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 ctlt.isotl@ubc.ca 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.

rise.ubc.ca is your main portal for the entire BREB application process. To access RISe you need to set up an account. You can self-register for an account at https://www.rise.ubc.ca/accessing-rise with your CWL information.
All PIs, co-PIs and anyone who will interact with participants need to do the online TCPS 2 tutorial, which takes approximately two hours. Click on the purple tab that says “TCPS 2: CORE Tutorial.” Follow the instructions and complete the tutorial. Add your completion date to your RISe profile. This step must be completed before your BREB application can be submitted. You may also complete the CITI Tutorial on either clinical or behavioural ethics to meet the requirement (the CITI is common for those who have worked at US institutions).
To complete the BREB application you will need to have a clear understanding of your project plan, including: research questions, process and methods, risk level, recruitment of participants, and tools you'll use to collect data (e.g., interview protocols, survey questions, etc.). For more detailed information related to each application question/section the BREB office has put together numerous documents to help support this process, such as: Guidance notes, Sample Forms & Applications, and FAQs.  If you encounter challenges, contact ISoTL for assistance.

*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).
Once the BREB office has reviewed your application (typically takes 2-4 weeks) you may need to complete provisos. Provisos are edits that the board will request you fix before accepting your application. This may include wording that is not precise enough, inconsistencies in details between the application and the supporting documents, omissions (e.g., missing recruitment or consent documents) and things of this nature. Provisos are done through the RISe system. For each item listed, update the application (changes can be seen by BREB administrators) and provide a statement acknowledging the change made. If changes are made to the supporting documents, remember to update the version number in the footer. Typically, once your provisos are submitted, the BREB office approves the within a couple days.

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

SECONDARY DATA: Consent Form Example

FOCUS GROUPS AND INTERVIEWS: Sample consent forms

Quality assurance & improvement studies, program evaluation & performance reviews, or testing within normal educational requirements when used exclusively for assessment, management or improvement purposes (TCPS2, 2.5). The BREB office has put together a PDF checklist to further help you establish whether your work is considered as quality assurance or research.
Many journals ask for details of ethical approval or a statement that it was not required. If you wish to publish the results of a genuine QA/QI study, you would simply explain that under Article 2.5 of the Tri Council Policy Statement, QA/QI activities are not subject to institutional ethical review.

Article 2.5
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.

Sharing results of an inquiry does not require BREB approval, so long as the project outcomes of a QA/QI project are not being presented as research. Regardless of whether you have BREB approval or not, ensure that responses shared will not identify any student based on their comments and that students provide consent to have their responses made public. You are always welcome to present on general themes and topics without using the direct quotes from students. Sample consent forms for inquiries requiring and not requiring BREB review can be found in our Resource Hub under Recruiting Participants.
Generally, questions that are firstly informed by theory and then "tested" some way in the classroom would be considered research, and so BREB approval would be required. If on the other hand, your inquiry emerged out of something happening in your classroom (students falling asleep partway, very little engagement during lectures, etc.), you might still use some theory to support your inquiry, but the initial question came out of your classroom practice. In this way, your work would be considered more "QA/QI", and not "research", because you are focused on changes within your own practice and not generalizing beyond your specific context.
The BREB has put together guidelines for research during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please review them before beginning your research project.
If there is a research intent, you must apply for BREB before beginning the project. You must also consider issues with data being collected by course instructors, such as power relationships that should be dealt with before collecting any data. Creating a consent form helps to address how some of these issues will be handled. A BREB application for secondary use of data can be submitted if the data collected started out as QA/QI and then would like to be used as research data. If you cannot obtain participant consent, you will need to justify a request for waiver of consent (Section 6.6A of the application). We strongly encourage you to connect with the BREB office to discuss your particular situation.
If you have questions specifically about the BREB application process, or would like to consult with the Office of Research Ethics (ORE), visit their “Contact Us” page. If you have specific questions about the ethics application relating to a SoTL inquiry, please connect with us via email: ctlt.isotl@ubc.ca