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Course Application Guidelines

These guidelines are taken from the McMaster Research Ethics Board Course application form.

McMaster University Research Ethics Board

Request for Ethics Clearance of Course-Based Research Projects


Many undergraduate, MBA, and graduate courses include class projects and activities designed to develop research skills.  These projects may be carried out by individual students, small groups or as a single class project. 

McMaster University wishes to encourage learning of research methodologies and techniques by students.  Class exercises may not fit the standard definition of research in the sense that the results are not intended for publication or for generalization to other situations, however, the potential for risk to subjects who participate in research class exercises requires the protocol and consent information be reviewed by a research ethics board.

Course-based research activities vary in scope, but may include:

  • having students conduct interviews, administer standard tests, or distribute questionnaires to develop interview or questionnaire design skills;
  • conduct “mini” research projects where students pose research questions, gather data from human participants, and analyse the data for presentation; or
  • other activities that would be considered research within the disciplinary traditions in which the course is being taught.

A.        Distinguishing Research from Case/Professional Skill Development

In some class situations the information gathering procedures and practices students are expected to use are exclusively required for pedagogic purposes. They are not conducted within the context of, or embedded within, a research framework.  For example, professional faculties have students conduct interviews as part of skill development or individual knowledge acquisition. Information gathering projects within these situations are not subject to MREB review requirements, however they must align with the appropriate professional standards or codes of conduct and review processes required by the relevant Faculty.

The following criteria can be used to assess whether information-gathering activities within a university course are part of a research project or are for the teaching of professional skills or pedagogic purposes.

Information gathering activities are classified as research where:

  •  the intent is to educate students on research processes used to explore and expand existing theories and conceptual knowledge;
  •  students compare new techniques, practices, programs with standard approaches to determine which is more effective;
  •  the results or findings are written in a format that would be acceptable for a research journal or academic conference presentation; or
  •  primary data is collected and organized for analysis and distribution or dissemination..


Information gathering activities are classified as skill development and not research when:

  •  the intent is to use the information to provide advice, diagnosis, identification of appropriate interventions, or general advice for a client,
  • the intent is to develop skills which are considered standard practice within a profession (e.g., observation, assessment, intervention, evaluation, auditing); or
  • the information gathering processes are part of the normal relationship between the student and the participants (e.g., classroom teacher and students, nurse and patient, lawyer and client),


Instructors who are uncertain as to whether a learning activity or project falls outside the scope of the criteria outlined in this document should contact the Research Ethics Secretariat at ext. 23142, or


B.        Criteria for Student Research

If a class project falls under the definition of research as described above, the following Guidelines and Procedures may be applied.

The instructor may oversee the conduct of his or her individual student’s research by completing a “Request for Ethical Approval of a Course-Based Research Project” form and submitting it for approval to the departmental Student Research Ethics Committee, or the McMaster Research Ethics Board, if there is no departmental committee. 

C.        The Application Process

1.         The Instructor for the course takes the role of principal investigator and submits a Request for Clearance of Course-Based Research Projects form for the class. 

2.         The “Request for Clearance of Course-Based Research Projects” form is signed by the Course Instructor.  Included with the application is a sample consent form or letter of information, and a sample questionnaire, survey or other research instrument.

3.         The “Request for Approval of Course-Based Research Projects” form should be submitted to the MREB Secretariat for distribution o the appropriate Student Ethics Review Committee or to the McMaster Research Ethics Board if there is no student committee.

4.         The Instructor should have their students complete an “Individual Application To Involve Human Participants in Research” form for each separate research project which is being undertaken in the class.  The Instructor reviews each of these applications and ensures that they are complete and in compliance with the ethics review requirements of the University.  

5.         If the student projects are to be carried out at other institutions or agencies (such as schools, hospitals, government agencies etc.) students should be aware that approval granting permission to access premises or to obtain private information from the other institution may be required, and should be obtained, where appropriate.

6.         All forms related to approving the ethical acceptability of each student’s project must be retained by the instructor for a period of two years. 

7.         Ethical approval for class projects is maintained for five years, provided that there are no changes to the course assignments.  If changes are made a “Change Request” form must be completed and submitted to the MREB Secretariat. All sections of the course, whether on campus or not, must follow the procedures, and all Instructors must ensure that these policies are complied with.

8.         All questions and clarifications concerning the interpretation of these guidelines should be directed to the Research Ethics Secretariat, ext. 23142,

D.   Parameters of Risk:  Once your course application is cleared, you will be able to review and approve individual projects so long as all of the following are TRUE:

T F            Projects are no more than minimal risk to the participants

T F            The research participants will be drawn from the general adult population, capable of giving free and

Informed consent and will not include vulnerable participants such as children, persons who are not legally competent to consent; mentally incompetent persons; legal wards or persons dependent upon the researcher(s) for therapeutic care

T F            The student projects will not involve any personal, sensitive or incriminating topics or questions which could place participants at risk;

T F            The student projects will not change or involve behaviour(s) of participants beyond the range of “normal” classroom activity or daily life;

T F            The student projects will not involve physically invasive contact with the research participants, for example, taking blood or urine samples, cortisol, muscle biopsies, tissue for genetic testing;

T F            The student projects will not involve deception.


If a student project falls outside ANY of these elements of risk, you and the student(s) must submit an individual research ethics application form [] for review by the appropriate Student Research Ethics Committee, or the McMaster Research Ethics Board. These forms should be submitted to the Ethics Secretariat at Room 305 Gilmour Hall, or electronically to < > for processing.