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Research & Course Projects

Course Projects

The Calvin College IRB recognizes that having students conduct research is an important part of their education experience. The assumed purpose of Master’s theses and honors research projects involving human participants is to contribute to generalizable knowledge. Therefore, these types of projects must be reviewed and approved by the IRB prior to the recruitment of participants or the collection of data from participants, as they are considered to be research. Because of the unique attributes of each of these projects, each must be individually reviewed by the IRB to determine if it is exempt from further review or requires expedited or full IRB review.

Faculty frequently utilize small course projects or activities involving systematic data collection to meet various course objectives and/or teach research methods. If these activities take place only to complete course requirements, conclude at the end of the course semester and will not be disseminated outside of the classroom, then these course activities are not considered “research” and do not require IRB review, provided they meet all of the following criteria:

  • The project is limited to surveys/questionnaires/interviews/observations of public behavior directly related to topics being studied in an official college 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.
  • Involve no more than minimal risk.
  • No identifying information is recorded to link a person with the data such that it could reasonably harm the individual's reputation, employability, financial standing, psychological or mental health, or place them at risk for criminal or civil liability.
  • The participants in the project are not from a vulnerable or special population (e.g., pregnant women, prisoners, minors, cognitively impaired individuals).
  • 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 Calvin employee or student is receiving compensation for collecting, organizing, analyzing, or reporting the data.

Classifying a course activity as outside the definition of research and deciding not to seek IRB review/approval will prevent any future use of the gathered data outside of the course. Even when a course assignment is “non-research” and not subject to IRB review, faculty have an obligation to ensure that students understand their ethical responsibilities in completing the assignment. Faculty should provide guidance to students collecting data to minimize any unintentional harm to participants. If a researcher (faculty or student) wishes to disseminate the results of their research or use the results of their research in future research then we recommend they submit their research proposal to the IRB.

Please remember that all IRB-related correspondence should be directed to the current IRB chair, not the Office of the Provost or the Center for Social Research.


Research is defined as systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation designed to contribute to generalizable knowledge. Research advances knowledge in a discipline. The results of research are intended to be disseminated outside of the classroom through publication or presentation. Disseminated research includes data presented formally, in oral or written form, to any audience outside of a classroom setting.

Faculty and/or students involved in the planning of research that involves human subjects in any way, from interviews or questionnaires to medical procedures with living persons or bodily substances, must submit a research proposal to the Calvin College Institutional Review Board (IRB). The board is mandated by governmental agencies to review and approve research with human subjects. The committee will review all proposals and place them in one of the following categories:

1.  exemption     2.   expedited    3.  full review

The IRB board is committed to facilitating the advancement of your research program. On a case specific basis, the IRB will determine when projects need to be reviewed more often than annually. Each year, 5% of the proposals that were approved by the full IRB will be audited for verification that no material changes have taken place without notification.

All faculty involved in a research project involving human subjects must complete the web-based training course, "Protecting Human Research Participants." Completion takes approximately one hour. Please print a certificate of completion and submit the certificate with your proposal. This training is good for 3 years, after which the training must be repeated and a new certificate submitted.

All students participating in research must complete the web-based training course, Ethics CORE training.

Proposals will be reviewed by IRB committee members to determine category and the need for full board review. Please allow for necessary lead time so a proposal can be approved prior to initiating the study. Requests for review can be sent to the IRB chairperson at any time. There may be a shortened time period for approval of exempt and/or expedited proposals.

Please note that several of the sample forms and letters on this site contain fictitious names and addresses, since they are meant only as samples. Remember to insert your own name where appropriate, and address your correspondence to the current IRB chair.