IRB Guideline V - Research Using Penn State Students as Participants

The Institutional Review Board has seen an increase in the number of proposals from faculty recruiting students from their classes to serve as their research participants. Faculty should think very carefully about the implications of using students as participants in research. Although students often provide a ready source of potential participants, they are not always as representative or appropriate to the research as other subject pools, and many research proposals and manuscripts have been rejected for funding or publications, respectively, on those grounds. If students are determined to be appropriate participants, then several key issues need to be considered.

  1. Coercion: If the instructor of the course is also the PI on the project, recruitment of students into the project by the instructor could be viewed as coercive. Students may fear that their grades would be jeopardized by their non-participation in the research, especially since the instructor could identify who has participated and who has not. Therefore, it is important that measures are built into the research to ensure students that their participation is strictly voluntary and that they may withdraw their participation at anytime without penalty.
  2. Consent: Even though potential participants are enrolled in the PI's class, informed consent is still required. The PI must explain the procedures; disclose all the risks and benefits, and any other information, which may influence the potential participant's decision to willingly participate. Signed informed consent is required, except under the following conditions:

    • a. Anonymous (no means of identifying participants) mailed questionnaires or telephone interviews; and
    • b. The only record linking the subject and the research would be the signed consent document and the principal risk would be potential harm resulting from a breach of confidentiality.

    Please note: Although signed informed consent may be waived, participants must still receive the standard consent information.

  3. Extra Credit: If extra credit is offered in exchange for participation, an alternate means of earning equivalent extra credit for an equivalent commitment of time and effort should be made available to the entire student pool. (Please note that extra credit should be awarded only in addition to the base amount of points to be earned for the course, rather than being figured in to the base amount of points to be earned.)
  4. Use of Class Time: University policy states that the use of class time for research purposes must be justified. "Submissions proposing the use of class time for research should include an explanation of the beneficence of the research to the students. Specifically, the researcher should explain how participation in the research would be a learning experience for the students and how the research is relevant to the course of study being taught in that class."
  5. Use of Class Assignments in Research: Instructors should not use their students' class assignments (e.g., journals, term papers, etc.) in research without the signed consent of the students.
  6. More information on Penn State Policy RP03.


  • Last Approved: Aug 21, 2003