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San Diego State University

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Lesson 2: Research and IRB Review


When engaged in research involving human subjects, it is necessary to have the Institutional Review Board (IRB) evaluate the proposal to determine whether it meets legal and ethical guidelines on human research studies. This includes research that uses surveys. However, not every use of a survey is formal research. This lesson examines the issues related to IRB reviews beginning with an examination of when an IRB review is required when using a survey collect data. It also focuses on the different levels of IRB review and clarifies examples of research subject to exempt review from those that require a higher level of review.

Lesson Objectives

The lesson addresses the following points:
  1. articulate what types of research are not subject to full IRB review
  2. list the different types of research and levels of review – exempt, expedited, and formal
  3. state cases where IRB is not required when using a survey for data collection
  4. distinguish examples of research that are not subject to from those that will require IRB review

Lesson Resources 

Learning Activities

  1. Classifying research from non-reseach
    1. Have students review the first three online resources.
    2. Distribute a list of uses of surveys used to collect data. Ensure some are engaged in research studies as defined by the definition of Title 46: Protection of Human Subjects, some are uses in class assignments, and some are for administration purposes.
    3. Ask them to classify which studies would be subject to IRB review and justify why they are or are not subject to such review.
  2. Determining levels of IRB review
    1. Prior to class, ask students to develop two research proposals that use surveys for data collection. Have them design the proposals so that they would need different types of IRB review.
    2. In class, distribute to proposals to each student. Have the students review the proposals and identify what level of review the scenario would require. Ensure they state their rationale for determining the level of review they have identified.
    3. Discuss several of the proposals being sure to identify the crucial considerations for determining what level of review is required.

Reflection/Discussion Topics

  1. While a classroom assignment is not subject to an IRB review, what guidelines must one adhere to when developing a survey for a class project? How has the responsibility to ensure these guidelines are met?
  2. Why is the risk of harm such an important consideration in evaluating research proposals and the level of IRB review required?
  3. What harm may come from using a survey?

Additional Resources

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Human Subjects Research Decision Charts. Retrieved from