Class Projects Guidelines

Does My Class Project Require IRB Approval?

Class Project Guidelines, University of Wisconsin-Stout, Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects

The Human Subjects Committee at UW-Stout recognizes that learning to do research is a valuable part of the educational experience. In accordance with federal regulations, UW-­Stout's Human Subjects Committee must prospectively review all research involving human subjects. As such, honors theses, Master's theses, and research practica involving human subjects must be reviewed by the committee.

As defined in CFR Title 45, Part 46 (Department of Health and Human Services policy for Protection of Human Research Subjects), "research" is a "systematic investigation designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge," and a ''human subject" is "a living individual about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains (1) data through intervention or interaction with the individual, or (2) identifiable private information."

The Human Subjects Committee also recognizes that students often have the opportunity to do research projects to fulfill course requirements. Generally, if those activities take place solely to complete requirements for a course, the assumption is that the research experience is not intended to contribute to the general knowledge, and is exempt from board review. Many of these activities, however, might be regarded as research in a different context, thereby creating confusion for instructors and students. The following guidelines are presented to assist instructors and students in determining whether a classroom research activity is subject to review.

Course-related research is not subject to IRB review if all of the following are true:

  • The project is limited to surveys/questionnaires/interviews/observations of public behavior directly related to topics being studied in an official university course.
  • The above surveys/questionnaires/activities, etc. contain no sensitive personal questions (e.g., no questions about drug use, sexual behavior or attitudes, criminal activity, grades, medical history) or other personal information that could stigmatize an individual. For guidance, see the Office of Human Research Protections website at
  • The participants in the project are not from a vulnerable or special population (e.g., pregnant women, prisoners, minors, cognitively impaired individuals). For guidance, see the Office of Human Research Protections website at
  • Either no identifying information is recorded to link a person with the data, or if identification is possible, no questions are being asked or information being collected that could reasonably harm the individual's reputation, employability, financial standing, or place them at risk for criminal or civil liability. For guidance, see the Office of Human Research Protections website at
  • The collected data does not leave the classroom setting, or if the project involves collecting data on an organization, agency or company, the data are shared only with that entity.
  • No UW-Stout employee or student is receiving financial compensation for collecting, organizing, analyzing, or reporting the data.

It is the responsibility of the supervising instructor/faculty member to determine whether projects are subject to review. Even in the case where a project is not subject for review, the instructor/faculty member is responsible to uphold all applicable (e.g., American Psychology Association, American Counseling Association, National Institute of Health, etc.) ethical standards in course-related research activities. It is always best to err on the safe side and seek consultation from the IRB committee if a question arises regarding classroom activities.

Approved 10/14/02