BREB Application Guide: A SoTL-Specific Resource
This is a guiding document for obtaining institutional research ethics approval for SoTL projects in UBC-V and UBC-O. Although it has been reviewed and revised by multiple stakeholders, please note that research ethics – especially those pertaining to SoTL – are quickly evolving. Above all else, please consult UBC’s Office of Research Ethics (ORE) or UBC Okanagan’s Office of Research Services, as your most authoritative and up-to-date source of expertise pertaining to your Behavioural Research Ethics Board (BREB) application.
This guide has been developed by the UBC Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISoTL). It has been reviewed and modified by representatives from both UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan research ethics offices, and particular contributions have been made by Nathan Roberson and Kari Grain. If you have questions, suggestions, or updates to include in this guide, please contact email@example.com or ctl.ok.ubc.ca.
We also encourage you to get started by watching a 10 minute video, created by the ISoTL team, that provides some guidance in deciding whether you need to pursue institutional ethics approval.
This guide reflects practices in the UBC Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and was last updated in August, 2021. Please note that although this has been reviewed and endorsed by the BREB office, the official and approved guidelines are provided by UBC’s BREB office.
- BREB: Behavioural Research Ethics Board
- PI: Principal Investigator. This is the UBC faculty member who takes responsibility for the research project.
- QA/QI: Quality improvement/assurance. Projects that are defined by Canada’s Tri‐council Policy Statement (TCPS2) as “... exclusively for assessment, evaluation, management or improvement purposes” or the on‐going quality improvement of teaching practices, courses and programs. QA/QI teaching and learning inquiries typically do not require BREB review.
- Research: Defined by Canada’s Tri‐council Policy Statement (TCPS2) as “an undertaking intended to extend knowledge through a disciplined inquiry or systematic investigation”. Teaching and learning inquiries deemed as research require formal institutional ethics review.
Before you begin your BREB application process, determine if it is even required. One key criterion is your primary intent for conducting the project in question. BREB approval is required if the project’s primary intent is research. To help you discern whether your project needs BREB review, see the table below:
|BREB review not required||BREB review required (Research)|
|Primary intent||To improve teaching and learning practices within a limited context (e.g. one’s own classroom or a specific program of studies).||To add to an existing body of knowledge (i.e., uncover or create new knowledge); and to be able to generalize results beyond one’s own context.|
|Theory||Only involved insofar as it improves practice||Heavily integrated in write-up and analysis; seeks to produce generalizable knowledge|
|Expectations of students||Regular student activities plus minimal student involvement that goes beyond regular expectations (e.g., survey or interview participation).||Student activities and expectations are impacted by, for instance, experimental designs, control groups or other types of differential treatments.|
|Dissemination||Outputs tend to be more reflective and context-specific in nature. The narrative of the dissemination piece avoids terms such as research questions, participants, principal investigator. And instead is presented with terms such as guiding questions, students, and instructor.||Dissemination occurs to advance a theory or body of knowledge. The goal is to share results which are rigorous enough to generalize findings across multiple contexts. The work is presented with research terminology.|
Other points to keep in mind:
- Don’t present your project as research if you did not get institutional ethics approval.
- There may be no research intent to begin with, but as soon as a research intent develops, you must do obtain BREB approval.
- There are no such things as retroactive BREB approvals. The only thing you can apply for is the use of secondary data after it has already been collected. It can be challenging to obtain consent from students to use their data once the semester is over.
Now that you’re sure you need BREB approval for your project there are a few steps before you can begin your BREB application.
*It is important that you do not begin to collect data or recruit participants until BREB has approved your study.
- Anonymous data: no identifying information is collected. For example, students complete a survey where no name, ID or identifying information is collected. If the researcher knows who has participated (e.g., with focus group participants), their data can never be anonymous, but their participation can be kept confidential.
- Anonymized data: information is stripped of direct identifiers, and no code is kept to allow future re-linkage. For example, you collect student names with a survey but remove the names from the data set after collection and do not store the name information. Note that this method does not allow you to re-identify participants after the study, so there is no way to remove data if a participant would later like to withdraw - you must make this clear to participants in advance.
- De-identified data: identifiers are replaced with anonymous IDs (e.g., "1" or "Participant A") and identifiers are kept in a separate document to allow for future re-linkage. This can be important in cases where participants want to withdraw from the study after data is collected, and allows the research team to pull out their data at any given point during the life of a project.
- SoTL Specialists, GRAs, or GTAs (or anyone without a connection to the students involved) should usually be the only one with access to student identities. Data must be anonymized, de-identified and/or aggregated before a course instructor has access.
- Any identifying data pertaining to research participants must be stored in secure locations (e.g., on a password-protected computer or One Drive, and not Google Drive).
After your study is approved, you can make amendments to your project (for example, changing some survey items or extending the project to an additional course). Any modifications to the study design or tool modification will require a PAA (post-activity approval) amendment, see instructions for amendments (PDF).
In this section, we have generated sample documents (e.g., consent forms, invitations, etc.) that you may copy/paste and change as needed to suit your own study.
A few things to note:
- This is a compilation of various examples that have been approved by BREB in the past. This does not mean that BREB will approve them in the future, as guidelines and best practices are continually changing.
- You will need to add your department or faculty letterhead to all consent forms.
- Footers of documents must include the date, document version number, and for consent forms only the BREB project ID
- These forms are only examples. You are welcome to copy/paste the wording as much as you like, although you will need to adjust details according to your own study.
LETTER OF INITIAL CONTACT
SURVEYS: Consent Form
- Sample survey consent form produced by ISoTL
- Sample consent form template and instructions from the BREB office are also available
SECONDARY DATA: Consent Form Example
FOCUS GROUPS AND INTERVIEWS: Sample consent forms
- Sample interview consent form produced by ISoTL
Quality assurance and quality improvement studies, program evaluation activities, and performance reviews, or testing within normal educational requirements when used exclusively for assessment, management or improvement purposes, do not constitute research for the purposes of this Policy, and do not fall within the scope of REB review.
Article 2.5 refers to assessments of the performance of an organization or its employees or students, within the mandate of the organization, or according to the terms and conditions of employment or training. Those activities are normally administered in the ordinary course of the operation of an organization where participation is required, for example, as a condition of employment in the case of staff performance reviews, or an evaluation in the course of academic or professional training. Other examples include student course evaluations, or data collection for internal or external organizational reports. Such activities do not normally follow the consent procedures outlined in this Policy. If data are collected for the purposes of such activities but later proposed for research purposes, it would be considered secondary use of information not originally intended for research, and at that time may require REB review in accordance with this Policy. Refer to Section D of Chapter 5 for guidance concerning secondary use of identifiable information for research purposes.
c. I want to present some results to my department. Can I use student quotes from my project to illustrate some key points, or would I require BREB approval for this?
d. My classroom inquiry is informed heavily by theory, does this make it “research”? If so, should I apply for BREB approval?
f. I did not request student consent and collected data without applying for BREB approval. What can I do with my data?