When a researcher intends to administer a completely anonymous one-time questionnaire, informed consent can be incorporated into the survey instead of utilizing a separate signed consent form. To do this, the researcher should include a cover page to the survey in which the standard information from the consent form is explained. That is, introduce yourself and the study, emphasize that there is no identifying information on the survey and that participants should not put their names or other identifying information on it. Make the final paragraph something like:
“I understand the nature and purpose of this project and filling out this survey provides consent for the information to be used anonymously and confidentially in the study. I understand that I can choose to leave a question blank if I would rather not answer it. Clicking "next" or turning the page constitutes my informed consent to participate in this research”.
By doing this, researchers need not pass out and collect (traditional) consent forms before the surveys are administered. Be sure to remind participants to print a copy for their records or to give copies of this cover page for participants to keep.
To date, researchers at Arcadia University have used, and the IRB has approved the use of SurveyMonkey.com and MTurk.com. This last statement is merely informational and does not imply endorsement of this method of data collection nor these web sites in particular on the part of the IRB.
Please be aware that web-based distribution sites generally charge a fee for their services; some may even offer a low introductory offer or an introductory rate designed to hook clients in but which then may lead to unwanted outcomes afterwards.
An important issue that teachers/administrations need to consider when they are conducting action research or research in an educational setting is that there is a difference between what will be done for research and what will be done as part of the researcher’s regular classroom/teaching/school activities. Researchers do not need a parent’s permission to implement novel classroom activities (e.g. reading out loud, working on mathematical word problems, reading certain novels, etc), but do need their permission if they intend to collect data from or about a child (e.g. how much students learn, grades, student’s feelings toward math problems, students feelings or opinions towards reading, etc.). Similarly, researchers do not need parent’s permission to look at a student’s record or to record their grades as their teacher; however researchers do need parental permission when they intend to use their records or grades as data as a researcher.
Researchers are encouraged to consult with their research advisors, their department’s representative on COPRS or the chair of COPRS if this distinction is not clear in a particular instance. Researchers should keep this distinction in mind in all phases of their research, but especially as they plan studies and write consent forms.
Parental Consent Letters
The IRB is uncomfortable with researchers sending home parental consent letters via students and then following up with a phone call. The concern is that when it comes to consent forms for research, (1) non-responding must be interpreted as declining to participate, (2) declining subjects must not have further contact and (3) potential subjects should not feel coerced by multiple contacts (especially by somebody connected to their child’s schooling).
Alternatives amenable to the committee would be: calling ahead alerting parents that such a letter/request is coming to them via their child (and then include a self-addressed stamped envelope for return of signed consent form), mailing letters/requests to parents and including a self-addressed stamped envelope, or some other method a researcher might suggest which allays these concerns.
Researchers wishing to utilize participant focus group sessions as part of their studies are asked to be particularly cognizant of consent and confidentiality issues as they pertain to multiple participants sharing potentially personal information within a group setting. See Focus Group Research Guidelines.
Door-to-door Solicitation and Surveys
In the townships of Cheltenham and Abington (and possibly others) researchers need to obtain a permit to go door to door surveying residents. Generally, a letter of application along with a copy of the IRB approval letter is all that is required to obtain such permission. Please check with the local authorities and verify the requirements before you submit your proposal to the IRB for approval.
Karen Dudley (Russo) Senior Coordinator, Office of Sponsored Research and Programs/COPRS