Hello Making, Meaning, Matter!

My name is John Grieco and I will be one of your classmates this quarter.  My experience with conducting Ethnography’s in the technology field (mainly software) and with 3d printing, both design and hardware has really pulled me towards this program.  Not only will I be your classmate but on Thursdays I will be dedicating extra time in the CAL lab to assist those in need of any help, advice or motivation having to do with any aspect of the course, including but not limited to, 3d printing design, 3d printing, ethnography’s and cultural technology studies.  After the peer assisted lab each week I will be reviewing, on this site, my observations from the lab session and comparing them to a primary research article on Cultural Studies of Technology for relevancy.

When conducting an Ethnography or any type of research that involves collecting data from a human being it is important to respect the privacy of those you are observing.  Below I have attached an email from John McLain, Evergreen’s academic grants manager and irb administrator containing important information about conducting yourself professionally and ethically.

From: McLain, John
Sent: Tuesday, September 23, 2014 1:29 PM
To: All Staff & Faculty DL
Cc: Forman, Emmie
Subject: Human subjects review and your curriculum: Planning projects and protecting people

Dear Faculty and Staff:

As the school year starts, some of you may be planning class projects or sponsoring independent contracts that will involve collecting data or information about living human beings.   I’m writing to tell you about human subjects review (HSR) requirements at Evergreen, show you where to find HSR resources online, and explain what kinds of projects may or may not need to be reviewed.

It’s possible that the kinds of projects you or your students have submitted for human subjects review in the past may not require review going forward.  It’s also possible that, with some precautions, you and your students can design projects that protect research participants and meet your pedagogical needs without requiring human subjects review.

This message includes a lot of detail and reflects practices that have been in place for a year, but some of what I have to say may still be a departure from your previous understanding of Evergreen’s requirements, so if you or your students plan to conduct studies about living human beings, please take a few minutes and read the rest of this message.

HSR web site

The college has a multi-page web site that provides guidance and information about human subjects review at the college: http://www.evergreen.edu/humansubjectsreview/.  Please share it with your students. please let me know. This is some of the information available via the left navigation bar:

  • Who must apply?
  • Activities that do not need HSR
  • HSR application instructions
  • Student-conducted research guide
  • Confidentiality and anonymity
  • Informed consent
  • Using the Internet for human subjects research
  • Risk
  • Working with other organizations
  • Ethical guides for research in several disciplines and interest areas (e.g., oral history, documentary work, journalism, indigenous peoples, health and counseling, education)

 What projects require human subjects review at Evergreen?

Research projects require review and approval by Evergreen’s Institutional Review Board if they meet all of the following three criteria laid out in federal law:

  1. They involve collection of data or private identifiable information about living human beings; and
  2. They are systematic in methodology; and
  3. They are designed to contribute to generalizable knowledge — i.e. the research is intended to be applied to individuals or circumstances beyond those of the people being studied, and to be published, presented, or distributed as such.

See this web page for more information about the definition of human subjects research:http://www.evergreen.edu/humansubjectsreview/hsrdefined.htm.

Types of projects that aren’t human subjects research and typically don’t require HSR

Some types of projects that students, faculty, and staff conduct will involve collecting information from or about people, but under most circumstances do not require an HSR application or review.  Examples include:

  • Interviews or surveys that do not collect personal or private information about human beings, such as informational interviews where the topic under study isn’t the persons being interviewed but their area of knowledge or expertise.
  • Journalism or documentary projects.
  • Oral histories.
  • Program evaluations for organizations where the information is intended for internal organizational use only to assess and improve quality.
  • Case studies.
  • Student teaching and practical experiences in clinical settings that don’t involve collecting data for the student’s own research.

For explanation and more examples of projects that typically don’t require HSR, visit:http://www.evergreen.edu/humansubjectsreview/nonhsr.htm.

Designing projects for classrooms and independent learning contracts to teach human research skills

We recognize the importance of providing students with the skills and knowledge that can only be gained through conducting research.  Sometimes individual students and academic programs do conduct systematic, generalizable research collecting data and private identifiable information about human beings.  The college is committed to a robust human subjects review process for student, faculty, or staff projects requiring it.

Not all student work, however, meets the three-part federal definition of reviewable research. Many student projects can be systematic in nature (involving, for example, surveys or scripted interviews) and collect data and private information about human beings.  Unless the project is generalizable, however, the project does not require human subjects review.  If you have students who wish to conduct this kind of work, they do not need to undergo a human subjects review unless the findings are generalizable (most often, this means presented, published, or kept for future use with the idea they may contribute to projects that may be presented or published).

If your class or student has a project where the primary intent is to provide a learning experience about research to students, but the findings themselves are not intended to lead to generalizable results (e.g., the student will simply write a class paper for the faculty alone or make a class presentation to other students), you or the students do not need to complete an HSR application.  Such non-reviewed class or contract projects should meet the following three criteria:

  1. Data and information collected and reported must not be identifiable.  Collected information and data should be recorded without identifying information.  Only the faculty and the student researcher should have access to the raw information or data. Researchers and faculty should keep the identity of research subjects, if known, confidential.  Findings (presentations and papers) should be shared in the educational setting only—i.e., between the faculty and student in an independent contract and within the classroom only in a course or academic program.  In sharing with other students, data should be presented in aggregate only and any potentially identifying information redacted.  Please note that names aren’t the only identifying characteristic. Sometimes combinations of demographic and other information can, depending on circumstances, allow identification of someone by inference. Data should be destroyed at the conclusion of the project.
  2. Subjects must give informed and voluntary consent.  See here for more information about consent:http://www.evergreen.edu/humansubjectsreview/informedconsent.htm.  In the case of classroom projects that are not generalizable, it is good practice not to collect signatures for consent, but to use a written or oral script and ask for non-written consent to participate.  This keeps the researcher from collecting any identifying information about participants.
  3. The project should present no more than minimal risk to the participants in the research.  Read below for more about risk.

For more guidance about student projects about living human beings, click here:http://www.evergreen.edu/humansubjectsreview/studentguide.htm.  You can also get in touch with us for advice.

Student projects should involve no more than minimal risk of harm to subjects

It is standard practice at most colleges and universities, including Evergreen, that students may not lead projects that present more than minimal risk of harm to human subjects.  Minimal risk means, according to the law, “that the probability and magnitude of harm or discomfort anticipated in the research are not greater in and of themselves than those ordinarily encountered in daily life or during the performance of routine physical or psychological examinations or tests.”  That’s a pretty low threshold.

Risks can be physical, psychological, or socio-economic. Students conducting projects should not collect identifiable information that could cause social or economic harm or create criminal or financial liability for the subject.  Students should also not engage in projects that risk significant emotional distress to their subjects.  Subjects that are off limits for student investigators include but are not limited to those that ask about past trauma, past or present criminal behavior, difficult or painful events (loss of loved ones, relationships problems, feelings of shame, etc.) These kinds of topics may be legitimate for generalizable research undertaken by qualified investigators, but they should not be attempted by inexperienced researchers.  In any research project, benefits of the project must outweigh risks to the subjects.  The benefit of a learning experience alone is not adequate justification for risking significant harm to someone. A trip to the library is not only safer for the people they might otherwise interact with, it often can provide a fuller and more complete understanding of the topics they wish to explore than a handful of interviews or a small survey.

With proper training and under adequate supervision of a qualified investigator, students may work on generalizable projects of this nature that have been approved by the IRB.

To read more about risk, click here: http://www.evergreen.edu/humansubjectsreview/risk.htm.

Working together to promote sound research practices

I hope this information helps clarify the role of human subjects review at Evergreen and provides you a better understanding of what projects do and do not require review.  I also hope it might save you and your students some time and work.

Human subjects review is but one tool and process for ensuring ethical conduct of research.  Many other ethical considerations can come into play, even when research does not require HSR. The ethical guides I’ve assembled (with the contributions of many of you) athttp://www.evergreen.edu/humansubjectsreview/ethicsguides.htm are intended to help you with that.  If you have other materials you think could be useful to include, please send them my way.

In supporting human subjects research, our first responsibility as faculty and staff is to protect people from the harm that might result from their participation.  I often tell students that good intentions are frequently not enough to protect someone from harm.  That’s why we have a review process and want to help them develop sound practices.  I am grateful for the partnership you have shown me in this work.  I will continue to be available to speak to your classes or to meet with you and students individually.

If anything raises an issue for you, I hope you feel free to question students or colleagues about their plans and intentions, to encourage them to look for potential consequences to their activities, to guide their efforts, and even to say “no” if you think that’s the right course.  Again, the resources on the new web page may be of help.  And if I can help you in any way, just pick up the phone or drop me a line. Again, I’m happy to talk things through in advance with you or your students.

Best wishes for the new academic year.

john mclain | academic grants manager and irb administrator | the evergreen state college | 360.867.6045