Classroom Activities

Many academic courses at Emory include instruction on research methods and research design; sometimes this is done through hands-on projects. On their face it may appear that these types of projects require IRB review, but there are actually many cases in which that is not the case. The reasoning goes back to the definition of generalizable; classroom activities are often meant specifically to satisfy a course requirement or to teach a particular lesson, they are oftentimes not intended to spread beyond the classroom in a way that would suggest generalizable research.

Another form of classroom activity is when instructors/professors innovate in order to improve their pedagogy. These can be systematic changes with data analysis from before and after the innovation. No IRB review is required when the intention is solely to improve the teacher’s own teaching methods, or even when a whole department implements a new curriculum, which they want to evaluate to see how well it works. However, if an instructor has an academic interest is pedagogy, and they are using their classroom partly as a “laboratory” to test innovations with the goal of contributing to generalizable knowledge about pedagogy, IRB submission would likely be required (though we will probably determine the project to be “exempt” research).

Below are some criteria that tend to be representative of either classroom activities or research; this list is to be used as a guide not a definitive determination:

Common Elements
Classroom Activity Research
Done for the purpose of fulfilling academic requirements Done, at least in part, for purposes beyond the classroom, drawing conclusions to contribute to the broader field
Focused on teaching a particular skill or lesson (e.g. conducting surveys to improve communication skills) Focused on exploring a particular topic or theory; not directed towards one particular end or result
Data is typically collected in a manner that assures the anonymity or confidentiality of the participants Data collected for research often contains some elements of identifiable information
The nature of the project only exposes participants to minimal risks Research may involve procedures that present more than minimal risk
For information about research with students and the Family Educational Righsts and Privacy act, please access the Emory IRB Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) Guidance and Worksheet.  
Access additional links to other Emory Offices' FERPA policies at