Ethics and IRB for SoTL

How can I remain ethical in my study? Do I need IRB approval?

by Colleen M. Kuusinen, Assistant Director of SoTL


Great questions! Being ethical in SoTL work means proactively making sure that your human subjects--your students--aren't feeling like they have to participate in your study because their grade or relationship with you might suffer if they do not participate; that students aren't missing out on what we believe to be best for their learning, and that they are fully aware of any risks or benefits of participation. It also means that you are confident that any risks associated with participation in the research are mitigated and any potential benefits from the study outweigh the risks. To help you navigate those questions, most institutions have their own IRB. 

IRB = Institutional Review Board. This is the research oversight committee charged with ensuring that human subjects research is conducted ethically. Each research institution typically has one, and the one at UGA is lovely. At UGA, they are a part of the Human Subjects Office, which is part of the Office of Research. They hold IRB meetings monthly and welcome emails to 

The decision about whether you need IRB approval is best handled by the IRB office. Therefore, you should submit your study for review and let them make the determination whether their approval is needed to conduct the study.

MacLean, Mark and Poole, Gary (2010). An Introduction to Ethical Considerations for Novices to Research in Teaching and Learning in Canada. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 1(2), 1-10. DOI:  

Healey, R. L., Bass, T., Caulfield, J., Hoffman, A., McGinn, M. K., Miller-Young, J., & Haigh, M. (2013). Being Ethically Minded: Practising the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in an Ethical Manner. Teaching & Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(2), 23–32.

With a better understanding of the who, what, when and where, you can begin to think about the "how," that is what are the right methods of data collection for your SoTL study. 

View this January 2017 presentation on IRB submissions, or download this shortened version of the presentation: