are to help IRB members and researchers make such decisions.

For additional and more detailed information, resources, examples, check out the resources below.