Research with Human Subjects and Informed Consent
Research into the opinions and experiences of former students necessarily brings the researcher into the realm of regulations and practices involved in “human subjects” research. Essentially, this means that you are responsible for insuring that the participants in the study understand their rights as research subjects. You’re also responsible for informing participants that by responding to and returning the survey, they are signaling that they understand their rights. This is called informed consent.
The web of rules and regulations surrounding research into human subjects is complex and detailed, and for good reason. The National Research Act (l974) spells these guidelines out in detail (http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/). Fortunately, the sort of research we are doing—research conducted in established or commonly accepted educational settings involving normal educational practices, such as research on the effectiveness of or the comparison among instructional techniques, curricula, or classroom management methods—is, once past the initial review, exempted from further review. You should, however, be sure to check with your own institution’s office of research and sponsored programs or human subjects review committee for the specific, local guidelines that have been set in place at your school. The University of Maine requires Harvey, for instance, to include the following information as part of the cover letter sent along with the survey:
- Make it clear that former peer tutors are not required to complete or sign the survey nor do they need answer any questions that make them feel uncomfortable.
- Include an estimate of the time it will take for them to respond to the survey (we estimated thirty minutes).
- Include a risk statement (as far as we can determine, there is no risk).
- Include a description of any potential benefits to the subject or others that may reasonably be expected from the research.
- Include a description of how issues of confidentiality will be addressed (for example, will names be associated with the data or coded and linked to a master list of names? Who can access the information? Where will it be stored and for how long?)
- Be sure tutors understand that by returning the survey they are giving you their consent to use the data as you have described it.
For further information on research with human subjects and implied consent, be sure to consult with the office of research and sponsored programs or human subjects review committee on your campus. You may also want to check the University of Maine Research and Sponsored Programs website at http://www.umaine.edu/research/research-compliance/institutional-review-board-for-the-protection-of-human-subjects-irb/
From there you can link to government guidelines on research into human subjects, if you like. To see how we have incorporated these guidelines into our own cover letters, go to (cover letters) on our website.