BREB Application Guide: A SoTL-Specific Resource

This is a guiding document for obtaining research ethics 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 SoTL specialists 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

This guide reflects practices in the UBC Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and was last updated November 2018. Please note that although this has been reviewed and approved by the BREB office, it does not constitute everything one needs to know about conducting ethical research on the scholarship of teaching and learning. The official and approved guidelines are provided by UBC’s BREB office.

  • BREB: Behavioural Research Ethics Board
  • Evaluation vs. Research: (See table in section b. to BREB or not to BREB below)
  • PI: Principal Investigator. This is the UBC faculty member who takes responsibility for the research project.

Before you begin your BREB process, figure out if it is even required. One key criterion is your primary intent. BREB is ONLY required if the project’s primary intent is research. On the other hand, if the project’s primary intent is program evaluation, BREB is NOT required. Other factors include whether your practice is limited to normal classroom practice, or whether any students are put at disadvantage.

To help you discern whether it is research or evaluation, see the table below:

Evaluation Research
Primary intent Associate outcomes with practices; improve teaching and learning practices Add to an existing body of knowledge (i.e., uncover or create new knowledge); publish for wider audience
Theory Only involved insofar as it improves practice Heavily integrated in write-up and analysis; seeks to produce generalizable knowledge
Expectations of students Within normal classroom practice, time, and expectations Often goes beyond normal classroom expectations (i.e., gleaning info about them such as gender, past grades, SOE, etc.)
Publication Not generally a key goal; usually in evaluative journal or local events/conferences One of the driving goals
Context Development of “best practices” in a narrow context; meant to improve teaching; limited scope Collaboration with colleagues; comparison with other data; literary analysis; looking across institutional contexts
Practices Practices are normal evaluation practices. If comparisons are made, they include only aggregate data and comparison across years Include research practices. Splitting data and looking at sample populations. Differential treatment. Different students within the same section (or even course) receive different version of the instruction, possibly putting people at disadvantage.  Linking student data across different data sources.Other points to understand
  • Don’t say that your project is 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 a BREB.
  • There are no such things as Retroactive BREBs. 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 if the semester is over.
  • Any identifying data pertaining to research participants must be stored in secure locations (e.g., on a password-protected computer and not Google Drive).
  • Keep in mind that BREB reviewers, although they follow the same standards, still vary in the level of detail that they require for approval of BREB applications. No two BREB reviewers are exactly alike and therefore, just because a document has been approved before, does not mean there will be no provisos required if you use a similar template. In addition, standards are refined over time - ethics is a highly evolving field.

Your main portal for the entire BREB process is rise.ubc.ca. Now that you’re sure you need a BREB for this project, you will need to get a researcher number in order to get a RISe account. All Principal Investigators (PIs) and co-investigators (co-Is) will also need RISe accounts. A PI must be a faculty member; SoTL specialists should be listed as co-Is or other members of the team in the BREB application. The PI is the only person who can click the “submit” button on the initial application, however others (post-approval activities, for example) can submit thereafter.To get a researcher number, email the following information to risesupport@ors.ubc.ca.

  • Full Name (First Name/Middle Initial/Surname)
  • Email Address
  • Phone Number
  • UBC Rank (Student)
  • UBC Student Number

RISe administrators will create a new account and forward you your new researcher number within approximately three to five business days.

Before you begin your BREB application, you will 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 will be approved. Anyone who interacts with participants (e.g., interviewers, focus group facilitators, research staff) must complete the tutorial. This is a requirement for UBC personnel only, so if non-UBC personnel are collaborating, they do not need to complete the tutorial.

Once you begin filling out the online BREB form, you may find that you don’t have the information that is required. To save you time, gain an understanding in advance of the research plan, process and risk level, participants, and questions you’ll ask (e.g., interview protocols, focus group questions, etc.). For more detailed information related to each BREB question/section, read the guidance notes for the BREB application. They can also be accessed from within the ethics application by clicking the “Guidance Notes” icon next to the section. You can also look at the BREB application and begin drafting up a word document that you may then copy/paste into the BREB online application.*Save your written work in a Word document in case the website deletes it or has a glitch.

Now that you understand what is required of you, begin completing all of the BREB questions/sections. While you can refer to the BREB Office's Guidance notes, the notes below are designed specifically for SoTL research applications. If you encounter challenges, contact your SoTL colleagues for assistance.

1.1 PI (Principal Investigator)
  • The PI is the primary faculty member who has ultimate responsibility for the ethical conduct of the research.
1.2 Primary Contact
  • Typically, the SoTL specialist should be the primary contact (unless otherwise specified by faculty members you collaborate with).
  • This contact receives all correspondence from within RISe (in addition to the PI).
1.3 Co-Investigators
  • These people also have online access to the study and will appear on the certificate of ethical approval along with the PI.
  • List the SoTL specialist as one co-investigator, as you will be doing research.
  • If there are multiple faculty members working on the project, this may also be where you add anyone who has not been listed as the PI or primary contact.

**Typically, you will be both a co-investigator and the primary contact, because your name will not appear on the certificate of ethical approval unless listed as a co-investigator.

1.7 Project Title
  • Ensure that this title is the same exact one as what appears on your supporting documents (e.g., consent forms, proposals, etc.).
  • Either the “nickname” or the full title can be used on supporting documents.
2.1b Project Period/Study Start/End Date
  • For study start date, it is better to use the first option (after ethics approval) rather than entering a fixed date. Sometimes your application will not get approved by the date you had anticipated, and it makes your job much more difficult.
  • The study end date should be when all interaction (including follow-ups where needed) with participants will have ended. Err on the side of more time (it gives you some flexibility).
2.3 Research Funding Application Award/Award Associated with the Study
  • You Should not have to fill this out.
2.4 Research Funding Application/Award Associated with the Study not listed in question 2.3
  • Instead, fill this out
  • Choose “TLEF” or “SoTL Seed” or “ALT fund” (Okanagan) as appropriate
4.1 UBC Research Ethics Board
  • Choose UBC Behavioural Research Ethics Board or “UBC Okanagan Behavioural Research Ethics Board.”
4.2a Institutions and Sites for Study
  • Fill in  UBC Vancouver” or “UBC Okanagan”, as appropriate(excludes UBC Hospital)

**An exception to this is if you’re doing research exclusively online like in a MOOC. In this case, you can select “N/A” but fill out 4.2b with a short explanation about your exclusively online study.

Peer Review
  • 4.4a: Typically “no external peer review”
  • 4.4b: Typically “no internal peer review”
  • 4.4c: Sample wording:
    • “A peer review is not deemed necessary for this proposal at this time because x, y, and z.”
    • “This study is considered to be of minimal risk and a peer review is not required as per the TCPS2 Guidelines.”
 4.5a Participant Vulnerability and Research Risk
  • Arguably the most important thing that the BREB reviewers are looking at!
  • Ideally, our studies will be 1/1 in the top left corner of the matrix.
  • **95% of SoTL studies are ticked in the top left corner as low risk / low vulnerability, as this is the nature of these studies.
  • In determining this, consider:
    • 1) Participant risk:
      • Participants’ age (Are these all consenting adults?)
      • Vulnerability level (Are there any people whose disability could affect their ability to advocate on their own behalf?)
      • Power relations (1. Will the professor have knowledge of the students’ responses? If so, will they be anonymized? If not, will they know before or after final grades are submitted?; 2. Will a student feel compelled to participate because of the professor’s awareness of who has consented?)
      • Exposure/sharing of grades or course progress - possible embarrassment
    • 2) Research risk:
      • How sensitive is the research subject matter? (Does it discuss mental illness? Involve traumatic events? Contain confidential content that could endanger the livelihood of participants?)
 4.5b Minimal Risk
  • This is where you justify and explain what you ticked in the boxes.
  • *All university students have capacity to consent for research purposes
  • Refer to notes above for the kinds of things you should write about.
  • In studies that involve vulnerable groups and marginalized communities, take extra care with integrating context-specific knowledge to this section.
  • Sample a/b wording:
    • “The study does not involve any at-risk populations. Although conditions differ slightly between groups, no group is put at a disadvantage that we know of, all individuals will experience the same core assignments, and all learning variations are common course practices. There are no risks beyond those already associated with completing course assignments.”
  • Add something like:
    • “Activities in this study may involve cognitive or emotional challenges,  however these are all within the range of typical classroom activities.”
 4.8 Class-based research and the department-level research ethics review process
  •  Typically, you write “no” for this one. It is only considered a class-based research if all students in a course are doing the research (e.g., being taught to fill out a BREB for pedagogical purposes).
 5.1a Short summary of project
  • Note the limit of 100 words or less.
  • You do not need to talk in detail about your procedures here.
  • Strive to describe in lay terms.
 5.1b Longer summary of project
  • BREB reviewers can refer to the lit review in your proposal if needed - it should not be included here. They mostly want to read about the overview and how participants will be involved/affected. Usually 1-3 paragraphs is ample; err on the side of brevity (concise and exact use of words in a short period of time).
 5.2/5.3 Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria
  • Write out who will be included / excluded from your study and why.
  • Think about class completion (e.g., “Students included in this study will be those enrolled in SCI 115 at the time of survey dissemination.”).
  • Sample wording for inclusion:
    • “All students registered in the course during the study dates are eligible to be participants in the study.”
  • Sample wording for exclusion (*please note, behavioural studies rarely have exclusions):
    • “Participants who will be excluded from participation in this study include those who do not complete both the pre- and post-survey.”
5.4 Recruitment
  • Do not include consenting details in this Box. Use Box 6.6 to describe consent procedures.
  • If you use emails, letters, scripts / presentations to recruit participants, the written script for those will be required as an attachment (later, in section 9).
  • BREB is hoping to see that the language is appropriate to the intended audience and clear, and that potential participants will understand what the study is about and their rights to participate or not.
  • Ensure there are no coercion or power issues in the recruitment process.
    • Related- the incentive should not act as a form of coercion. Namely it should not be so large ($100) that students really feel pressured to participate. Also, if possible, participants should have a way to receive the same or an equivalent incentive without participation in the study. For example, if a 1% class credit is given for focus group participation, participants should also be able to get 1% by writing an additional review or attending an additional lecture or something related to the course.
5.5 Use of Records
  • This question is specifically concerned with whether records will be used to identify participants (i.e., for recruitment). The question is not whether grades will be accessed.
  • Emphasize that if grades are going to be used in any way, this will not be tied to how/if the participant chooses to engage.
  • Typically personal records are not accessed from outside of the class for any SoTL seed projects.
5.6 Summary of Procedures
  • BREB needs to know how the researcher will interact with participants, including: Where the activity will occur, how long it will take, who will be involved, how data will be captured, and whether it will be a group activity or a one-on-one interview.
  • This question should describe the steps involved AFTER recruitment and consent has been secured.
  • Think about confidentiality, anonymity, and informed consent. Emphasize that participants will not be coerced into participating, or negatively affected in any way.
  • Often, we emphasize here that the professor will have no knowledge of whether or not students participated and therefore, it will not affect their grades or relationship with the instructor.
6.2 Risks
  • This is a major point of interest to BREB. They want to see that the researcher has considered the potential risks to participants and has identified measures that can be put in place.
  • Generally, SoTL projects tend to be low risk.
6.3 Benefits
  • Think about both direct and indirect benefits - those that are felt directly by the participant as a result of their engagement with the research. Sample wording for benefits:
    • “This study will benefit participants by providing insight into their study habits or preferred learning style.”
6.4 Impacts on Community
  • Sample wording:
    • “This study might positively influence instructional practices related to _____ in the UBC community and surrounding communities.”
6.5 Reimbursement
  • This section should address the situation where participants are being compensated for a series of interventions. It is acceptable for researchers to prorate compensation, but they should state how it will be prorated ($10 at the end of each interview) and confirm that those who withdraw from the study will still be compensated in some fashion (e.g., participants should not feel compelled to stay in a study if they are not comfortable because they are counting on the compensation). This information should also be provided in the consent form.
  • Ensure that you include any form of reimbursement/incentives, including gift cards, meals, bonus grades (often restrictions determined by department), etc.
  • Sample wording:
    • “Student research participants who attend focus groups will be offered snacks and nonalcoholic beverages valued at $7 per student.”
    • “Participants in this research will receive a $10 gift card to the UBC bookstore.”
6.6 Obtaining Consent
  • BREB wants to see that students have time to think about their participation, that they understand they are not obliged to participate, and that their grades / relationships will not be negatively affected based on their choice to participate or not.
  • The BREB reviewers would like to see focus on how consent is being sought and given. Is the consent written or oral? Is it via a separate consent form submitted to the researcher before the participant is entered into the study, or do they simply click an “I agree” button in order to access the survey?
  • It is important to consider in each context about whether passive or active consent is being given. For some things (use of secondary data analysis for evaluative purposes; completion of online surveys), passive consent can be obtained. For others (completion of additional tasks, or collection of “sensitive” information like grades or demographics), active consent is needed.
  • If passive consent is being requested (i.e., you are assumed to be a part of the study unless you specifically request not to be), a strong justification will be needed. Convenience is not considered an acceptable justification.
6.7 Time to Decide
  • Ensure that participants are not rushed into deciding whether or not they participate, as this can seem manipulative.
  • State a minimum period of time as long as the researcher can abide by it. Note that the “clock” starts when the participant has received the detailed study information - not when they are first informed.
6.10 Provisions for Consent
  • Sample wording:
    • (if applicable to your study) “Consent will be delivered in the same fashion as other course materials and thus students who are enrolled in the course will already have solutions for working with this material.”
7.3 Researcher Qualifications
  • Ensure that the PI and each co-investigator listed in the study has a blurb on their qualifications (i.e., anyone who is listed on the certificate of approval should receive explanation as to why they are good/trustworthy researchers).
  • Focus on the qualifications or experience as they relate to the specifics of the study. BREB is not looking for a mini-CV here, but rather confirmation that if a researcher does not have the requisite experience to conduct the research (e.g., focus group facilitation or one-on-one interviewing), they will be receiving guidance or mentoring from a more senior member of the team. If they have conducted similar research in the past, or have been involved in a similar study as an assistant, this is relevant information.
8.1 Security of Data During the Course of Study
  • Sample wording (adjust details as needed):
    • “Over the course of the research, all hard copy data will be stored in locked files in the ________ office, and in encrypted and password-protected data files on his/her computer with a password known only to him/her, at the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (or Centre for Teaching and Learning Okanagan). Only after all course grades have been submitted will the course instructors have access to student participant data. Additionally, only after community partner interview transcription and anonymization will course instructors have access to participant data.”
  • See UBC’s policy on "Acceptable Use and Security of UBC Electronic Information and Systems".This governs the BREB's data security requirements. See inline changes for 'new' requirements.
  • Be sure you mention both of the following:
    • Data will be encrypted (must be)
    • Data will be password protected (when digital, it must be!)
    • (Physical) data will be locked in PIs office or alternate place
  • *Please note that data should not be stored on any US servers
8.3 Protection of Personal Information
  • In cases where students are involved, grades must be kept separate from the data until after grades have been submitted  (so make clear that data will not affect course grades).
8.5 Retention and Destruction of Data
  • Sample wording: (*Must state that the PI will remain responsible for the data for a minimum of five years) after publication(s).
    • “Digital data will be maintained on an encrypted backup drive and on the encrypted and password-protected computer of one or more study team members for a minimum of five years. After this time, if we determine that these documents are no longer needed, they will be securely deleted by ... Hard copy data files will be …. ”
8.7 Feedback to Participants
  • The TCPS2 states that researchers should make their results available to participants if possible, in a form that is appropriate to them. The BREB wants to know that participants can hear about the results of the study if they want to, and/or that it will be available online in some form. A means to share feedback with participants (with minimal effort on the participant’s part) should be explained in the consent form.
9.0 Documentation
  • Don’t forget to attach any relevant documentation, especially any communications you will use with participants.
  • Ensure that the explanations of the research provided in the supporting documents are consistent with the details included in the ethics application. Use the consent form template provided on the ORE website to develop your own consent documents.

After the PI submits the application, it will be approved by the department head before it is received by the BREB. It is likely that the BREB office will get back to you with required provisos. Typically, this process can take two to four weeks, depending on the number of BREBs that the office must review. Provisos are normal and somewhat expected.

  • Edits that the board will send back to you to “fix”. This may include wording that is not precise enough, inconsistencies in details between the application and the supporting documents, omissions (missing recruitment or consent documents), and things of this nature.
  • You need to include a cover letter in response to provisos.
    • Thank them for the feedback, and speak to the specific changes that you’ve made in this new submission.
  • The proviso response does not need to copy and paste the "old" application content and the "new" content. Administrators can see what changes have been made within the application. The letter instead should say what change has been made in response to the proviso and, if clarification is needed, why the change was made.
    • For example: "Removed second consent form because renewal of consent was considered unnecessary." Or, "Changed recruitment so that the instructor is not in the room when the study is introduced to students in order to remove potential for pressure to consent.”

Provisos should be done in a timely manner (the sooner the better) and should not take more than two hours, depending on the nature and extent of the provisos required. They must also be done through the RISe system. Typically, once your provisos are submitted, the BREB office approves them quickly (often within two to seven days if they have been done well).

*It is important that you do not begin to collect data or recruit participants until BREB has approved your study.

  • You can only use the “approved BREB tool”.
    • All tools should have a “footer” note indicating the BREB study number and approval date (provided by BREB office). Although this is an option, it is not necessary. The BREB would not want the approval date to be included, because the researcher won't have the date until after the ethics application has been approved, and would require another amendment.
    • However, the VERSION DATE of the supporting document must be included in the footer. The date must be the same as the date entered on page 9, and needs to be changed (in both places) when a new version of the document is created.
    • Any modifications to the study design or tool modification will require a BREB amendment; see instructions for amendments.
  • You will have to “close” your study in the RISe system once you are finished conducting the research.

  • Consent forms should indicate at the top who they are for (e.g., “Consent form - ASTU 401 Students”).
  • Consent forms should mention if the study results will be used for graduate theses or dissertations.
  • Study results section should indicate, where appropriate, whether direct quotes (which are often identifiable) will be used. For example, "No direct quotes from the interview will be used in the reports without your prior permission."
  • There is often confusion between data being "anonymized" and the participant being "anonymous". If the researcher knows who has participated, they are not anonymous, but their participation can be kept "confidential".
  • As the Specialist on the project, you should usually be the only one with access to student identities for many/most research designs. You should anonymize and/or aggregate the data before the course instructor has access.
  • Although data should be anonymized, make sure you are able to re-identify the data if needed. Accordingly, you should create a separate file that is secure to allow you to re-link data if necessary. Thus, your anonymizing procedure should be clear to you.

In this section, we have generated a list of 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 (this is a BREB requirement).
  • 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.
  • If you develop supporting documents for methods that are not represented here, please share them with the SoTL team and we will add a section to this resource booklet with your sample.
  • Seek guidance if you choose to use passive consent. The BREB office has specific guidelines for this approach, which you will need to research before using.
  • Consent forms should indicate at the top who they are for (e.g., “Consent form - ASTU 401 Students”).
  • Consent forms should mention if the study results will be used for graduate theses or dissertations.
  • Study results section should indicate, where appropriate, whether direct quotes (which are often identifiable) will be used. For example, "No direct quotes from the interview will be used in the reports without your prior permission."
  • Sample consent form template and instructions are also available at: https://ethics.research.ubc.ca/behavioural-research-ethics/breb-guidance-notes

Consent Form – Interviews: Flexible Learning and Student Engagement

  • Consent forms should indicate at the top who they are for (e.g., “Consent form - ASTU 401 Students”).
  • Consent forms should mention if the study results will be used for graduate theses or dissertations.
  • Study results section should indicate, where appropriate, whether direct quotes (which are often identifiable) will be used. For example, "No direct quotes from the interview will be used in the reports without your prior permission."

Consent Form - Classroom Data

Example Script:BREB H15-03070
Science OneScript to inform class about the study:“Good morning class. My name is Nathan Roberson, and I am a graduate research assistant here at UBC working with the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology.As mentioned in the consent form you received, this study is being conducted in order to gain an understanding of promising practices related to improving student learning in science disciplines and in Science One courses. This project aims to develop, implement, and evaluate a measure of science thinking. We will survey students’ conceptions of science thinking. [name] is professor and the Principal Investigator (PI) for the study, which is being conducted in conjunction with the UBC Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. He can be reached at [email].The research team has developed a survey that we would like your feedback on before we administer it to a larger group of participants. Your participation will be kept confidential from course instructors, and only after final grades are submitted and the course is over, will course instructors have access to data. We will disguise identifying names or information such as student numbers, however there is always potential risk in data collection, such as possible embarrassment. Data will be de-identified and stored on locked in encrypted computers with the GRA for the duration of the study and for an indefinite period of time with the PI. No names, IDs, or other identifying information will be provided to course instructors.We are asking for your participation and permission to use your data in this study.This data will inform future science courses at UBC. Your participation is voluntary, and you will be asked to provide consent. You may leave the study at any time without negative consequences. For those of you willing to participate, can you please sign and date the provided consent forms and return them to me. If you have any additional questions or concerns please email at [email].Thank you all for your time and for your participation."Questions?
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Nathan Roberson at the number provided above or at [email]. If you have any concerns about your rights as a research subject and/or your experiences while participating in this study, you may contact the Research Subject Information Line in the UBC Office of Research Services at 604-822-8598. You have the right to refuse to participate in this study. If you decide to take part, you may choose to pull out of the study at any time without giving a reason and without any negative impact on your class standing.By participating in the focus group, you agree to provide consent for the use of your data as outlined above.

To be read aloud:“Thank you all for agreeing to participate. As mentioned in your consent form, this study is being conducted in order to gain an understanding of promising practices related to improving student application of concepts within the [course name]. The course is a math- and physics-intensive course open to science and engineering students at UBC. This project aims to develop, implement, and evaluate a two-stage math and physics review aimed to improve student transfer of first year math and physics concepts to applications in upper-level science courses. This focus group is being conducted to examine students’ conceptions of the course’s math and physic review components. Such data will inform course structure for future years. Your participation is voluntary, and by participating you agree for the use of your responses as outlined in the consent form. You do not have to respond to any question that you do not wish to, and you may withdraw from the study at any time until August 29, 2018 without negative consequences.”

Do you have any questions about the study?

Thanks again for your participation.