Students + Research

The University of Alberta values student engagement in research and creative activities. Students participate in many ways both as the researchers and/or as research participants. There are unique ethical issues related to these distinct categories highlighted below.

Students as researcher

Course-based Research

The University of Alberta promotes the integration of research and teaching in its programs. Undergraduate courses often include class projects to enhance research skills. These projects can be completed individually, in small groups, or as a class project. Please refer to the  University's Guideance document for more information on course-based research.

REB Review

For course-based research projects involving human participants, the instructor submits a "course-based research" ethics application to  Research Ethics Board 1 (REB 1). While these projects may not fit the standard definition of research for generalization, they may still require REB review due to potential risks. Once approved, the instructor is responsible for ensuring the ethical acceptability of students' individual projects.


Course-based research projects can encompass a range of activities, such as:

  • conduct interviews, administer standard tests, or distribute questionnaires with a focus on developing interview or questionnaire design skills.
  • conduct small research projects where students pose research questions, gather data from human participants, and analyze the data for presentation within the course; and/or
  • engage in other activities that would be considered research within the disciplinary traditions in which the course is being taught.

It's important to note that course-based research projects are intended for pedagogical purposes and student assessment. The results of these projects are not intended for dissemination outside the classroom environment, including publication.

Full guidance document

Research Conducted by Students/Learners/Trainees (Honors/Capstone/Thesis)

Unlike course-based research assignments, students, learners and trainees undertake individualized, independent research projects that are held to a higher academic standard and expected to contribute to their field of study.

REB Review

For student (undergrad or graduate), learner and/or trainee researchers, a full ethics application is prepared and submitted to the appropriate REB.  Whether the student/trainee/learner is the Principal Investigator or not, depends on the REB reviewing the application.

See attached guidelines for students research submitted to:

REB1 or REB 2 - Students applying to REB 1 or REB 2 section

HREB (REB 3 and REB 4) - Students applying to REB3 or REB 4 section

Student as research Participants

Ethical Issues

Students in classrooms represent a captive audience if they are recruited to participate in their instructor's research project. In-class research raises a number of ethical issues:

  • Undue influence, or pressure to participate, is a major concern if an instructor plans to use his or her own students as participants, particularly during class time. Students may feel that their grades will be affected by their participation. Experimentation in a classroom setting may raise the issue of confidentiality, as students may be able to read or hear one another's responses.
  • In-class research raises concerns about the anonymity of participants because it is relatively easy to tell if someone is participating or not. E.g., they fill out a questionnaire or do something else or leave the room.
  • For research to take up any teaching time, it should have educational value.

In these cases, when the instructor applies for REB approval for research involving his/her students or classes, s/he will need to address mechanisms of free and informed and the risks associated with issues of confidentiality and anonymity.

Informed Consent

If any materials (e.g. papers, tests, etc.) produced by the students are to be prospectively collected and analyzed, consent from the students is needed. Fully informed consent on how the materials will be used, with guarantees of confidentiality are essential. The consent form should explicitly state that no penalties will result from not agreeing to participate. If possible, instructors should wait until the final date to contest one's marks has passed so that a real or appearance of potential for evaluative effect on student/participants no longer exists.

Third-Party Recruitment

If the instructor intends to involve some students as participants, and not others, a third party should be involved in recruitment and selection to provide some distance between teacher/researcher and student/participant. The teacher/researcher should not know who has agreed to participate while the teacher-student relationship still exists. It is normally advisable that identifiable data be analyzed only after grades have been submitted so that a real, or appearance of potential, evaluative effect on student/participants no longer exists.

Guidelines on in-class Research Students as Participants

Elementary and Secondary student participants

Cooperative Activities Program (CAP)

The following Edmonton-area school districts are part of the Cooperative Activities Program (CAP):

  • Edmonton Public Schools
  • Edmonton Catholic Schools
  • Elk Island Public Schools
  • St. Albert Public Schools
  • Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools

An application (separate from an ethics application) is required to conduct human participant research in CAP districts.

CAP is administered by the Associate Dean, Research in the Faculty of Education. Further details, including the CAP application form (including the guidelines and procedures) can be found on CAP website.