Skip Navigation

Undergraduate Research

Students in McConnell


Classroom Projects & Independent Student Research Projects

There is often confusion as to which classroom projects and independent student projects must be reviewed by the Institutional Review Board. Generally, a student project involving human subjects falls into one of two categories:

  1. Classroom projects, the goal of which is to provide training as part of a course, and
  2. Directed or independent research projects that employ systematic data collection with the intent to contribute to generalizable knowledge

Classroom projects generally do not require Institutional Review Board oversight, but independent research projects do.

Classroom Projects Policy

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines human subjects research as “a systematic investigation designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge” typically involving obtaining information from living individuals. Many forms of human subjects research are subject to Institutional Review Board (IRB) review and approval before they can proceed. This policy describes a change in Smith College IRB policy regarding classroom projects, which includes the study of living persons inside or outside the classroom as part of an academic exercise with the goal of enhancing student learning rather than yielding generalizable knowledge. Classroom projects should be distinguished from special studies, honors theses, and other original research projects that may be published or presented off campus, which typically require IRB review. This policy was put into effect beginning in the fall of 2016. It was revised in January and April 2019.

Classroom projects can proceed without IRB review unless the project is human subjects research and the data may be published or presented outside of Smith College (e.g., the internet, professional conferences, academic journals). If there is even a small chance that information collected for a classroom project might be used to contribute to generalizable knowledge, researchers should seek IRB approval before conducting their study.

Note: If you plan to post information from a classroom project on the internet, it does not automatically require IRB review. Please review the list of other study types that do not fit the IRB’s definition of human subjects research on the Application Process page.

The removal of IRB review of classroom projects removes a layer of protection for participants, the college, and the course instructor. Instructors are expected to use their best judgment in conjunction with current social norms to decide whether to include the IRB in their classroom research planning.

Instructors are responsible for determining whether IRB review or consultation would be prudent (even if not required). IRB review refers to seeking formal IRB approval via the regular IRB review process. IRB consultation refers to asking for advice from the IRB without submitting a proposal.

To determine if your project requires IRB review, please do the following:

  1. Set up your account in Mentor IRB and take the pre-proposal survey.
  2. Discuss your pre-proposal survey results with your faculty adviser or submit the survey to the IRB chair for verification.