Carnegie Mellon University and Duke University have shared newly available free tools that will significantly lower the barriers to conducting ethical educational research. The two universities contributed the tools through e-Literate’s Empirical Educator Project (EEP), an effort to promote broader adoption of evidence-based teaching practices and foster a culture of empirical education across higher education
Through e-Literate’s EEP, learning science researchers at Carnegie Mellon and Duke Universities discovered that each institution had developed a solution for part of this problem. Carnegie Mellon University has developed templates approved by their IRB that they estimate will accommodate approximately 80% of classroom research use cases. Meanwhile, Duke University has developed language and a process approved by their IRB for requesting and tracking informed consent from students.
The two universities have released the tools under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license and provided “train the trainer” support for the use of their templates and protocols. Together, these contributions could enable many of the educators and product designers who are already conducting informal educational research all over the world to participate in the same sort of social fabric that has enabled communities of researchers in other human sciences to tackle problems from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease.
EEP is now looking for one or more pilot institutions to adopt and adapt these contributions, with particular interest in finding access-oriented colleges and universities that have different educational and research contexts from Carnegie Mellon and Duke Universities. The goal of the pilot will be to learn how these tools need to be adapted for use in different kinds of colleges and universities.
Why This Matters
As with all academic research involving human subjects, educational researchers must have their experimental designs approved by their university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). If a researcher wants to study students or their work, they must explain how they will get the students’ informed consent to participate.
This can be a major barrier that often prevents research from being undertaken. Teaching faculty who may be interested in conducting a study may decide that the bureaucratic burden is more than they can take on. Multiple universities that want to collaborate on cross-institutional studies will have to get approval from each institution’s IRB in an environment where there are no widely adopted standards for reviewing and approving educational research by these bodies. Educational technology companies that want to be more transparent and collaborative with universities about their own research into product efficacy can find the IRB process impractically time-consuming. As a result, far less educational research gets conducted in ways that are both reviewed for ethical practices and shared as credible research that contributes to the state of the art in learning science.