Educational Research

Educational research covers research that takes place in schools or other educational settings. For coverage specific to research with children (including the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment), click here. If you are carrying out education research on students that calls for access to student educational records, you need to learn about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA); please see the IRB FERPA page for this information. Research that might involve mandatory reporting (Title IX, for example) is covered on the page about research on illegal and illicit topics. As always, please contact IRB Chair Amanda Udis-Kessler at with questions or concerns.

Your educational research project may be eligible for the educational exemption, which will simplify your application process. The link to the Educational Research Exemption Determination Form is on the IRB homepage.

Planning for educational research should begin early. Either assent or consent will be needed from students (assent for children, consent for adults) and permission will be needed for parents of children; permission may also be needed from teachers, principals, school districts, or college administrators depending on the nature of the research.

If research data collected in a course involves group work, all members of each group must go through a formal assent or consent process in order for the data to be used for research purposes. Data may only be used if information about students who did not give consent can be excluded.

In general, the most important risks of harm in educational research come down to the disclosure of sensitive information about students and to interference with student learning.

When audio recording or videorecording students in a classroom, determine how the resulting recordings will be used and take any necessary steps to minimize risk of harm. to participants and others. Consider writing notes rather than recording, and make sure that only assenting or consenting individuals are captured in your notes or your recordings.

To keep your research from interfering with student learning, you should avoid conducting controlled experiments with students in a single course section where students are randomly assigned to different “treatment” or intervention groups. Students randomly assigned to a control group, who do not receive the same intervention as students in a treatment or experimental group, may be losing the opportunity to learn as much as students in the treatment or experimental group. Even if you are carrying out research across multiple sections, students (and their parents, where students are children) should be informed during the consent process that they may receive differential access to learning opportunities and must consent (if adults) or assent (if children) to this situation. For children, parents must give permission for their children to receive such differential access. Research involving differential access to learning opportunities is never eligible for the educational exemption.

When possible, carry out education research on students who are not your own students, and (if the situation permits) who attend a different educational institution. If you are able to do this, you will avoid some of the challenges described below.

If you cannot avoid carrying educational research on students in your own classroom (where you are the teacher of record), there are a number of ethical best practices to keep in mind:

  • Being both the teacher and the researcher involves an inherent role conflict. Your research project should never negatively impact your work as a teacher or your students’ opportunities for learning. In that sense, at least ethically, your role as a teacher always supersedes your role as a researcher.
  • As the teacher who will be grading the students, you have undue influence over the students and they may feel coerced to participate in your research. If at all possible, have a different person be responsible for recruiting students in your class for your research and have that same person track who is and who is not participating. Ideally, you should not know who did and who did not participate until after you have submitted grades so that there will be no appearance of coercion to participate; this means that the same person who recruited students to participate should be responsible for holding their consent or assent forms and any parental permission forms, as well as for maintaining the information they provide in their participation, until grades have been submitted. (Students may be identified by their handwriting, another reason to have a different person review student research involving handwritten work.)
  • It must be absolutely clear that a student’s choice to participate in your research, to refuse participation, or to begin to participate but to then withdraw from the research will not affect the student’s experiences, learning, grades, or other outcomes of the regular (non-research) activities of the class. All students, regardless of their participation in, non-participation in, or withdrawal from, your research must have the same access to class activities, class resources, class standing, potential letters of recommendation, and all other aspects of the class, and must have the same opportunities to earn a grade based solely on the work they do for the class independent of your research project.
  • Participation in your research must be optional, not mandatory for the course.
  • You must keep participation in your research separate from the course requirements so that a student who chooses not to participate will still complete all the course requirements and be able to learn as much as participating students (and to receive as high a grade as participating students. Refusal to participate in your research should not negatively affect any student’s educational experience within your course. The syllabus and other informational writing about the course should distinguish between regular classroom activities in which all students are expected to participate and additional research-focused activities in which only research participants will participate.
  • For the same reason, do not use class time for research study participation if at all possible, and if you must use it that way, have clear alternatives for what non-participants will do during the class time used for research study participation.
  • If you are offering extra credit for participating in your research, you must provide equivalent extra credit opportunities for students who choose not to participate in your research or who choose to participate but then withdraw. (Other issues related to incentives are covered elsewhere.)
  • Even if you have set up a circumstance where there is no coercion of students to participate in your research, students may still feel a sense of pressure because you have authority over them and are responsible for their grades. If you are aware of which students in your class are participating in your research, monitor them for signs of reluctance to participate and make it easy for them to withdraw from the research without judgment or penalty.
Report an issue - Last updated: 06/29/2021