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Many undergraduate, MBA, and graduate courses include class projects and activities designed to develop research skills.  These projects may be carried out by individual students, small groups or as a single class project.

McMaster University wishes to encourage learning of research methodologies and techniques by students.  Class exercises may not fit the standard definition of research in the sense that the results are not intended for publication or for generalization to other situations, however, the potential for risk to subjects who participate in research class exercises requires the protocol and consent information be reviewed by a research ethics board.

Course-based research activities vary in scope, but may include:

  • conduct “mini” research projects where students pose research questions, gather data from human participants, and analyse the data for presentation; or
  • other activities that would be considered research within the disciplinary traditions in which the course is being taught.

Distinguishing Research Requiring Ethics Review from Case/Professional/Research Skill Development

In some class situations the information gathering procedures and practices students are expected to use are exclusively required for pedagogic purposes. They are not conducted within the context of, or embedded within, a research project.  For example, professional faculties have students conduct interviews as part of skill development or individual knowledge acquisition. Information gathering projects within these situations are not subject to MREB review requirements, however they must align with the appropriate professional standards or codes of conduct and review processes required by the relevant Faculty.

The following criteria can be used to assess whether information-gathering activities within a university course are part of a research project or are for the teaching of professional or research skills or for solely pedagogic purposes.

Information gathering activities are classified as research where:

  •  the intent is to educate students on research processes used to explore and expand existing theories and conceptual knowledge;
  •  students compare new techniques, practices, programs with standard approaches to determine which is more effective;
  •  the results or findings are written in a format that would be acceptable for a research journal or academic conference presentation; or
  •  primary data is collected and organized for analysis and distribution or dissemination.

Information gathering activities are classified as skill development and not research when:

  •  the intent is to use the information to provide advice, diagnosis, identification of appropriate interventions, or general advice for a client,
  • the intent is to develop skills which are considered standard practice within a profession (e.g., observation, assessment, intervention, evaluation, auditing);
  • the intent is to develop research skills, but not in the context of a research project (e.g. students conducting mock interviews with each other, students taking each others surveys for the purpose of critiquing survey design); or
  • the information gathering processes are part of the normal relationship between the student and the participants (e.g., classroom teacher and students, nurse and patient, lawyer and client).

Note: If the data collection involves persons from outside of the classroom (e.g. students on campus, family and friends, general public) then it will require ethics review, even if the purpose is development of a research skill, as opposed to a full research project. This is because to these participants, taking part in the activity may appear indistinguishable from taking part in a research project (see TCPS2, Art. 2.1, application section).

Instructors who are uncertain as to whether a learning activity or project falls outside the scope of the criteria outlined in this document should contact the Research Ethics Secretariat at ext. 23142, or e-mail the Ethics Office.

Criteria for Student Research

If a class project falls under the definition of research as described above, the following Guidelines and Procedures may be applied.

The instructor may oversee the conduct of his or her individual student’s research by completing an “Instructor’s Course-Based Application” form in the MacREM system (see question 1.2 when creating a new project).

C. The Application Process

  1. The Instructor for the course completes and submits the “Instructor’s Course-Based Application” in the MacREM system.
  2. The form will be directed to the appropriate Student Research Ethics Committee, or MREB if necessary, by the Research Ethics Officer.
  3. The Instructor should have their students submit their plans for each separate research project which is being undertaken in the class.  The Instructor reviews each of these proposals and ensures that they are complete and in compliance with the ethics review requirements of the University and the TCPS2.
  4. If the student projects are to be carried out at other institutions or agencies (such as schools, hospitals, government agencies etc.) students should be aware that approval granting permission to access premises or to obtain private information from the other institution may be required, and should be obtained, where appropriate.
  5. All forms related to approving the ethical acceptability of each student’s project must be retained by the instructor for a period of two years.
  6. Ethical approval for class projects is reviewed and renewed annually via the annual report.  If changes are made an “Amendment Form” must be completed and submitted in the MacREM system. All sections of the course, whether on campus or not, must follow the procedures, and all Instructors must ensure that these policies are complied with.
  7. All questions and clarifications concerning the interpretation of these guidelines should be directed to the Research Ethics Secretariat, ext. 23142, e-mail the Ethics Office.

Parameters of Risk

Once your course application is cleared, you will be able to review and approve individual projects so long as all of the following are TRUE:

Projects are no more than minimal risk to the participants.

The research participants will be drawn from the general adult population, capable of giving free and informed consent and will not include vulnerable participants such as children, persons who are not legally competent to consent; mentally incompetent persons; legal wards or persons dependent upon the researcher(s) for therapeutic care.

The student projects will not involve any personal, sensitive or incriminating topics or questions which could place participants at risk.

The student projects will not change or involve behaviour(s) of participants beyond the range of “normal” classroom activity or daily life.

The student projects will not involve physically invasive contact with the research participants, for example, taking blood or urine samples, cortisol, muscle biopsies, tissue for genetic testing;

The student projects will not involve deception.

If a student project falls outside ANY of these elements of risk, you and the student(s) must submit an individual research ethics application form for review through the MacREM online system. The application will be directed to the appropriate Student Research Ethics Committee or to MREB.